No One Called for Yelp

We react to the news that Yelp, in partnership with GoFundMe, created fundraising campaigns as “COVID-19 Small Business Relief” on behalf of businesses without prior consent. We also discuss the optics of fundraising and the importance of maintaining control over marketing your business, even when your business may be temporarily closed.

Show Notes

Resources:

GoFundMe – Search your business name and “Support [Business Name] COVID-19 Relief in [City]” to determine if this applies to your business

GoFundMe – Submit a request to claim your campaign (requires EIN and valid ID to opt in or out)

GoFundMe – The Small Business Relief Initiative & Fund FAQs

Yelp (3/24/20) – Helping local businesses raise money with up to $1 million in matching donations

TechCrunch (3/24/20) – Yelp and GoFundMe team up to promote local business fundraisers

TechCrunch (3/27/20) – Yelp pauses GoFundMe Covid-19 fundraising after opt-out outcry

CNBC (3/27/20) – Yelp created GoFundMe pages for small businesses without permission, then made it hard to cancel

Google – Find related images with reverse image search

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Edited for length and clarity.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

JAIME: Welcome to Outgrowth Podcast: A Slice of Pro Beauty.

ASHLEY: With your hosts Ashley Gregory.

JAIME: And Jaime Schrabeck. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve discovered something shocking that may involve your business without your knowledge.

ASHLEY: If you thought Yelp was questionable before, this episode may just convince you that Yelp is actually evil. Stay tuned and let’s grow together.

JAIME: As more salons close, more beauty and salon professionals worry about their financial future. Your clients may be interested in helping your business until you reopen.

ASHLEY: But in this uncertainty, no one has the definitive answers. However, a few companies think they know best.

JAIME: I feel like you have something to share with us, Ashley.

ASHLEY: Oh boy, do I. My brain is on fire with this one, Jaime, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. I have found out, this morning actually, that Yelp has teamed up with GoFundMe and Intuit QuickBooks to set up GoFundMe campaign fundraisers on business Yelp pages without their prior knowledge or consent. Can you stand it?

JAIME: That may explain why I’ve seen some posting on Facebook pointing their fingers, naming and shaming other salons for having GoFundMe pages.

ASHLEY: Yeah. There’s a lot of looking down your nose at other people and saying, find another way to fundraise. Find another way to support your business. This is making us look bad, and it’s because Yelp has actually rolled out an automatic GoFundMe campaign creation for salons, restaurants, nightlife, and active businesses, for those business categories that have claimed their Yelp page by March 22nd. So if you have claimed your Yelp page by, I think, Sunday of last week, and you fall into the category of beauty, spa, or salon, you may actually have a GoFundMe campaign active for your business right now without your knowledge.

JAIME: And how would I find that out?

ASHLEY: You actually need to visit your Yelp page. And if you see a support your business name little graphic underneath your Yelp listing, that would give you a clue as to that. Otherwise, you can also go to gofundme.com and search. There’s a specific phrasing, all of these campaigns are support, business name, COVID-19 relief in city name. They all have that same structure and they seem to all have a $2,500 default goal. And you can either opt in or opt out, but either way you have to claim the fundraiser as yours, even if you want it taken down, even if you want it to go away. You still have to claim it.

JAIME: That makes me think of a company sending you something that you never ordered, never wanted, and expecting you to pay for it. It’s unbelievable. I cannot understand why anyone does business with Yelp. I just heard about this recently because under normal circumstances, I don’t have anything to do with Yelp. I have never claimed my Yelp page because, as far as I’m concerned, they don’t exist. My clients aren’t interested in leaving reviews. They’re interested in maintaining their standing appointments and I rely on them to show up. I’m not actively seeking new clients, so I’ve never even engaged with Yelp.

