tv Your Business MSNBC June 16, 2013 7:30am-8:00am EDT
hi there, everyone. i'm j.j. ramberg, and welcome to "your business," the show dedicated to giving you tips and advice to help your small business grow. negative consumer comments on a website can be a nightmare for a small business to overcome. that's why a number of businesses are up in arms over v reviews they've received on the site y. lp. some are raising questions about whether yelp is treating them fairly. >> a customer who is satisfied with my service asked me if i had a yelp page. she was very eager to write me a review. i gave her the same answer that i gave my friend, what the hell
is yelp? >> a new york city based locksmith. when he first opened lockbusters, he says he was unaware of yelp and its widespread impact on customer decisions. >> people would call me and say did you know you're highly regarded on yelp? and i said no, because i couldn't afford a smart phone and i didn't have a lap top. >> his expanding business he attributes to that online website. >> it catapulted things to a stratosphere up to the point where i'm franchise iing. >> it's hard for a small business owner to keep track. as we discovered, some serious questions have been raised about how yelp solicits advertising from the small businesses reviewed on their site. >> to be perfectly honest, we didn't really know about yelp before we got into this business. >> kelly and her husband, matthew, recently opened a modest priced italian restaurant
called verace in their suburban hometown in connecticut. at first they knew very little about yelp. they were proud to see that their customers' four and five-star reviews far outnumbered the negatives. >> our number one priority is word of mouth. >> they chose not to buy advertising on the yelp site, despite what they say with his a barrage of sales calls. >> finally after -- i don't know, the fourth, fifth or sixth time they called we said please topple stop calling. we have a lot going on and we're not going to do it. end of story. >> but it wasn't the end of story. according to the calandros, shortly after rejecting them, many of their positive reviews have been filtered off their home page. is there a connection? yelp says no. they say the computer is fully automated and cannot be filleded with by anyone.
but for the restaurant their overall ratings had plummeted and many of their new out of town customers stopped showing up. >> the positive reviews would come off leaving the mediocre or not so great reviews. >> new york new jersey based found himself in a similar situation when it appeared to him that all of his positives were dropping off the main yelp page, leaving only the negatives. >> the problem with yelp has been that yelp has distorted and suppressed all of the positive reviews. >> yelp acknowledges that it filters reviews to keep out the phony ones and that the filter isn't perfect. they told us that the filter sometimes catches legitimate reviews but it's an automated system which cannot be manipulated to bully business owner. >> this appears right below our company name. it's very damaging. it costs us a great deal of money. >> while his company has been in business more than 60 years, has
a staff of experienced craftspeel, restoring museum quality antiques and landmark buildings such as grand central station, you would never know this by just reading the two-star rated main yelp page. >> my reputation trashed after 25 years of work, it's an awful thing. >> more importantly, you would never know that his company also received eight five-star and two fo-star reviews. that's because, according to peter, the yelp review algorith placed them on a hard-to-find, difficult-to-access filter page and excluded them from his ov overall yelp rating. >> they ruin a reputation saying we're a one or two star company by hiding 75% of the reviews, which would make us four stars. >> there's no other way to put it. this sucks. this is a situation you did not create, you don't have time or resources for. >> an industry critic and
helping nontech businesses navigate the web despite several examples of highly rated companies who do not pay yelp for advertising, brandon has identified cases where he believes yelp has deliberately filtered out positive reviews in order to sell ads. >> those reviews suddenly vanish and then there's a call. >> they didn't say this but maip maybe they insinuated it, that maybe some of these bad reviews might disappear and some of these good reviews might stick. >> and help direct more traffic to your site and get you more positive reviews. >> implicit if you don't, we're not going to fix this and you're going to be stuck. and this happens time after time after time. you can go all across the country and hear the same story repeatedly. >> involve iing a local busines and the website yelp. >> local business owner calls a review company's practices unfair. >> reports on controversy over the company's alleged sales techniques. >> in fact, the ftc has recorded well over 600 business
complaints about yelp, many following this same pattern. and in california, a class action lawsuit was filed against yelp, listing many of these same issues. the suit was dismissed, based on a law which says operators of interactive sites are immune from suit. customer reviews was never fully examined. >> yelp will make the argument they're a neutral site. there's more than enough stories of people getting that mysterious phone call of, hey, we can make those good reviews reappear if you give us money to suggest that they're not neutral. >> yelp denies making any offers like this while we've heard many allegations, we've not found conclusive evidence nor any legal judgments that say they do. furthermore, yelp denies there's any connection between ad sales
