Can Yelp Help Government Win Back the Public’s Trust?

Tod Newcombe at Governing: “Look out, DMV, IRS and TSA. Yelp, the popular review website that’s best known for its rants or cheers regarding restaurants and retailers, is about to make it easier to review and rank government services.

Last month, Yelp and the General Services Administration (GSA), which manages the basic functions of the federal government, announced that government workers will soon be able to read and respond to their agencies’ Yelp reviews — and, hopefully, incorporate the feedback into service improvements.

At first glance, the news might not seem so special. There already are Yelp pages for government agencies like Departments of Motor Vehicles, which have been particularly popular. San Francisco’s DMV office, for example, has received more than 450 reviews and has a three-star rating. But federal agencies and workers haven’t been allowed to respond to the reviewers nor could they collect data from the pages because Yelp hadn’t been approved by the GSA. The agreement changes that situation, also making it possible for agencies to set up new Yelp pages….

Yelp has been posting online reviews about restaurants, bars, nail salons and other retailers since 2004. Despite its reputation as a place to vent about bad service, more than two-thirds of the 82 million reviews posted since Yelp started have been positive with most rated at either four or five stars, according to the company’s website. And when businesses boost their Yelp rating by one star, revenues have increased by as much as 9 percent, according to a 2011 study by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Luca.

Now the public sector is about to start paying more attention to those rankings. More importantly, they will find out if engaging the public in a timely fashion changes their perception of government.

While all levels of government have become active with social media, direct interaction between an agency and citizens is still the exception rather than the rule. Agencies typically use Facebook and Twitter to inform followers about services or to provide information updates, not as a feedback mechanism. That’s why having a more direct connection between the comments on a Yelp page and a government agency represents a shift in engagement….(More)”