How to get out of employer request I'm uncomfortable with?
October 2, 2012 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I work at a business of a type that gets rated on sites like yelp and google. My boss has always been concerned about the low ratings we get (which are honestly not that bad). I'm pretty sure the boss is taking it personally and I have trouble believing that the business could be losing money due to low ratings. Yesterday, at the boss's orders, all the lower-downs in the clinic, including me, were handed instructions to post positive reviews on some specific sites, pretending to be clients. We were each assigned a day to do it and told which sites "really needed" a positive review and which ones didn't matter so much. I think this is pretty pathetic, also against these sites' policies obviously, and I absolutely don't want to do it. What can I say to the boss or to my manager that will get me out of this assignment?
posted by srs airbag to Work & Money (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If the sites post the reviews from your co-workers, flag them as fraudulent. Maybe getting a bunch of them deleted will help.
posted by jaguar at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Say nothing, go along with it, do not appear to be a dissenter in this issue. Forward a copy of the instructions to Gawker or some other gossip site.

Probably not the wisest way to handle it, but sure to be amusing.
posted by ryanrs at 10:28 AM on October 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Hey boss, this is dishonest and I don't feel comfortable doing it."

That's what I'd say. Consequences are another matter, but I'd be making plans to bail on this tool. Of course that's easy for me to say, I work for myself.

Good luck. Stay safe from evil.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:28 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Direct your boss to Yelp's content guidelines, specifically their conflict of interest policy. Employees fraudulently posting positive reviews could result in much worse things than the current "low" ratings your company has (including possible removal from the site entirely, and the very strong likelihood of a public pillorying).

Also, what kind of person is your boss - would he/she respond to you pushing back based on ethical grounds? "I'm not comfortable with doing this, as it's dishonest and unethical, and that's not how I do business" - would that go anywhere, you think?
posted by jbickers at 10:29 AM on October 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

"Boss, I'm uncomfortable writing something deceptive and I don't think I can do it."

Make your dissent quiet and private between you and him. That said, you can still be disciplined and terminated because you didn't go along with it. Your comfort level with that or the likelihood of it is all up to your own personal judgment.
posted by inturnaround at 10:30 AM on October 2, 2012

I'm uncomfortable. I'd just say, "I'd rather not."

I'm not sure how that's going to go over, but you'll sleep better at night.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:31 AM on October 2, 2012

Come up with another alternative to propose, like some kind of contest for anyone who rates the site regardless of rating. Indicate that the low cost is still minute compared to the potential downside of getting busted using the tactics he's suggesting. Additionally, come up with a policy for addressing these poor reviews. Some businesses are doing a good job.

Bonus: you just added SOCIAL MEDIA CONSULTANT to your resume.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:33 AM on October 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yelp's preferences are no concern of yours. Create an account that you don't use personally so it won't hurt your online reputation, and go ahead and write a review to your boss's liking. The Yelp police won't come to your house, and there are more important things to stake your personal ethics on.

Facebook wants you to report friends who don't use their real names. Don't do that, either, even though Facebook would really like you to.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:33 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

The ethical approach: tell your manager that you don't want to violate the terms of service of these websites, and that what he's doing is probably illegal.
Pros: You are scrupulously maintaining your integrity.
Cons: Your boss will get angry with you.

The pragmatic approach: call in sick that day, tell your manager you'll make it up by having your friends submit good reviews over the course of the following weeks (to make them sound "more authentic"), then point to some of the occasional good reviews that trickle in and claim that those came from your friends and therefore you have fulfilled your duty.
Pros: You don't rock the boat.
Cons: You are lying to a liar about lying for that liar, which might get confusing.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:35 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not an ethics question so much as a business risk question. I think it should be framed like that for the boss.

You could send the Yelp guidelines, and say that asking employees to do this is a concern not just for now, but the future. If any one of them is fired (or even just randomly upset), they could simply forward the memo to Yelp anonymously, which would lead to the business's removal and hurt the business much more in the long term.

I think that asking the employees to do something that is so blatantly against guidelines is taking a big risk for the business's future, because it is essentially trusting every single one of them to not share their instructions. And not just them, but their spouses and friends. It doesn't take much to get bad publicity and companies like Yelp take that seriously.

The safest choice for the boss would be if he or she to followed up with a memo to all the employees saying that the first memo was in error, based on not understanding Yelp's guidelines. And now that the boss is aware, they are absolutely not to post fraudulent reviews.

TL;DR - I think you'd do best to frame this as a risk and liability issue with the boss, rather than an ethics issue. You can look up examples of companies that have gotten bad press for doing just that, if you can find any.