ASHLEY: And I can’t fault other business owners for engaging with Yelp. I understand that a lot of salon owners, especially who are looking for new clientele or trying to actively bring in new clients, have used Yelp in the past. However, I want to say this is just a, this is just a statistic I’ve made up in my head, but it feels like the majority of those business owners regret it. They regret paying for Yelp advertising. They regret claiming their business page, because then you start creating a little bit of collateral that Yelp can then use to say, well, if you don’t advertise with us or if you don’t advertise with us again, we’ll hide all of your positive reviews because they suddenly don’t meet our community standards and requirements. For Yelp to partner with GoFundMe, without asking these businesses’ permission, has created an absolute firestorm on social media. In response to this, Yelp has said, okay, we’re going to stop the automatic rollout of these, but it looks like about 144,000 of these campaigns were started without the businesses opting in. Most, like I said, with a default goal of $2,500. Here’s the fun part, and I say fun very sarcastically. If the business raises at least $500 and meets GoFundMe’s terms of service, which are ridiculously long, as you know, we all just click agree anyway, right? They’re eligible to receive a $500 grant from the Yelp foundation, GoFundMe, and Intuit QuickBooks up to $1 million total. So if you opt into this and you raise at least $500, they’ll match that $500, but this can send a message that your business is in trouble. This can send a message that you are close to closing. This is something that Yelp never, ever, ever should have done without at least letting the businesses opt in by their own choice. Now, Yelp is saying that they emailed everybody that was going to be a part of this initial 144,000 business rollout, but many business owners are saying they never got an email. They never got a choice.

JAIME: I have to claim ignorance because I’ve only ever donated through GoFundMe once, and I told myself I would never do that again. I certainly have never launched a GoFundMe campaign, and as I have mentioned previously, I’ve never claimed my business on Yelp itself. All of these things combining together, to me, is just an unholy alliance and the axis of evil, as it were, of these two companies. And then you mentioned a third company into it, which I actually do business with. I’ve been using Quicken as my financial software for, oh my goodness, more than 25 years, and I use them for payroll, and just recently launched their time sheets program to track the time my employees are on the clock. I don’t understand how this even came to be, or how quickly they were able to pull this off when you think about it, because this is a huge undertaking to have these different organizations coordinate with each other and then to launch so quickly.

ASHLEY: It’s unclear how this happened so fast. It was announced on Tuesday of this week on the 24th, and it’s on the Yelp blog. There’s a statement from, I think, their CEO talking about it. So they did put out a press release. They didn’t do this in secret. Unfortunately, something broke down along the way to inform, number one, the business owner. So Yelp and GoFundMe have come together to really fundraise on your behalf and have done so in most cases without the business owner’s prior knowledge and definitely without their consent. Here’s another, again, fun detail that I found out this morning. So let’s say you want to shut this down. You find that there’s a GoFundMe campaign in the name of your business and you want to get rid of it.   GoFundMe requires you to claim it as your campaign, and in order to claim it and then opt out, you have to send in the front and back of your photo ID, your business EIN, your employer identification number, which a lot of small businesses don’t have because they are sole proprietors. So that means you have to send your social security number in to GoFundMe in order to have this taken down. Many businesses I’m seeing pushing back on this on Twitter, are mentioning they don’t have an EIN. So this now creates an obstacle to removing the fundraiser and to opt out. I have a screenshot that we’ll share on Twitter and we’ll share on our Instagram stories from GoFundMe about how to actually opt out of this. So if you find that you have a GoFundMe campaign in the name of your business that you did not set up, you do unfortunately have to go through this entire process in order to have it taken down. If you opt out of the GoFundMe campaign and decide that you don’t want to move forward with it, even though it was created without your knowledge, anyone that may have donated to it will automatically be refunded.

JAIME: Can you modify what the GoFundMe campaign says about your business?

