One bed-and-breakfast is generating a lot of bad buzz over its intimidating online-review policy. Union Street Guest House, a historic inn near the Catskills in Hudson, New York, has—until very recently—charged wedding parties a $500 fee per negative review left on “any Internet site” by their wedding party guests.
The hotel was so unabashed about its negative-review policy that it warned guests on its website. The site has since been revised, but according to The Verge, it previously said:
If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here...Therefore: If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any Internet site by anyone in your party and / or attending your wedding or event.
Word about the $500 per bad review penalty spread like wildfire. It was mentioned by at least one guest on Yelp, who gave the B&B one-star reviews. The policy was then reported by hundreds of media outlets including the New York Post’s Page Six, Slate and TechCrunch.
Ironically the negative-review policy ultimately caused Union Street Guest House to get dozens (if not hundreds) of snarky one-star Yelp reviews, many from people poking fun at the egregious bad-review fine.
Of course, this is not the first time a small business has used intimidation to manipulate its customer reviews and online reputation. Mediabridge Products, a New Jersey company that sells cabling and connectivity products, was booted from Amazon in May after threatening to sue a customer for leaving a nasty product review. Travis Hartinger of Chicago recently said Airoom, a local company he paid to remodel his kitchen, revoked the last nine years of his 10-year warranty after he left disparaging comments on Angie’s List.
But the brazenness of Union Street Guest House’s policy brought it to the next level. It offers yet another lesson to business owners: Bullying your customers into leaving positive reviews—or scaring them into not posting unflattering reviews—will surely backfire on you. If you want a terrific online reputation, you have to earn it legitimately.
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