To the boss: "I see why you have asked us to do this, but upon reading the guidelines I see that it's a big violation and I think there could be consequences for the business in the future. Here is how it could happen... I wonder if you would reconsider asking us to do this."
posted by kellybird at 10:35 AM on October 2, 2012 [27 favorites]

Thanks everyone!

I'm going to have a conversation with boss about this today - not sure how it will go down. I think boss is pretty reasonable most of the time, and I try to be as well, so fingers crossed.

I appreciate your inputs!
posted by srs airbag at 10:37 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I believe Yelp offers businesses the opportunity to respond to reviews once registered? Perhaps suggest that he registers the business and responds to some reviews thanking them and letting them know there will be steps taken to avoid unpleasurable experiences in the future
posted by WeekendJen at 10:49 AM on October 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

Talking to the boss seems the right path.

The only thing I wouldn't do is mention the "angry ex-employee" scenario directly. Just thinking about that kind of thing makes a lot of bosses see red, and it sort of comes off as a veiled threat.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:04 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

At a previous place of employment, we attempted to address this problem by explaining the situation privately to some of our favorite and most understanding clients and asked them to post reviews/replies on the offending sites. I think the owner may have offered some of them a token bennie as encouragement, but nothing that rose to the level of inappropriate.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:05 AM on October 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think Rock Steady has the right idea. Don't you or your co-workers or you boss have any pals that can boost the reviews? I don't know if Yelp checks the ISPs of posters, but you might want to consider that--too many raves from the same ISP could trigger an alarm.
But I also think that you might rethink your ethical issues--you're not swearing in front of a Congressional committee, you're trying to keep the business that employs you from going under. Not the hill to die on, in my opinion. Maybe your boss has unrealistic expectations, but maybe you would feel the same if it was your business on the line.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:29 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guarantee that, on Yelp at least, a bunch of drive-by positive reviews posted from new accounts are not going to be displayed or factored into the business's rating. Yelp filters them out precisely to avoid the sort of system-gaming you're describing.
posted by BurntHombre at 11:41 AM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Passive-aggressive approach:
Tell Boss yes, you made the favorable review, but under a fake name (and maybe check the site for a suitable entry from someone else you can claim was yours?). Say you didn't want your real name attached to it, just in case it could be traced back to the business.
posted by easily confused at 11:57 AM on October 2, 2012

Another, better, solution to the problem is putting in place policies to encourage happy customers to post positive reviews. Rewarding customers for reviews is unethical, but encouraging people to review the business and pointing them toward the URL to do so is totally legit. Figure out when in the process of interacting with you customers are happiest, and ask them to do so at that point.

Do you have a Facebook page your loyal customers can like? Post requests for reviews there, where you'll self-select for a positive audience. Refer-a-friend promotions can also help turn your customers into advertisers on your behalf.

Your conversation with your boss will go SO MUCH BETTER if you can suggest constructive alternatives to this idea. You say you don't think the reviews are causing you to lose money, but your boss is clearly concerned about something, and you should be taking those concerns seriously. It's extremely difficult to run a profitable small supportive that your company likely always needs more people coming in the door.
posted by psycheslamp at 12:12 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Reviews by new users are usually hidden anyway, but I agree that talking to the boss about this potentially hurting the business more in the long run is a great idea.

As for Yelp's "unethical" practices, as far as I know, the lawsuit was dismissed. "The Court did not find any wrongful business practices on the part of Yelp, much less 'extortion." Google around for updated information.
posted by plaintiff6r at 1:08 PM on October 2, 2012

> This is not an ethics question so much as a business risk question. I think it should be framed like that for the boss. You could send the Yelp guidelines, and say that asking employees to do this is a concern not just for now, but the future. If any one of them is fired (or even just randomly upset), they could simply forward the memo to Yelp anonymously, which would lead to the business's removal and hurt the business much more in the long term.

I agree that risk vs loss is the right way to frame this, but dial back on the details of an imagined "angry ex-employee" scenario, because it sounds like a veiled threat.

This doesn't need to be that complicated. Inform him of the site's policies and explain that the risk is the business having no profile for the on online review sites at all, which is pretty much like having an unlisted number.

How will Yelp find out that the reviews are fake? Because it's pretty tricky to be anonymous online. Also, fake reviews sound fake; it's pretty tricky to write them convincingly.

But you don't need to convince him based on your say-so -- find a couple of nicely scare-mongery articles about the above two issues that you "happened" to run across in nice, mainstream publications.
posted by desuetude at 1:33 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Point him to Yelp's guidelines, and tell him that you're going to get busted because all of these reviews will come from the same IP address. Do you need strategies to suggest for generating positive reviews, ie is that part of your job?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:26 PM on October 2, 2012

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