ASHLEY: I don’t believe so. It looks like everything that I’ve seen in the GoFundMe campaigns that are obviously made by this entire endeavor have just pulled information from the Yelp page.   So it’ll say, here’s a GoFundMe. It’s for this amount. And then it’ll say about the business, and some of them even just say, we offer this kind of nail service and it gives a rundown of their menu, or it’ll say, we were established in this time. and we’re a restaurant, and their restaurant menu. It’s really slapdash. It was clearly either put together through some type of artificial intelligence or just done systemically. GoFundMe is calling this the Small Business Relief Fund. That is the arm through which they are issuing these $500 matching grants. There’s a lot of fine print. You definitely have to meet GoFundMe’s terms of service. And Yelp is only creating these for specific businesses, and here’s the fine print that I waded through this morning in research for this episode. These were created for a handful of eligible businesses. They must be in the United States. They must have claimed their business on Yelp, like I said, by March 22nd. They must have five or fewer locations, and the businesses must be listed under a category that we mentioned before, like restaurants, food, nightlife. They have to have been negatively impacted by a government mandate due to COVID-19, and be independently owned and operated, and not nationally dominant in their field. Plus, they actually stipulate how you have to use the funds if you receive the $500 matching grant. You have to intend to use the funds to either help care for your employees, or pay ongoing business expenses. If you are maybe a sole proprietor and you want to use this for personal rent or keeping the lights on, et cetera, you can’t do it. And I don’t know what the penalties are for that. I don’t know how they keep track of that. I wasn’t able to find that information. They’re also saying that businesses received an email, which we will also post on our social media channels, with instructions on how to collect the funds or how to opt out. But again, many did not. I just, I, I’m so flabbergasted by this. It’s so strange to me that Yelp continues to push its own agenda ahead of the best interests of the small businesses that they purport to support. You can chase this down the rabbit hole of their frequently asked questions pages, like someone saying, if I received this grant, is it taxable? And GoFundMe basically says, well, we’re not tax professionals so we can’t give you tax advice. 

JAIME: Ashley, did you say support or extort?

ASHLEY: Oh, there it is. You’re so correct. I think a lot of people in the industry, when we were in simpler, more normal times, a lot of industry leaders have referred to Yelp as the mafia. They referred to Yelp as small business extortion, those protection schemes that you would see in those mafioso movies like, oh, nice business. Wouldn’t it be terrible if something were to happen to it? And then you have to pay your weekly or monthly protection. It’s exactly the same situation when you break it down to Yelp hiding positive reviews, and now potentially damaging your business reputation by putting this fundraising out there.

JAIME: Which would horrify me if that were my business being associated with either Yelp or GoFundMe. It seems like the location-specific nature of this would be an explanation for the 144,000. It would only apply to those businesses under whose governments there’s an order to shelter in place and not operate.

ASHLEY: Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case either. That to me would at least make sense, because you and I are both under a shelter in place order where we live respectively. You would think, okay, they must have done this by zip code. No. Mississippi, the whole state of Mississippi is not under any kind of shelter in place order or any mandate for salons to be closed, and I was seeing these auto-generated GoFundMe campaigns for salons in the state of Mississippi. Now that’s my very unscientific research, and you can draw whatever conclusions you want from that, but there doesn’t really seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

JAIME: Here’s another assumption that Yelp is making, and that is that these salons have employees.

ASHLEY: True. If you’re not set up wherein you draw from your own payroll and you’re technically an employee of your own business, how does that work? How’s it, how does it work if you’re a 1099, and I’m doing air quotes right now, employee of a salon, which we know doesn’t exist. There’s a lot of questions about what happens if money is donated to a GoFundMe on behalf of a salon that they don’t know exists, and they don’t opt in or out. Where does that money go?

JAIME: I’m not sharing any business information with any company, particularly one that I’ve already chosen not to do business with. Why would I engage at all?

ASHLEY: I found it very interesting, to that point, that a lot of the questions were, well, if I didn’t set this up, and Yelp did it for me, and GoFundMe is the tool with which they are enacting this horrible strategy, are they keeping, cause GoFundMe is notorious for keeping a portion of whatever donations you make through their platform. Yelp answered that question by saying no, they are not keeping or receiving any portion of the donations, but donations through the GoFundMe platform might be subject to processing fees in some instances per the terms of the GoFundMe platform. So you didn’t even get a choice, number one, that this was to be set up for you and your business. And secondly, you weren’t allowed to pick the fundraising platform. So you are now beholden to these fees to GoFundMe. This entire thing just stinks all the way around.

JAIME: This situation reminds me of the food delivery apps that were setting up websites that look like they belong to legitimate restaurants in order to essentially lure customers into ordering food, and come to find out many of these restaurants didn’t even offer takeout.

