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Are Online Reviews Going Too Far?

Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

According to a recent survey, online reviews for local businesses in Nevada are the harshest in the country. Despite more than two-thirds of the reviews classify as being positive, the Silver State's Internet and social media users still rank as the least kind in the U.S. 

Brad Plothow, the vice president of brand and communication at Womply, the company that created the survey, said his company looked at 210,000 small businesses across the country to find out what customers were saying online.

The survey found that part of the reason Nevada scores so low in positive reviews is the state's tourism-based economy. 

"When we look at the kinds of businesses that were best-reviewed, they're typically in rural states." he said, "When we look at the states that have the businesses that are most harshly reviewed, they do tend to be places where you see...tourism is a bigger part of the local business economy."

Plothow said his company is ascertaining that if a reviewer has to look a business owner in the eye again, they're likely to give a better review, compared with a reviewer who is leaving town the next day.

Some businesses have grown so tired of petty or excessively negative reviews, they've retaliated with equally over-the-top responses -- such as Branden Powers, managing partner of Evel Pie in Downtown Las Vegas and The Golden Tiki in Chinatown. His replies have garnered national attention

Powers told KNPR's State of Nevada that he welcomes criticism that allows him to improve customer service, but he doesn't like people who bully his staff or write reviews simply to be negative.

"Sometimes there is just nothing you can do or say that's going to possibly turn that person, and they're just there to be negative and hurt you," he said.

Nelson Queja has taken online reviewing to a whole new level. He is an Elite reviewer on one of the most popular review sites, Yelp. 

Queja explained to achieve the Elite status, or black badge as it is also called, he had to been reviewing for more than 10 years. He has reviewed more than 1,400 businesses -- mostly restaurants.

"I've just picked it up as a hobby," he said, "I also like to turn people on to new businesses or places they haven't yet gone to." 

He said only about 10 percent of his reviews have been negative but he works in the restaurant industry and feels like he has insight that can be helpful.

Anjala Krishen, a professor of marketing and international business at UNLV, said business owners should not be thinking just about the people writing the reviews, but also about those who are reading them. They are looking for knowledge about a business, but those readers are sophisticated.

Krishen also said people know when a review is done by someone genuinely offering an opinion, and when it's done by someone who just wants to be a "hater."

"I think people reading the reviews are doing that kind of analysis. They're saying, 'I'm trying to get wherever I have to go. I've got a decision to make right now. I've got to go to a restaurant.'" she said, "Today's millennials are really taking advantage of this route," 

She said research shows consumer-to-consumer information is more trusted than advertising.

Krishen believes reviews -- negative or positive -- are an opportunity for businesses to build relationships with customers, which is why she says it is important for businesses owners to genuinely respond to reviews -- especially negative ones.

Plothow's company's research backs up that idea.

"We found that businesses whose reviews are actually 15 to 20 percent negative earn 13 percent more money than those that have a 95 to 90  percent positive rating," he said, "There is this interesting authenticity lens that you have to take to this."

He said customers don't expect a business to be perfect, but they do expect a business to be authentic. 

Brad Plothow, vice president of brand and communications, Womply; Branden Powers, managing partner, Evel Pie and Golden Tiki; Anjala Krishen, marketing and international business professor, UNLV; Nelson Queja, Yelp Elite reviewer


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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.