With it’s upcoming IPO (Initial Public Offering), Yelp is about to make it’s founder, Jeremy Stoppelman, the next billionare of the tech world.

What makes Yelp so special and unique is their community of ‘Yelpers’; people who seem to be obsessed with ‘checking in’ and reviewing every place that they visit! These active Yelpers collect ‘badges’ for use of the site the same way they used to collect badges on their Cub or Girl Scout uniform.

So what is Yelp? As explained on Yelp’s site…

“Yelp is an online urban city guide that helps people find cool places to eat, shop, drink, relax and play, based on the informed opinions of a vibrant and active community of locals in the know. Yelp is the fun and easy way to find, review and talk about what’s great — and not so great — in your world.”

Some members of the Total Social Solutions team have been annoited ‘Elite Yelpers’ for their frequent use of the platform. So we know a LOT about Yelp from the consumer’s side.  Additionally, TSS is connected with Yelp’s corporate leadership team and has leading-edge information on this controversial (but powerful) platform.

Yelp is more than a simple review site such as CitySearch, ZocDocs, or Angie’s list because there is a distinct (and very real) social component to it. Active Yelpers connect with their Facebook or Twitter friends on Yelp, as if it is a stand-alone platform. Additionally, they are able to share their reviews on their Facebook and Yelp pages with the click of a button.

Yelp is a robust stand-alone social network; and a very powerful opinion leading machine that can make (or break) a small business.

So how can your business reach these Yelpers? Great question; Yelp’s FAQ for business owners posts this:

Should I ask customers to write reviews for my business?

Probably not. It’s a slippery slope between the customer who is so delighted by her experience that she takes it upon herself to write a glowing review and the customer who is “encouraged” to write a favorable review in exchange for a special discount. And let’s be candid: most business owners are only going to solicit reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones. Over time, these self-selected reviews create intrinsic bias in the business listing — a bias that savvy consumers can smell from a mile away. Don’t be surprised, then, if your solicited reviews get filtered by Yelp’s automated review filter.

What makes Yelp different is its powerful review filter, which Yelp discussed on their site:

“We try to showcase the most helpful and reliable reviews among the millions that are submitted to the site. Not all reviews make the cut, and those that don’t are posted to a separate “Filtered Review” page. Filtered reviews don’t factor into a business’s overall star rating, but users can still read them by clicking on the link at the bottom of the business’s profile page.”

Yelp is the thorn in the side of many of our clients who have been ‘burned’ in the past.  Some are even involved in class-action lawsuits against the site. Yelp’s take on all of this is captured on their FAQ:

“I’m not happy with what consumers are saying about me on Yelp – should I get my lawyer involved?

We have nothing but love and respect for lawyers (ahem), but you may want to consider the following. First, beware of the so-called Streisand Effect, which can quickly turn a manageable customer service problem into an unmanageable disaster. Lawyers love to draft threatening letters. However, far from being cowed, recipients will sometimes go public with them as a warning to others not to patronize your business. Second, beware of lawyers who are quick to file lawsuits without telling their clients that it can cost them dearly (see example here). Last, take a step back: if you find yourself insisting that a review is obviously untrue, there’s every reason to think that your customers will draw the same conclusion as you. Even if they don’t, Yelp’s review filter is always on the prowl, and it may be able to put enough pieces of the puzzle together over the long-term to filter out the bogus review.”

Here are TSS’s recommendations and ‘best practices’ for Yelp account management:

  1. Work with your TSS account manager to make your listing as attractive as possible, while staying consistent with your brand image.
  2. Learn more about Yelp through the free online tips located here.
  3. If you are a premium client of TSS (Platinum or above), you can benefit from TSS’s connections with Yelp’s corporate team and what we’ve learned in working with them for over two years. For these premium client, we even have some tools to help maximize your Yelp page and increase your level of engagement to make Yelp a money-making machine for you!

Yelp presents the small business owner with some major opportunities.  If you have any questions, contact your TSS account manager.

Jake Laban

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