and review process. >> it's very important to make clear we do not punish those who do not participate in advertising. it's like a separation between church and state, if you will. >> darnell holloway has been hosting small business town hall meetings like this, to answer questions about the site and its policy for filtering reviews. many small business owners like matthew and kelly remain unconvinced. >> if you're making a living on advertising sales for the people that you're reviewing, there's an inherent conflict of interest there. >> these are our customers, honest to goodness customers that are leaving thoughts about us, good, bad or indifferent. there's a mix. and we're fine with that. we just want it to be an accurate representation. >> what the calandras did to combat their negative reviews on yelp was to take their case to the media. >> these bigger company that is come in and bully the smaller
family-owned business. >> if you visit their yelp page, you'll find that they're listed with a four-star rating. and they still aren't paying for advertising. we asked yelp about this, and they say maybe the publicity got their customers engaged, but there was no change in the automated yelp algorithm. fairly or unfairly, the effect that a negative write-up on a review site like yelp is potentially devastating for a small business' bottom line. nick marsh, focusing on the restaurant business and john tapper, the host and co-executive producer of "bar rescue," the president of the nightclub and bar immediamedia . great to see both of you guys. >> hi, j.j. hi, nick. >> both of you guys work with bars and restaurants. yelp is a big deal for companies like yours, restaurants and bars
whach . what do you do if suddenly you start getting a lot of negative reviews and you know people like your restaurant? >> absolutely, j.j. not to be insensitive, i was thinking, as i'm sure you say to your 5-year-old on a regular basis, life's not fair. we have to just deal with it. there's certainly some things that are frustrating and certainly some times when you're missing some reviews. the best thing to do is try to use the feedback in a positive way, reach out to people if there is a problem and use it to make your business better when you can. >> in what way, john? have you workd with people who have dealt with this issue? >> we have. you know, what nick says is right. life as you know fair. but people can get assassinated on facebook. they get assassinated on twitter. we live in this internet environment where people can assassinate us and get away with it. one, we have to keep the media pressure on, like you're doing, j.j. that will keep yelp, hopefully, on the straight and nar oa, we
have to learn from it. b, somebody has to write a negative comment for that negative comment to appear. nobody suggested they're fraudulent. we still have to mango our business one customer at a time, right? >> indeed. if you have a bunch of negative comments on your site, whether it's yelp or another review site and you know some customers like you out there, what can you do? a lot of these review sites will filter out someone who is a new reviewer. if they only reviewed you it might be fake. >> something that sounds counter intuitive, a friend of mine runs a restaurant up in boston. part of their strategy is always tell the truth. they will actually retweet or republr republ republr republish negative things to take responsibility. that is a way to deal with with something that is ultimately unfair. >> it's interesting.
but, john, you still want someone to come to yelp, whatever site it is and see positive comments, not negative. >> absolutely. you have to generate those positive comments with the good experience. nick is saying, you can also reach out to that individual and invite them back. >> absolutely. >> and have them repost a positive experience and promote that as well. you have to work it. you know, yelp is a universe and as a marketer, small business marketers, we have to market that universe. we have to turn the negatives into positives and work each situation to our advantage. it's not easy. it's not always fair, but this is the environment we have to market in. >> when you say work it what can i do? ask allmy guests, go post something on yelp, angie's list? >> i think we should. candidly, over the years every city has their best burger contest, best pizza contest. the industry has been stuffing those ballots for years. all our employees vote. all our friends vote.
when a customer has a great experience there's nothing wrong saying if you had a great experience tonight, please tell us on yelp. there's nothing wrong with that. >> let's take it to the next level. on soom me of these sites if yo are a one-time poster, they will filter you out. go post about me and also the ice cream shop down the street and some place else so they'll keep your review? >> you have to stay very engaged with the audience. some of the best reviews you get are the negatives that you turn around and sometimes that's a positive experience with somebody that will beat the filter, so to speak. it's reaching out to your audience through a whole bunch of mediums. >> one more marketing arm. one more thing you need to think about if your audience is the kind of audience that looks at review sites. thank you very much. it's a tricky subject that will evolve, as everything on the internet does. stick around. i need you back later on in the show to answer some more questions.
