Groupon Suspends Sales Rep While It Investigates Thinly Veiled Yelp Review Threat (Update)
A Groupon spokesperson said on Sunday that the company was investigating whether one of its sales reps made a thinly-veiled threat to a restaurant owner to have his friends post bad reviews on Yelp and social media.
In the interim, Groupon has suspended the rep, Andrew Johnston, from interacting with other merchants, Groupon spokesman Paul Taaffe wrote to AllThingsD in an email.
“As you can imagine such actions are not acceptable to Groupon,” Taaffe wrote.
The investigation stems from a Facebook post by one of the owners of Sauce, a San Francisco restaurant, which included what the owner said was an email exchange between he and Johnston.
The alleged email from Johnston, is time-stamped from Friday:
I sincerely appreciate you hanging up on me. As a resident of San Francisco for over 25 years, I have a huge network of friends (ages 25-40) that all are extremely active on Yelp as well as other social media. I will gladly let them know how you treated me as well as my feelings about the people who run Sauce.
The email response from the restaurant owner began this way: “You must be new to cold calling, you might want to develop a thicker skin, or work for a less despised company.”
In it, the owner went on to say that his establishment wants nothing to do with Groupon “since our last, horrific, experience with your company.”
Since Friday, six five-star reviews have appeared on Yelp’s Sauce page, along with two one-star reviews.
(Update 3:05 pm ET: Trip Hosley, the business owner involved in the exchange with the Groupon rep, responded to AllThingsD. In a long email, Hosley says he was abrupt with the Groupon rep, but “didn’t insult or threaten him in any way or raise my voice, I simply took control of my own time back from an unwanted interruption.”
Hosley’s main point and concern is that small business owners still often have a tough time fighting against fake online reviews.
The issue to me is, how many others has this happened to? And what did (or can) they do? Did they have a way to fight back? Because even with a business account there does not seem to be a fast way for a small business to combat this type of threat and action by a disgruntled sales rep and see immediate action taken by the larger company (in this case either by Groupon or Yelp) in time to stop the damage. In this instance, I do not blame yelp at all, they are just a vehicle. But it does highlight a vulnerability in the Social media system, if you will, where great damage can be inflicted very quickly causing a business owner to feel powerless and trapped.
I’ve emailed Yelp for comment.
(Update 5:57 pm ET: Yelp spokesperson Vince Sollitto wrote in an email: “Business owners and consumers can flag reviews for our User Ops team that they believe may violate our terms of service and of course business owners can respond publicly to any review with their message or comment. Also, Yelp obviously gives consumers reading reviews information on the reviewer him or herself with which to evaluate the review.”)
Johnston did not immediately respond to emails from AllThingsD on Sunday.