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Is Yelp Really the Best Way to Give the Government a Piece of Your Mind?

TSA agents work at a security check-point at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

TSA agents work at a security check-point at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport // Elaine Thompson/AP

News broke this week that federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, can now use Yelp to gather and respond to customer feedback. 

Yes, Yelp and the federal government are working on a version of the review site for federal agencies, allowing them to "claim" their Yelp review pages and monitor them, responding to one-star ratings or positive feedback as it comes in. 

But TSA, specifically, did not make a formal agreement with Yelp, nor does it plan to use the feedback site heavily for customer response, a spokeswoman told Nextgov.

The Yelp announcement is part of the General Services Administration's broader effort to increase the number of ways federal agencies can gather feedback.

TSA is just one federal agency that, thanks to GSA's effort, could use Yelp for customer service purposes. It could also use one of 80 other apps, including Quora, SurveyMonkey, Survey Analytics, IdeaScale, 4QSurvey.com, and some Google and Facebook products.

GSA is also operating a pilot called Feedback USA, which plans to install kiosks where customers can submit feedback at the press of a button at State Department centers, Social Security Administration centers and Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. 

GSA has been working with agencies and third-party developers to work out new terms of service for these apps -- for instance, removing ads so they don't look like endorsements, talent scout at GSA's Office of Innovative Technologies Justin Herman wrote in a blog post.

"The fact that an app has released federal-compatible terms of service does not mean all agencies are required to or intend to use them; it simply means the door is open for agencies to use them," Herman wrote.

He also noted in the post that GSA works with many vendors and products so agencies can choose what best fits their needs. 

There's still some engineering work to be done before agencies can start claiming their Yelp pages, Luther Lowe, Yelp's vice president of public policy, told Nextgov.

TSA spokeswoman LuAnn Canipe told Nextgov the team may not use their Yelp page very much, and will likely focus more on other social media platforms. 

"We think there are more benefits to a two-way, real-time exchange," she said. "Our national spokespeople across the country have Twitter accounts set up, and we engage in real-time with travelers."

The agency also plans to stand up a new Twitter account, @AskTSA, to respond directly to customer complaints and questions. 

Though they're not required to use it, Lowe advised TSA and other agencies to keep tabs on their Yelp page. 

"People don't go to Facebook with the question, who's going to be my next dentist ... people go to Yelp to make transactional decisions," he said.

"Just like I wouldn't advise ignoring customers on Yelp if you were a pizza shop, I wouldn't advise" agencies to ignore citizen responses, he added. 

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