Was Glassdoor manipulated or just… used?

The WSJ has an investigation today about apparent manipulations of Glassdoor, the “Yelp for employers”.

Per the report:

An analysis of millions of anonymous reviews posted on Glassdoor’s site identified more than 400 companies with unusually large single-month increases in reviews. Some companies, including Elon Musk’s rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and software giant SAP SE , have had multiple spikes.

During the vast majority of these surges, the ratings were disproportionately positive compared with the surrounding months, the Journal’s analysis shows.

Hm.

In today’s employment market – particularly in tech jobs – company culture is a huge factor in top talent’s decision-making when it comes to where they want to work.

I find it perfectly reasonable that a company would want to encourage employees to leave good reviews in the hope it attracts high-quality applicants. I also find it reasonable – and probable – that employees would be willing to support that without coercion.

I don’t think it’s accurate to say that companies encouraging current employees to post to Glassdoor is manipulation of its service per se – though it of course depends on exactly what form that encouragement takes. A free mug is a thank you, not a bribe.

The spike in SpaceX’s reviews came with the note that 73% were five star, suggesting that employees weren’t exactly typing reviews with a gun to their heads – some weren’t that complimentary. (You could suggest that SpaceX told some people not to give completely glowing reviews so it didn’t look gamed, but that doesn’t feel likely to me.)

So was Glassdoor manipulated, or just used?

I’m reminded of a time when my university sent an email off to all of us asking to fill in a survey about student satisfaction, with an incentive of a voucher for the bar (if I recall correctly). I did it, wrote an honest, anonymous review, and had my beer. The university rose dramatically in the rankings (compiled by The Times) – but it was well-deserved.

Aside from the case study the piece opens with – about the mortgage broker – I don’t think this piece lands any real punches on Glassdoor. Still, an interesting read that’s worth your time.