>> absolutely. customer reviews and referrals are a huge generator of potential customer growth. check out our website of the week. customer lobby.com helps small business owners gather client reviews online. along with then sending your reviews to our sites like facebook and twitter, you can feature your own reviews right on your website. connecting with top twitter influences can be a very effective way to grow your customer base. here now are five free tools you can use to interact with influencers who know you or are familiar with what you do courtesy of small busineiz trends.com. one, who tweeted me sorts people who sends tweets by their number of followers. two, after a quick install of the book mark tool, topsy will note the influential tweeters on your pages. three, commun.it organizes your
online communication with that person and how much impact each of the influence rs tweets made. four, friend or follow. this tool grabs aul your friends who follow you but who you aren't following back and sorts them by the number of followers. you can follow them right from that page. and five, fruji. this site breaks your followers into the groups by the number of followers but also shares how likely it is for that person to notice your tweets. with so much content competing for attention on the internet, you only have a few short seconds to catch someone's eye. enter instagram. if you haven't considered using it for your business, you might be missing out on its 100-million plus users. picture only service is a quick and easy way to share your brand through instant photos. the founder and chief social officer of socially ahead, social media consulting and
training firm that helps create digital strategies for small businesses. i love instagram. it's so fun to take pictures and share them with people. it can be really helpful as a business. >> absolutely. >> you were saying before, you may not be a good writer, but you can certainly take a picture. >> content is king. for a lot of us, it's hard for us to put our product or service into words. why not put it into pictures? >> let's go to the first one. >> sure. >> use it to tell your story as a business. >> sightglass is a coffee roaster and they use instagram to tell you everything from where your beans come from, so here all the way to your cup. >> interesting. so it gives more flavor, no pun intended, to your company. you know the history of the company, where your coffee is coming from. >> right. >> you can do this with showing your employees doing something. >> absolutely. it makes it fun showing behind the scenes. i would love to know sometimes where my clothes are are made.
who makes my things. it makes me feel more comfortable, more personable. >> showcase your product. >> yes. >> this one seems pretty obvious. >> my pink lush, they are an online jewelry retailer. since my pink lush has been started they went on instagram and doubled their business. they were able to get people to mobily buy. tell you the price, hashtag for a bracelet, all set. >> #bracelet, they'll search #bracelet, all the bracelets on instagram will come up and yours is included in that? >> absolutely. >> put the url. >> absolutely. >> so people can click through and buy something. >> absolutely. >> moving on to the next one, let your fans be the star. this makes your page more interactive. >> it does. you want your fans to look at your product, show them using your product. we get engaged. i can see you using my product,
great, i want to do it, too. this company is oh to be a dog. their fans are dogs. pet sitting service. owners can go on, see their dog s after they've been walked or cared for by them. they feel more comfortable. >> they take pictures of all the dogs. this is a great way to get people to actually come to your instagram page. >> yes. >> they want to come and see their dogs and share that with their friends. >> absolutely. the only thing that's lacking right now with instagram is the fact that you can't click those links to actually go to the internet. unfortunately, the only thing they would be able to do is go back here and go there to be able to go to a page. you can't click on a visual picture to make them direct them to something. >> you can get people to your insta tls gram page, someone can like this and their friends can see it as well, which will get people to your page, talk more about your business. >> absolutely. >> finally, be helpful.
you can use this page to be helpful. basically what you're trying to do is do things that are interesting so people keep coming back. >> being helpful, really you want to give people tips, give them encouragement, feedback. jeanette jenkins, a celebrity trainer does awesome things like showing her work iing out, showg tips. her personal life. being all around, encompassing. you want to work with her. you feel she's fun. getting people interested. >> again on the helpful part, i would follow her because i want to see -- here is a new, interesting exercise i can do. >> i don't know if i can do that. >> we'll try. we'll try. we can dream. lynn, thank you so much. this is really helpful. instagram is a great tool and one small businesses really need to know about. >> thank you so much. still to come, more important information to make your small business successful, include i including how to establish a close relationship with a banker and what to do when it's time to
se sell. plus the owners of a hot new fitness company, soul cycle, tell us what women bring to the table when it comes to starting and running a small business. ♪ i' 'm a hard, hard ♪ worker every day. ♪ i' ♪ i'm a hard, hard worker and i'm working every day. ♪ ♪ i'm a hard, hard worker and i'm saving all my pay. ♪ ♪ if i ever get some money put away, ♪ ♪ i'm going to take it all out and celebrate. ♪ ♪ i'm a hard, hard worker... ♪ membership rallied millions of us on small business saturday to make shopping small, huge. this is what membership is. this is what membership does. seven years ago two women
who had recently met each other decided to start a new kind of fitness company. today that business is thriving. nbc's mara schiavocampo say the owners of soul cycle attribute that to female entrepreneurs having their own unique management style. >> reporter: for super spinner julie rice, this isn't just a workout, it's work. seven years ago rice co-founded a unique brand of exercise calling her spin classes soul cycle, and it's been a wild ride ever since. >> we thought that we could make exercise fun. we thought we could make it inspirational. >> reporter: the philosophy is part spin -- >> you ready to rock 'n' roll? >> reporter: part party, part medication. 45 minutes of intense cardio set to high-energy music lit only by kajds. to say it's popular would be an understatement.
most days rice is riding right along with the pack. >> i'm always moved by it. i'm actually never immune to it. >> reporter: rice never thought she'd end up in the fitness business. the married mom of two spent most of her career as a hollywood talent manager, but am she couldn't find the perfect workout, she decided to create it. rice started the company with elizabeth cutler, a virtual stranger she had only just met. >> it's like when you met a great guy up. just know. for me and julie we just knew. we shared a common vision immediately. >> reporter: they wrote out their business plan on a napkin. >> we said if we have this many bikes, can get 75 people a day to come, we can pay the rent, pay our babysitters and we can be passionate about what we're doing. >> reporter: part of their vision, a laid back workplace where most people show up in gym clothes and are encouraged to get in one workout a day. >> we think about creating a place where our kids would want to come to work.
