Late yesterday, the AP broke the story that Yelp is going to allow businesses to respond to user reviews. The move is obviously a response to the wealth of negative Yelp press lately, and while it's probably a step in the right direction, there are some questions to be considered.
Will it improve the site? We'll reserve judgment until the actual feature is released, but we're doubtful. If there is any large-scale impact at all, allowing business owners—that is, the ones that don't ignore Yelp—to respond at will is likely to add to the already-overbearing white noise of the site. The reviews are already useless—Gary Danko has 1360, for example—and the possibility of adding a he-said, she-said feature isn't going to make things more helpful. And let's face it, some restaurateurs can be just as petty/explosive as Yelpers.
Will it improve Yelp's troubled reputation? On the surface, we're betting yes, even if it is, as we suspect, a token move to appease the increasingly-loud critics. It is a simple fix to a common complaint—that businesses don't have a voice. Reputation, reputation, reputation!
Ok, so what's in it for Yelp? Aside from the aforementioned damage control, the move—and it's a smart one—will prompt more business owners to go online, which is good for Yelp and Yelp's wallets. Note that the AP story points out that to respond, businesses must register for a free business owner's account. We're betting that once already online, a portion of them will be inclined to buy sponsorships. New feature = more business owners online = $.
· Yelp to let businesses comment publicly on reviews [AP]
· Yelp Wanted: Now Business Owners Can Chime In, Kinda [~ESF~]