With her Billion Dollar Bully documentary gaining more funds through crowdfunding giant Kickstarter and even more attention in the media, Prost Production’s Kaylie Milliken sat down with Grub Street to share her thoughts about Yelp and the past scandals that surrounds the very popular review website.
While discussing how she thought up the documentary’s concept, Milliken stated:
“I used to use Yelp a lot, and then I was at my physician’s office one day — and this is a physician that I have immense respect for — and she began to tell me about her experiences with Yelp. The more she told me, the more shocked I became. I didn’t want to believe a lot of what she told me, because I found Yelp to be so useful. I thought, If what she’s saying is true, then that’s not a site that I should be using at all. I went home and began to research it, and the more I dug, the more I found. Her story was not unique at all. I started to ask friends about advertising, filtered reviews … and they didn’t know anything. My associate producer and I had been thinking about various documentaries for a while. The more I spoke with people, I realized it was a story that needed to get told.”
Revealing how Yelp is trying to extort businesses, Milliken explained:
“Businesses feel helpless because once you are put on Yelp, you do not have the option to come off of Yelp. And a business is often not the one to put itself up there. Then, the business starts getting phone calls from salespeople at Yelp, offering to help them spread the word and advertise. Even if a business has customers who are happy, and those happy customers choose to leave reviews, those good reviews aren’t necessarily going to get seen. If the happy customer doesn’t use Yelp extremely often as a reviewer, that review is going to get buried. No one is going to see it.
Often, there will be a negative review written, and the same method should work: If you don’t leave reviews regularly, the review won’t be seen. But that is not the case. The negative review does get seen, and the business can’t get itself off Yelp. Yelp says it’s the public’s right to know about this business. Then, the business starts getting phone calls from people at Yelp who say, ‘Hey, we can help you manage your reviews.’ That’s the key word: ‘manage.’ A lot of businesses hear that as Yelp will help them get rid of their bad reviews. They sign up under that false assumption.
I’m under the impression that Yelp staffers are trained to word things in ways that don’t actually make sense to business owners. For example: ‘ad impressions.’ Many business owners don’t actually understand what ‘ad impressions’ are, and they don’t understand the contracts they’re signing. “
Also discussing how Yelp manages to restaurants reviews by flooding them with negative ones, Milliken noted:
“If they tell Yelp they don’t want to be involved, or pay, then all of the sudden, their bad reviews start popping up and their good reviews get filtered away. And Yelp constantly says, “It’s our algorithm!” It also seems to come at extremely convenient timing. Business owners speak with a Yelp employee, they decline their services, and then their good reviews are gone.”
In regards to any attempts from Yelp to silence her and her project, Milliken added”
“They’ve tried to do some character assassination. I did a CNBC interview, and a few hours before, they told me they were bringing on someone from Yelp. It was the VP of communications. That’s interesting, because they sent out a pretty big person to argue with me: I run a grassroots organization, and this is my first film.
“The Yelp person said I was bitter and brought up the fact that I used three different accounts on Yelp, and left my husband — an attorney — reviews. Which is true! I did that five or six years ago. First of all, I don’t think I’m alone in doing that — a lot of people want to help when someone is starting a new business. When he represented me in a legal matter, I left a legitimate review, and the next day, it was gone. I thought, My account must not work. It must have been the first review I ever left. I made another account and I left another review, and it was gone. And I did it again. They were all getting filtered out. I do think there should be a filter in place, because you don’t want things like that to happen.
“But then Yelp released a press statement that said I had a conflict of interest because I have a history of trying to mislead consumers. Not accurate! Yelp also released a bunch of screenshots showing my three usernames, as well as my husband’s business. What got to me is that there was no reason to release my husband’s information. It goes to show that Yelp is very concerned about what will come out in this documentary. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother with me — someone who hasn’t released anything on my own before. I read this quote somewhere:’If you’re going to shoot the messenger, it’s probably because the message is true.’ That’s a good analogy.”
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