where people will grow up and have careers inside of a business that's getting larger and larger. >> reporter: most of the staff is under 30. >> women are incredible entrepreneurs. i think one reason is we management households. >> reporter: what was once a small business has now more than 5,000 riders each day and 14 studios in california and new york. >> things don't have to be giant in the beginning. a small idea can just be a small idea. >> reporter: rice also quickly learned there were life lessons she could take from soul cycle classes themselves. >> i would tell people not to overthink it. just do it. put one foot in front of the other. if you have a passion. and just make it happen. >> it's time now to answer some of your business questions. nick and john have joined us once again. the first one is about getting out of your business. >> i want to have an exit strategy. i have a wonderful client base. we have wonderful clients we
care about. and we just want to make sure that, do i sell it? do i dissolve it? >> i'm going to start with you, nick, because you've had a couple exits yourselves. how do you figure out what the end game is? >> great question. sometimes you know going in if you had investors coming n you sort of know what you're headed for. in this woman's situation it sound like she developed the business on her own and now needs to find a good place for it to land. as opposed to looking externally, the way to do it would be develop someone internally, can has the goal of taking up the business so he can she can move out in a slower and easier fashion. >> john, it seems like a smart thing to think about. once you know the end, you can work backwards to figure out how to get there. so with the bars you work with, how do people decide whether it's going to close, work internally like nick's talking about or they're going to sell to someone? >> nick's suggestion is a good one.
i've done that to restaurants i've owned, sold them to my own general manager. i can ploy the loan, paper, finance, put it together, put them in business and then i keep my same employees, same customers and it's a nice transformation. every business is a value. typically you can sell a business six to seven times what its earnings are. that can help her retirement. never dissolve it if it has value. look what that value is, look internally to sell it. and then seek out a business broker. >> how do you find a good business broker? >> typically each town has them. i would look for the type of business that you own and see if there's other flower shops for sale. if there are, i'd look for the broker who's handling those transactions who has experience marketing in that space. >> let's move on to the next one. this is about building bridges with we abank. >> i would like to know how to establish a close relationship with a banker? is it good to stay, like, with a
big bank route or go to the smaller more community sized banks. >> i think she's asking the right question in how to build a relationship because ultimately this comes down to relationships. >> years ago i used small banks and they all got gobbled up by the big banks. the signs changed four times in a year. i get more personal service, and i won't mention which one, out of a large bank now because of the banker and the branch i work with. than i have out of some small banks. it isn't big or small. it's the branch and the banker you're working with. >> she's on to the right step. when people start their business, it's usually with investors who are friends and family. those are people you've known all your life, known for 15, 20 years before they give you money. then when people move into the banking world, they think it's about the process, the financials, it's still about the relationship, so it's about time. i think that where we've had
successful relationships with a bank it's because we've known the banker in the branch for two or three years before you really get to the point where you have a need for a significant amount of money. >> somebody suggested to me once also, get the banker to know. send cookies, maybe not directly to the banker, but to somebody else so he tastes them or she tastes them and then thinks, oh, these are good. when you come in, they recognize your name. our last question, an e-mail from myles and he writes, how do you get your customers to trust you when you're first starting out? jon, nobody knows you. you open something up, you want people to use your products or service. how do you get people to put their money with you? >> a guarantee means something. testimonials mean everything, and attaching your own face, your own brand to a business saying, i'm accountable makes a
big difference also. make preem know they're doing business with a person, not just a business. in the beginning that can create the trust you need. >> great idea. >> the only other thing i would point out is he says in the gibbing. it doesn't end. in the restaurant business you don't get to do a touchdown dance, you get up the next day and make it happen again. bringing the day one approach every single day is build success over time. >> thank you so much. a special happy father's day also. it's father's day today. thanks, you guys. a happy extra special father's day who taught me what i know about small business. thank you, dad. thank you, guys. hope to see you again. >> take care. if any of you want to see more of today's show, go to our website. it is openforum.com/yourbusiness. you'll find all of today's segments with web exclusive
content to help your business grow. you can follow us on twitter @msnbc/yourbiz. next week, the owners of a play space open up branches in india and dubai. >> you can do as much research as you want but you never know how things will play out until they get there. >> how to determine if international expansion is right for your company. till then, i'm j.j. ramberg and, remember, we make your business our business. is like hammering. riding against the wind. uphill. every day. we make money on saddles and tubes. but not on bikes. my margins are thinner than these tires. anything that gives me some breathing room