ASHLEY: Yelp actually was one of the platforms that was doing that. I know that Yelp is a company that is very large, for them to pull something like this off, to happen so quickly. I know typically the larger the company, the less agile they are. But Yelp seems to be able to turn on a dime and make these decisions without seemingly any kind of consultation from their customer base or who they say they support. It’s a terrible idea executed in an even worse fashion.

JAIME: What about consulting their own attorneys? I can’t even understand how this is defensible because, at a minimum, it’s misrepresenting someone’s legitimate business, which in fact, in my case is trademarked and it could be fraud.

ASHLEY: I agree. And this is interstate commerce, e-commerce. I don’t know if GoFundMe takes donations through the US mail, but this could be wire fraud. It could be a mail fraud for someone to set up, let’s just say if, let’s take Yelp out of the equation, and I, again, I am not an attorney, so my understanding of the law is pretty much everything I’ve seen through any type of Dick Wolf TV show. Let’s say it’s not Yelp. Let’s say, someone you went to high school with wants to do you a solid and sees that due to COVID-19, your salon has shut down. So they take images from your Yelp page, and from your website, and use your business name to set up a GoFundMe on your behalf or on your businesses behalf. How would you feel about that and would that be breaking any local, state, or federal laws? I don’t know.

JAIME: Well, at a minimum, I would be embarrassed because I take pride in how I represent my own business, and I take great pains to make sure that wherever my business is listed, whether it be my own website, or any associations I have with companies, or trade shows, or other professionals, that it’s represented in a way that I feel comfortable with and certainly my reputation locally as a salon owner and manicurist is important to my clients. And again, I would be horrified personally, and I would be embarrassed if my clients felt sorry for me and thought they needed to donate through this GoFundMe campaign. I’d be even more upset if they felt like they couldn’t just contact me directly and say, hey, did you set this up? Is this really for you? Is this something that you approved of? Because my sense is that most of my clients, if they were to see that setup for my business, they’d know something was wrong. They’d know that I had not approved that, and they’d probably be alerting me to the fact that it even existed.

ASHLEY: Absolutely. And that’s something that a salon owner that I spoke with who wishes to remain anonymous. She was actually alerted to the existence of this GoFundMe by one of her clients. And that’s how I found her, is that one of her clients was tweeting about it. And she said that her client told her, hey, did you start fundraising for your salon? And I said, what? No. She sent me the GoFundMe link and I found it. I contacted customer service, but they have not responded yet. I don’t know where this money goes because I won’t accept donations. This is what that salon owner told me and I asked her, did you receive an email from Yelp letting you know that they had set this up? And she said, I received an email after this had already been set up. I was trying to delete the campaign, but there is no way to do that. I really don’t want donations. I hope nobody finds this. And my heart just broke for her because we’re already feeling so powerless right now because we can’t set our own financial agendas, our own business agendas, our own client agendas for the foreseeable future, and to have Yelp do something potentially with good intentions, that ends up making you feel much more powerless. I believe that that makes the people that this has happened to victims of Yelp. Yelp has put them into a situation where they now must either opt in or opt out, and reveal personal financial and business data in order to do so.

JAIME: It puts them into a class as in a class action. I don’t know where the attorneys general are on this, but I certainly plan to contact my state attorney general and ask what’s being done.

ASHLEY: I would not be surprised if that was the next step for many of these businesses. A 144,000 makes a very large class for a class action lawsuit. To me, it’s taking liberties with not even small businesses, businesses of any size. I just can’t imagine what the meeting looked like where this was pitched, and multiple people had to say this was a good idea and give it the green light. To me, that just proves the culture at Yelp, the mission at Yelp, which is to just bulldoze everyone, and do anything they want, and everyone else just has to kind of be okay with it, I guess.

JAIME: I believe that’s called disruption.

ASHLEY: Yes, and there was a bar owner in Portland who has been a very widely quoted source about this entire situation. He said his bar had barely opened before the mandate to close happened. And he said, hey, what gives Yelp? I never said this was okay for you to do. He makes a very good point. And I have, I think, a quote from him. Essentially, he brought up a great point by saying, what if the existence of this keeps me from being able to file any type of insurance claim? As a small business owner, Yelp has now made this choice for me, which creates this domino effect of other choices being made for me without my consent. I pride myself as a business owner in my ability to make decisions, my ability to look down the road, and try to protect what I’ve built and for this large company to take that choice away from me, it’s absolutely shameful.

