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Small-business owners can now publicly respond to reviews on Yelp.

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Since the onset of Web 2.0, customers can easily voice their opinions about local businesses. However, these comments were often hidden in message boards and blogs that owners might come across, if they were looking. When Yelp came on the scene, it was much easier for users to post reviews of restaurants, dry cleaners and other local businesses and for those owners to find the comments.

Just last week, Yelp announced that it will soon be letting business owners publicly respond to reviews. This is a big change for the site, which has until now steadfastly refused to give businesses significant access to its pages. The current system requires businesses to correspond with users through private messages.

Yelp has put up a guide that clarifies what businesses should and should not do with the new format. Owner-written comments that are deemed disparaging, attacking, or soliciting with some sort of incentive will be removed by Yelp's staff.

In the past, Yelp has given businesses very few tools to respond to negative reviews or unfounded claims. Under the new program, registered businesses can simply respond to any comments–positive and negative, directly, and have all the other users see it.

Yelp’s chief operating officer, Geoff Donaker, said that "Business owners for years now have been asking for more and more voice on the site. As long as it’s done in a respectable way, it’s good for the consumer and good for the business owner." In granting this power to business owners, Yelp will allow them to correct any false comments, provide their opinion on shared experiences or explain their company’s solution to any problem listed. However, Yelp will not permit business owners to use this new access for advertising.  

I recently found several interesting comments and blogs going both ways — some for the consumer and some for the businesses.

Michael Ferrell of the Christian Science Monitor: Yelp lets business owners talk back. Dialogue or argument?

Anya Kamenetz of Fast Company: Yelp Lets Business Yelp Back.

Jessica Davis of Channel Insider: Web 2.0 Consumer Review Site Yelp Gives Small Businesses a Voice

So how do you feel? Do you think businesses should be allowed to respond to negative reviews, much like users can do on ebay? Or, do you feel that Yelp should only be for customers and that businesses should not be allowed a rebuttal?

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