I got an emailed response to my column about local businesses offering freebies for social media love that made me think:
“I was surprised by your endorsement of the practice of buying votes (or “likes”) by businesses. You readily sold your vote for a cup of coffee, which you had not even tasted. To me this is corruption. I will not pay any attention to the ratings of any businesses that buy votes whether on Twitter, Facebook, eBay, Yelp, Service Magic, or Angie’s List. Buying votes undermines the whole purpose of user-to-user reviews, which will become irrelevant if this trend continues. Please rethink your position.”
“I hear you on this, and I wholeheartedly agree when it comes to, say, buying positive reviews on Yelp. But a Facebook like is as much a subscription as an endorsement. Plus, I actually really like the place. If I didn’t, I would not have felt comfortable liking it, even for the drink. I just barely implied that in my conclusion, but should have been more explicit. The column was less a judgment of the practice than a musing on why it’s around.”
There are disturbing things companies and marketers do to try to buy, or at least strongly influence, public reviews on sites like Yelp and others.
But to what extent is a Facebook “like” an endorsement? How strong an endorsement is it? Does it carry the weight of a review?
I would argue that it doesn’t. That the rightness or wrongness of doing something artificial to draw a Facebook like depends on the circumstances. Javasti is a neighborhood coffee shop. The people who stop in live nearby. Many of them have been there many times before.
I spoke to the owner of the cafe before I wrote the column. For him, the promotion is about reaching out to regulars and connecting to them in the online spaces of Facebook and Twitter as well as the brick-and-mortar space of his shop.
But as I told this reader, if I didn’t already like Javasti, I wouldn’t have felt good accepting the promotion.
The more “corrupt” attempts to buy love on review sites are something else. Something worth exploring, I think. Stay tuned …
Update: This New York Times story sums up how sneaky businesses are getting in trying to buy positive reviews.