Earlier this month, I blogged about the FTC’s enforcement action against LendEDU for operating pay-to-play review sites that purported to provide unbiased reviews of consumer financial products.  There have also been a number of enforcement actions brought against businesses posting fake reviews or posting reviews received through undisclosed incentives.  

While the prospect of an FTC or AG enforcement action should keep any business in line, Yelp’s efforts may provide an additional incentive.  To discourage the businesses on its site from buying reviews, Yelp uses a name & shame campaign: businesses who are caught buying reviews have a “Consumer Alert” posted on their pages.  The alert warns consumers that the business in question buys reviews and that the practice is harmful to both consumers and “honest businesses who play by the rules.”  As reported by Eater, a recent warning was posted on a burger chain’s 200+ listings and included evidence of the chain’s efforts to buy positive reviews. 

Do Yelp’s efforts have more of an impact on marketers’ shady activities than government enforcement actions?  This is a test of how much consumers really care about the bona fides of the reviews they read. If they do care, and if more platforms develop the same warning system as a result, the FTC and state AGs may be able to focus their efforts elsewhere.