The Power of the Online Review, Union Street Guest House

Angry Person

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several days, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the absolutely inexplicable policy (or “mistake,” as the property’s manager puts it) of the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York.  According to several sources, the New York Post among them, the hotel was fining couples who book weddings at the venue $500 for every bad review posted online by their guests.

Yep, that’s right.  The hotel’s stated policy, which has since been taken down from their web site was, according to Time Online:

If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.

Right.

Many others have written about this, including my super-smart friend, Gini Dietrich, so I don’t have a lot to add to the debate, especially since the hotel’s manager has backtracked from the posted policy, calling it a “mistake”:

Including the fine for negative reviews as part of our policy was a mistake. That’s not the type of business that we run. It was a case of a joke gone very, very bad.

These people got taken to the social media woodshed in a major way.  Many of the online criticism lobbed at the Guest House came from the consumer review platform Yelp.  The good folks at Yelp have been busily dealing with the thousands of negative comments posted on the hotel’s review page, including deleting “3,738 Reviews Removed for Violating our Content Guidelines or Terms of Service.”  People were, rightfully so, piling on the hotel via negative comments, but unfortunately not leaving legitimate reviews of the hotel, which were likely in violation of Yelp’s aforementioned Content Guidelines.  What it DID demonstrate, however, is that the story went viral, people got angry, and they went online in an attempt to steer business away from the hotel using the most popular consumer review site.  Welcome to the online boycott, without leaving your couch.

For me, the lesson here is not “don’t be an idiot” when it comes to your online review policy.  It’s more “beware of the power of review sites,” because I bet you that it will be some time before the Union Street Guest House recovers from this and begins to get positive reviews once again.  In a post from February of thus year (and boy, I bet the Union Street folks wish that they had read this), A-List staff succinctly explains the power of online reviews:

In a recent study, BrightLocal found that 79% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. One of the main reasons for this is because reviews are not promotional messages or paid advertisement, but are opinions that come from “real people” like themselves. People trust their peers more readily than they do advertisers and companies. What they read in a review could determine whether or not the place deserves their business.”

So when people read something online or see something on TV (I happened to catch this segment on the “Today” show), they have concrete venues on which to seek revenge on the offending parties.  Then it becomes Yelp’s problem as to whether or not they allow the reviews/comments to stand.

Learning #1:  Don’t put your insanely idiotic policies on your web site, then lamely backtrack from them, saying that it was “a joke.”

Learning #2: Beware of the power of the online review.  People believe people. (Side note:  Yelp is currently being sued by a group of shareholders over allowing potentially fraudulent reviews.  So take even peer-to-peer comments with a grain of salt).

Mark

Image: Johnny_Automatic

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