JAIME: That’s an excellent point. And the other thought I had was that just from a PR perspective, that it may end up alienating your clients or, because more than just your clients can see this, anyone in your community who may at some point consider using your services in the future. They are potential clients who are going to reflect on, hey, that’s the salon that ran this campaign to fundraise.

ASHLEY: Totally. And you and I, we both teach business classes in the salon and beauty space. And so if someone were to be researching me or you, and seeing us in a show book or something down the road, and seeing that we’d been fundraising, who would follow our advice?   This just kind of hit the news wires. CNBC has it. TechCrunch has it. And so we’ll be posting those links in the show notes, of course. So you can read those articles and get more of the background here. But hopefully this is very widely shared because I have a little bit of a problem with the negative optics of people fundraising. I’m not going to judge anybody how they support their business or how they choose to find extra funds, especially now. I think there’s smart ways to do it, but understanding that our business is made up of primarily women and women of color, we all don’t have those same choices when it comes to SBA loans, or low interest disaster loans, or things like that. Some of us might not have been in business long enough to qualify and some of us may not have done our finances in a way that would allow us to collect that. So if you have a GoFundMe as a salon owner or as an independent beauty professional, there’s no judgment from us on that. I just think, of course, there’s better ways to do it, but if you’re not aware of that, and somebody is going to use that against you, I think that’s pretty gross as well.

JAIME: Some may not qualify because they only have a tax ID number because of their immigration status.

ASHLEY: Correct. I think this makes the definitive case for not claiming your Yelp page. If you’ve already claimed it, I’ve made this mistake. I claimed a booth rental situation that ended up not working out, and now my name is permanently fixed to a permanently closed business on Yelp. And that stinks. And that was my own mistake. I guess this kind of speaks to a greater trend in our industry where we are just very trusting of technology. We sign up for lots of different things like online scheduling, and marketing things that may or may not have our best interests at heart, and maybe taking client data or using our data in a way that is predatory.  

JAIME: That reminds me of the one time that I experimented with a newer platform to promote my business, and I believe it was called GalTime, and I will double check that. But I thought, yeah, what the heck? You know, back in the day we used to purchase yellow pages ads and who sees those anymore? But in order to be the baddest, the biggest, you’d spend the most money to get the largest ad in the yellow pages. That’s not even an option anymore, so what are we doing instead? We’re spending money on internet advertising. I thought, well, I’ll, I’ll try this. It was a limited time. It was a limited amount of money. It was not a per click basis fee, so I thought, you know, I could control how much gets spent. I thought, sure, but I’m not running any specials. I’m not offering any discounts. It’s just putting myself out there, and my business as being available, and here’s what we offer, and here’s a link to our website.  Unbeknownst to me, I think it was in month three of my six month contract, they ran a special.

ASHLEY: Oh, you’re kidding.

JAIME: I am not kidding. They ran a special. I don’t run specials, I don’t do discounts. And I believe they listed it as a mani-pedi special which, if anyone knows me, I never, ever refer to my services as mani-pedis because I think it belittles what it is that we do. But I was furious and immediately blasted them, terminated the contract, cut them off and let everyone know that I possibly could not to do business with that company. And I don’t even know if they still exist. I haven’t even looked back at it now. Interestingly enough, no one called. No one even responded to that offer, so it wasn’t doing me any good anyway, but just the fact that it was even out there. Something else happened to me similarly, and this is on a more positive note. If I want to give something away, I’m going to donate it to a charity. I’m going to donate to a nonprofit, and we’ve been known over the years to donate thousands and thousands of dollars worth of gift cards to nonprofit organizations that use them either as door prizes, or part of a silent auction, or however they want to distribute them. Maybe they want to give it to one of their best volunteers. I don’t care, once I donate it to the organization, how it gets used. I just am showing my support for that organization and hoping that they pass it on to someone who will then find it useful, and actually come in and use it. One time, I was solicited to provide a gift card, and the event was very near, and I was not able to provide them with the packaging and the gift card like I normally do. And I just sort of let it go because I thought, okay, well, I guess we didn’t connect this year. Maybe we’ll connect next year. Lo and behold, a couple months later, someone called saying that they had purchased a gift certificate at a function for this organization. And I thought, hmm, that’s interesting because I never gave them a gift card. And they said, oh no, I have it. And what it was, and maybe I will do this as well, because I’d probably need to screenshot it so you can appreciate what it looks like. Someone, and I’m guessing it’s a man who has no idea what kind of nail services I do at my salon, had actually made up a gift card.

