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Should Self-Storage Operators Muddy Their Boots With Yelp and Other Social Media?

Using Yelp and other social media outlets effectively can be a tricky course for the best self-storage operators. Online customer reviews and written interaction with prospects and tenants can be equally rewarding and infuriating. Throw in the complicated dynamic of how search engines use these channels to boost or suppress a storage facility’s search rankings, and the prospect of navigating through the muck without severely soiling one’s shoes gets murky.

Tony Jones

October 30, 2014

5 Min Read
Should Self-Storage Operators Muddy Their Boots With Yelp and Other Social Media?

Traversing the muddy expanse that is home to Yelp and other prominent forms of social media can be a tricky course for the best self-storage operators. Online customer reviews and written interaction with prospects and tenants via social media channels can be equally rewarding and infuriating for managers and owners alike. Throw in the complicated dynamic of how search engines use these channels to boost or suppress a storage facility’s search rankings, and the prospect of navigating through the muck without severely soiling one’s shoes gets, well, murky.

For small, independent owners to stay on top of online reviews is tough enough without distrusting the platforms from which they are posted. Yelp is ground zero for many business owners, including self-storage operators. At issue is whether the site boosts favorable reviews when a business advertises on the site and suppresses them in favor of more negative reviews when businesses don’t spend money.

This isn’t a new conspiracy theory. Business owners have been complaining for years. In a 2012 thread on Self-Storage Talk (SST), moderator MamaDuke proclaimed, “I do read my Yelp reviews. However, what I have noticed after dealing with issues on Yelp and taking a look at many other businesses is that Yelp likes to leave negative reviews on your main page and ‘filter’ out the good reviews. I have seen it over and over enough to know that it's not random, no matter what they say.”

Make no mistake; this is a common perception. In fact, a restaurant owner in Richmond, Calif., recently became so incensed with Yelp that he launched a campaign to become the worst-rated restaurant in the world. Botto Bistro chef and co-owner Davide Cerretoni insists the restaurant began receiving more negative reviews than normal after he stopped advertising. To get even, Cerretoni began offering discount coupons to customers who posted one-star reviews. The campaign went viral, and the number of Botto Bistro reviews jumped from around 150 to more than 1,000. On its Facebook page, Botto Bistro says it achieved its goal of more than 1,200 one-star reviews in less than three days.

The point? To make a statement about the intrinsic value of online reviews and to campaign for better transparency from Yelp. While Yelp has vehemently denied any link between advertising and reviews, a September ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco basically said the website has the right to set ad prices and adjust reviews. “Any implicit threat by Yelp to remove positive reviews absent payment for advertising was not wrongful within the meaning of the extortion statutes," wrote Judge Marsha Berzon. The court also upheld an earlier dismissal of a proposed class-action lawsuit sought by small-business owners. You can read the full ruling here.

Whether or not the ruling serves as the end of the legal battle between small businesses and Yelp remains to be seen, but the court’s decision was no doubt sobering to many who believe they have been jilted. For now, self-storage operators must decide whether or not they want to play Yelp’s game. The website holds cards in that it plays an influential role in search rankings, and to be fair, many operators have benefited from the exposure the platform provides.

In a revived social media thread earlier this year, SST moderator Storman wrote, “Social media doesn't work for every business, and I think storage might be one where the time and energy spent is not productive. I have never looked at any type of social media to determine who gets my business in any industry. I just don't care about tweets and likes. Ninety percent of all my business right now is coming from Yelp; they call me, and I close the deal. The other 10 percent is from everything else: drive-bys, signage, previous customers, referrals. Why would I spend one valuable minute on Twitter, [Facebook] or a blog?”

To be successful on social media takes time, energy and money, and every storage operator needs to weigh the cost of resources against the rewards. As SST senior member lenmay points out, much depends on an operator’s market. Is it worth spending resources on a far-reaching platform when you’re really trying to target an audience living in a small radius of three to five miles?

“Advertising is hard enough and complicated enough,” lenmay wrote. “We should do the most productive things first. We should study what works and double our efforts on those things. Then you can try the less-effective things. In many cases, the time and money spent on those secondary things cost more than they bring in.”

When it comes to Yelp, some operators may benefit from the organic exposure and whatever customer reviews trickle in. Others may see a greater return in buying advertising on the site or incentivizing reviews from customers. There’s really only one way to find out for sure. Tracking reviews and rentals before and after advertising on Yelp, should give you some data on which to make a reasonable assessment to its cost-effectiveness.

No matter how you feel about social media and its effect on your business, every self-storage operator should at least pay attention to the chatter online, whether on Yelp, Google+, Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere. Claim your local listings in online directories and make sure your contact information is correct and up to date.

If you choose to traverse the muddy expanse, make sure you have a plan. ISS has numerous resources on various social media topics, including recent articles on basic etiquetteSEO tips, advertising features, Twitter’s new design and conversing on LinkedIn. Immersive content on online metrics, smart SEO, customer acquisition, handling customer reviews and much more are available in the ISS Store.

Just remember that the deeper you trudge, the more you might also need to invest in one of these bad boys. Please share some examples of how you use social media and handle online reviews in the comments section below.

About the Author(s)

Tony Jones

ISS Store Manager, Contributing Editor, Inside Self-Storage

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