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Why Do People Write Negative Yelp Reviews?

Jean Dion • September 21, 2015



Do your consumers write you scathing, one-star negative Yelp reviews because they hate you and they want your business to fail?

It can seem that way, especially if you're seeing your revenues fall every quarter due to the things your readers choose to say. You might feel attacked, haunted and picked on, and blaming hate seems smart.

But the fact of the matter is that most people who write negative Yelp reviews do so for reasons that go far beyond hatred or revenge. They don't want to harm you or kill you (most of the time). They may have entirely different reasons for slamming you.

Here are 4 examples of the thinking that stands behind negative Yelp reviews.

1. "I like to write, and I don't get a chance to do it very often"

How many jobs provide people with a creative outlet? I can think of only a few. Most jobs available in my part of the country involve customer service or technical expertise. That means most people don't do a lot of writing, even though they might like to do so.

Yelp can be enticing to reviewers like this one, who tells Yelp that she writes reviews (in part) because she likes to write. She loves the idea of putting her fingers to the keyboard and tapping up her thoughts. She doesn't get to do it for work, and she doesn't seem to have a blog or some private outlet for her creativity. So she uses Yelp.

And think about it: A negative review is much easier to write than a positive review. When you're angry, you can tap into all sorts of sarcastic and insult-laden commentary that just isn't available to you when you're happy. So people who want to write might often write nasty stuff. It's easier, it's more creative and it might even seem like fun.

2. "I want to be recognized and/or noticed." 

Very few jobs provide people with the opportunity to write meaningful articles that touch a global audience. And with 217 million blogs on Tumblr alone, it's hard to write up something as an individual that others might see, unless you use Yelp.

There are all sorts of articles out there (like this one on Cleveland.com) that aim to teach people how to write reviews that work. Aspiring writers could study these articles, hone their craft and work up pieces that they can push in front of a huge audience.

Those that write well enough might even get their reviews featured by Yelp, and that can be a huge incentive to some reviewers, Yelp officials say. People love perks, and they love to get a little name recognition. They can use Yelp to get all of that.

And again, it's easier to write a negative review that stands out. It's hard to praise a product without sounding cliché or repetitive. "The food was just great" isn't as eye-catching as "The food was epically bad." Negativity just sells.

3. "I want to help other people."

Yelpers think of their work as a form of community service. They can push the places and things that they like in front of a new audience, while keeping them away from products and services that are less than ideal. To them, a negative review is a warning made for others, and it could help those other people to avoid a burn.

Of course, helping others can mean attacking or harming you. But to a Yelper, that attack might seem like a secondary benefit. In interviews, Yelpers claim that their prime concern is with the health and well-being of other Yelpers. They're mainly working for their readers, not working against you.

4. "I need to process something that happened to me."

Sometimes, people don't write negative reviews because they're easy or fun. They write them because something pretty terrible happened to them, and they need to talk about it in order to get over it.

This point of view comes from an overview article in Motherboard, and the writers here suggest that some consumer interactions are inherently traumatic and unfair. Consumers at restaurants, for example, can feel belittled and pushed around, and they have traumatic feelings as a result. They use Yelp to process those feelings, the writer says, so they can feel better about the world around them.

It's a weird little idea, but it does make sense. If talking about something bad helps people to forget, and bad things often happen in consumer interactions, people might very well write a ton of negative reviews. It's the best way to cope.

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