ASHLEY: Oh, no.

JAIME: With a photograph of some pretty hideous nail art on it, which is even more hilarious because I don’t do nail art either. So yeah, if you don’t control your branding, if you don’t control your image, if you don’t defend the reputation of your business in the public sphere, other people will do it for you.

ASHLEY: And there’s so many opportunists out right now that are in the same shoes that are trying to maintain and support their own businesses. And if they find an easy target. They will absolutely take advantage. That is hilarious. And I really want to see what that gift card looks like because I can only imagine some terrible stock photo with some just horrible nails on it. That cracks me up. I’m sorry it happened, but it is pretty funny.

JAIME: Oh, I saved it. And I’ve used it in classes to emphasize the point that you have to do your own branding. You have to control how your name is being used, where your logo gets used. And I know you’ve had some experience yourself with someone using your likeness, your business name in trying to promote, whether it’s some sort of educational activity or some other, I don’t know, event or moneymaking venture, that either you didn’t know about, or you had turned down.

ASHLEY: Yes. I know. And it’s so funny. It’s been happening more and more. So maybe that means I’m a bigger deal than I think I am. But it has been happening. I want to say every two months I find my face on a website that I had absolutely nothing to do with putting together. It’s really interesting because I’ve made it my mission to call those companies out, and to get in touch with them, and take a hard line and say, look, I have to protect my livelihood. You don’t have permission to use my likeness. Now I’m in a great position because I actually have a team of three agents that manage my session manicuring career. So if things really escalate, I can put the weight of my agency behind it and get my agents involved. But it’s so interesting, especially with the internet. I feel like companies and people feel emboldened that, oh, I can just do a Google image search for this person’s headshot and their logo, and put it wherever I want. It’s really important to kind of follow your example of only choosing specific types of causes to be involved with, only choosing specific platforms to use. And like, to your point, if let’s say your clients saw a Groupon for Precision Nails, they would know this is absolutely not authorized. This is an unauthorized use of your name, your likeness, your whatever, and we can get into trademarking and all of those sorts of things in a later episode. But there’s a reason those things and those protections exist because there are people out there, even if you don’t want to see the worst in people, especially right now, but there are people out there who if they’re pushed into a corner, or even just under regular circumstances, who if they think there’s something to be gained from it, we’ll put your face on something. And I can’t even imagine how celebrities deal with this. I’m sure they have teams of lawyers at the ready, but it’s definitely something that you need to be aware of. And Google reverse image search is such a great tool to just plop your headshot or your logo into it, or maybe even some photos of your work, to see where across the internet they’re being used.

JAIME: Let’s include that in the show notes too, Ashley.

ASHLEY: Great. I’ll make sure that happens. You’ll make sure that happens. You write the show notes. This entire Yelp thing I hope is starting the conversation, and getting more beauty professionals onboard, and understanding that online reputation management is something that takes time. I think we get involved with these different platforms because it saves us time and if you’re behind the chair, or behind the table, or what have you, we don’t have a ton of time, so we outsource it to things like Yelp, and Instagram, and whatever. There’s legitimate things. I think Facebook ads, Instagram ads, definitely legitimate. But when it comes to Yelp, what’s that quote? If someone shows you who they are, believe them. Yelp has time and time again shown themselves to be pretty predatory. I think it’s time, given this pause in our industry right now that we’ve never had before, to really reassess what technology platforms you use and whether they’re helping or hurting you.

JAIME: Well, that reminds me of better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. And I don’t even think Yelp is in the position to even ask for forgiveness at this point, because I don’t believe they think they’ve done anything wrong.

