Yelp, the site where consumers posts reviews of local businesses such as restaurants, is soon going to allow small business owners the option to respond to negative reviews. Next Thursday, April 16, 2009, Yelp reportedly will be emailing its “elite” reviewers to explain the new feature.
With the new public comment feature, business owners will only be able to correct or add factual information, not advertise or argue. Comments will not be read before they are published but users will be able to flag inappropriate comments and Yelp’s customer service team will review them.
In the letter to elite reviewers, Yelp said that the goal is for comments to be pleasant and useful, not disparaging of reviewers. “For example, if you wrote a glowing 5-star review some months ago about your favorite pub, in which you mention drinking Harp because they didn’t carry Guinness both you and other readers would probably be happy to see a new comment saying, ‘Just got our Guinness tap last week,'” the letter said.
Online consumer reviews have been great for consumers to make informed choices. But the situation has been lopsided. A business owner could do nothing if there was an inaccurate review — say, something just plain wrong, like complaining about a poorly cooked menu item at a restaurant that doesn’t even serve that item. There also have been reports of nasty reviews written by competitors solely for the purpose of making the business look bad.
That meant that on top of every other challenge in your business, you also had to worry about your business getting trashed online. Yelp’s move at least levels the playing field a little.
Yelp has set up a business owner’s website where you can claim a business listed on Yelp already, or list your business on Yelp . There’s also a business owner’s guide  that explains how Yelp works from the business’s perspective. The new policy change by Yelp allowing businesses to correct inaccurate negative reviews, does not yet appear officially on the site as of this writing.