ASHLEY: No, I believe the same. When asked for comment, Yelp said the idea was to provide a fast and easy way for people to support their favorite local businesses. So maybe they saw the posts about, hey, if you want to support your stylist, buy a gift card, and they thought, oh, we can do one better. But the outcry that it has created, even in the Yelp’s response statement, there’s a specific sentence I want to read to you because it absolutely, of course, admits no liability. Yelp acknowledges that some businesses did not receive the notification with the opt out instructions, and some would have preferred to actively opt in to the program. As such, we have paused the automatic rollout of this feature and we are working with GoFundMe to provide a seamless way for businesses to opt into the program moving forward as we have received a great deal of interest and support for the program from both consumers and businesses alike.

JAIME: And to that, I say.

ASHLEY: Yeah, so a very well crafted PR statement. It admits absolutely no liability or fault, and says that, oh, many people have been enjoying this. Okay, many people. Also GoFundMe has been asking people who opt into their fundraiser to share a specific hashtag. It’s hashtag small business relief to their fundraisers story in order to make sure it’s on their radar for that matching grant. So if you look at that hashtag, there are definitely business owners who have opted in and are publicizing the fact that they need to raise at least $500 for the matching grant, but this is putting the cart so far ahead of the horse, the horse can’t even see it.

JAIME: May I suggest another hashtag? Hashtag Yelp COVID scam. And that statement describing this program as a feature? And then in that other statement that you read, it was an idea? Like, really they use the noun idea rather than saying something like this, well, thought out program or, so many other words that they could have used, except that really it’s an idea. It’s a bad idea. I have lots of ideas that never see the light of day for good reason.

ASHLEY: That may have been pulled from the CNBC article. The quote starts with a fast and easy way for people to support their favorite local businesses. They wanted to get it out quick. They wanted to look like the savior of small business, and they were willing to do it at the expense of every one of their members. Are they called members? Suckers? I don’t know, whatever.

JAIME: Suckers.

ASHLEY: Suckers, whatever. People who use Yelp regularly, and again, this isn’t meant to make you feel bad if you advertise on Yelp, or if you get a lot of your business from Yelp. I say squeeze as much juice out of that horrible fruit as you possibly can. Just understand that whatever you put on a technology platform, in general, that platform owns, so the information you’ve put onto your Yelp page, the photos you’ve put onto your Yelp page. I believe, if you go into their terms and conditions and their terms of service, they can use that stuff because you’ve uploaded it and then they host it. So just be careful. There are so many people out there who are looking for ways to support themselves and their businesses, and if it means scamming you or potentially making your business look bad so that theirs looks better, it’s happening. This is that on a grand scale.

JAIME: And it’s just more fishing for client data. Now they know if you’re someone who donates through one of these programs, they know you’re someone who’s willing to, whether you have a personal connection to this business or not, or if you’re, you may or may not be an existing client of the business. There’s no requirement that you’re a client or a customer of any of these businesses to donate. But to me, just the idea that my business name would be used to make others feel like I needed the money. And this was the way I was going to go about getting it, when I have a very definitive plan for myself and my business going forward, and none of it involves soliciting handouts.

ASHLEY: It’s just unfortunate and hopefully the good that will come from this is that people will be more cautious and will be more pragmatic about their choices moving forward as far as who they trust to do their marketing and how they spend their, their marketing budget, whether it’s something like Yelp, or something like Groupon, or something like spending a little bit of money to have a social media management firm, whatever that is. Just know that you have to consider the worst case scenario and protect yourself against it before it happens. And so I know we all just click accept on terms and conditions. You have to read that stuff. You have to look into it. We were very choosy about even our podcasting platform because we wanted to make sure that whatever rants we spit into these microphones, they remain ours and our content remains protected. It does not become the property of whatever platform we use to publish it. You’d be surprised how many even social media platforms, there’s kind of dubious or questionable language in their terms and conditions that allow them to use your images for promotion, your name, your likeness, whatever.

JAIME: When something is free, you’re the product, and if you are inputting your information in it, then you’re really selling yourself. But if you are now inputting, for example, your clients’ information into some database. Salon management software is a perfect example where if you’re not paying to use that service, you’re providing all this information, and I’m not even sure that your clients are aware, necessarily, that their information is being shared with someone who may be selling that information to third parties.

ASHLEY: That is correct. And PCI compliance is something that we talk about in our classes and something that we need to be aware of, and if you’re not familiar with that, with what that is, you can Google it, but it’s about putting in credit card information and how that gets protected, et cetera. If you find that you had one of these GoFundMe campaigns set up in your name or business name without your consent or knowledge, and you want to get rid of it, or you want to opt in to it, we’ll put the link in the show notes with all the information on how to do that. And we definitely want to hear from you, we want you to sound off about this. We want you to share this episode with other beauty professionals who may be affected. This is information that I worry we’ll get lost in the shuffle of the 24-hour news cycle. And the fact that there’s so much information coming at us right now so quickly. This is something that could potentially affect your business negatively in the long run, and we want to make sure that if someone’s fundraising on your behalf, it’s because you wanted them to.

JAIME: As if we weren’t already burdened, we have something else to concern ourselves with. And I think that’s another frustration with this because while those of us who aren’t able to provide services right now, yes, we have more free time, but there’s still things that I would rather do than to fight Yelp, fight GoFundMe, or have to contact an attorney or my state’s attorney general to try to get this resolved. I can’t even imagine having this as something else to add to my to do list.

ASHLEY: I don’t, I can’t even find the words. This makes me so angry. I searched for my own name. I don’t have one of these under my closed business page on Yelp, but I’ve found makeup artist and hair stylist contacts that I work with on set who do bridal makeup. There are a ton of those out there, so even if you don’t list yourself as a salon, but you might list yourself as a nail artist, or a makeup artist, or whatever, you could potentially be affected by this. So please look on your Yelp page. If you see a donate now button, that should be your first indication. Go to gofundme.com and search that specific support business name, COVID-19 relief in city name, and that will help you, and we’ll put that wording in the show notes too, and that will help you find it. I’d much rather you find it and make a decision, than your clients find it and make an assumption

JAIME: That’s an excellent point actually, because if you don’t do your own research, I’d much rather discover this for myself than to have a client or someone else I know bring it to my attention because, well, first of all, I wouldn’t even know to look for it, because I’m not a Yelp customer. I feel for anyone who’s impacted by this. And the going forward, it’s up to us to protect our businesses and we need to protect our reputations as well as the finances that we have, and this certainly could impact our finances down the road.

ASHLEY: We definitely want to hear from you on this. If you want to share with us your personal experience with this situation, you can email us at outgrowthpodcast@gmail.com. We want to follow up on this, of course. This is a situation we will continue to monitor and if you want to connect with us or others that might be affected, you can do so on all of our social media channels.

JAIME: Under normal circumstances, we’d have so much more to say about Yelp, but this is certainly focused on their most recent feature. And I say that facetiously because I think it’s more of a bug and a bug isn’t even, well, it’s too kind a word. It’s insulting to bugs to call this a bug.

ASHLEY: Definitely. Alright, well, I think that is enough for now. We know that there’s a call to action in here. Definitely take action, either way. Again, no judgment if you do decide to opt in to this, but just make sure that you have all of your ducks in a row, and you know exactly where this money is going, and you’ve set it up so that you can receive it.

JAIME: Excellent. Thank you so much, Ashley, for doing that research for us today.

ASHLEY: Thank you for the great discussion. I’m excited to hear everybody’s reaction to this, and this is going to obviously air on Monday. We’ll make sure that there’s a big social media blitz so that everybody’s aware of it. Even if they don’t listen to the episode, they’ll at least get the details they need to take action themselves.

JAIME: And don’t judge those whose salons may appear as part of this program, because, again, they may not even realize that themselves. So if you see it, rather than blasting the salon, why not just be kind, and send a quick note to them, and ask, are you aware that this exists? 

ASHLEY: Definitely. Yeah, kindness is going to go really far right now. Alright, well, until next time everybody, thanks so much for listening. We want to make sure that you subscribe, rate, and review Outgrowth on your favorite podcast platform. It really helps us reach more listeners like you.   

JAIME: Thank you.

ASHLEY: Alright, until next time.

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