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Yelp seems to polarize most mixed company. There are some who are part of the “Elite” (myself included) who think of Yelp as a social club with private events and great food. There are business owners who love their high Yelp ratings for providing incremental business and digital word-of-mouth. There are also the owners who claim Yelp extorts them for positive rankings. And then there’s the casual user.

Most of the casual Yelp users I speak to fall into one of two camps – they either trust the wisdom of aggregated reviews, or they think the opinions of strangers are largely useless. Well, as the title of this post states, both of those groups are using Yelp wrong. Here are a few simple tips to improve your Yelping experience:

1) Create an Account!

The first mistake casual users make is not creating an account. There are many benefits to having an account other than being able to draft reviews. An account allows you to bookmark restaurants/other establishments, and allows you to check into places and receive deals (like Foursquare). There’s much more, and I could go on and on about these features, but the most important advantage of having an account (in my opinion) is the ability to friend and follow other users.

2) Find People Who You Trust!

If you use Yelp a lot, you inevitably start seeing the same faces over and over. For instance, if you’re often perusing restaurant reviews in Downtown Brooklyn, you’ll likely see Peter D’s profile pop up quite a bit. After reading a few of his reviews, you realize that you like his writing style and that you go to the same types of places that he does. So you send him a friend request. What this does is bring your friends’ reviews to the top of business pages, no matter how recent or favorable. If you’re shy, you can also become a fan of someone; this means they won’t know who you are, but their reviews will still come up first when you’re logged in. Think of it like Google’s personal search results.

Yelp Review of Mable's from Peter D
This is how reviews of people you’re friends with or following show up at the top of Yelp pages. Above is Peter D, Brooklyn’s Community Manager and all-around good guy.

3) Engage With Other Users!

Lastly, one of the major quality control components of Yelp are the compliments and comments. If you like someone’s work, you can say so on their profile; this gives authority to reviewers. And if you like a specific review, you can give it a “Funny,” “Useful,” and/or “Cool” vote (what Yelpers affectionately refer to as FUC-ing reviews); this gives credibility to individual reviews. In fact, this is how the Review of the Day is calculated (I have a few under my belt).

Yelp Review of the Day for Fette Sau
My ROTD for Fette Sau. You can see how many times it’s been FUC’d at the bottom of the review.

Last, but not least, you can actually meet people at events or connect with existing friends on Yelp. It is, by all definitions, actually a social network. If you start treating it as such, then you’ll find that it’s a much more useful tool in your planning decisions.

4) Be My Friend!

By the way, if you need a recommendation of who to follow in New York, here’s my Yelp profile!

November 25th, 2011
according to

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This blog post will be (somewhat) in the spirit of food!

It’s no secret that I love Yelp. I love utilizing crowdsourced reviews as a baseline filter for whether or not to visit/spend money somewhere. I love writing my own opinions and mingling with community members. And I love the community itself. The events they throw for Elite members are awesome, and they’re investments back into the system.

It’s such a simple formula. You’d think that a huge behemoth like Google would be able to replicate success with its own Google Places, right? Well, you’d be surprised. I think that Google Places will never have a chance to beat Yelp at their own game, given what they’ve been doing.

Now, this is not a rant against the Google NYC team. I love following them on Twitter and we’ve had some friendly (and not so friendly) exchanges. This is me pointing out the flaw of their incentive structure. Here’s an excerpt from a contest they’re running in conjunction with a recent event:

Google Places Contest RulesGoogle Places has a really, really bad incentive system (click to enlarge)

So what’s my issue with how Google Places is building its community? It’s mostly extrinsically motivated (see my blog post on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation in Crowdsourcing). The more you review, the more likely it is that you win a prize? That works against Google in two ways – firstly, you won’t convince the truly passionate reviewers (the ones who do it to help others, or because they really love writing about local businesses) because you’re not concentrating on them; instead, you’re going for the low hanging fruit: the people who will say, “sure, I’ll write a review in exchange for a chance to win a Chromebook.” And like the pigeon pushing the lever with no pellets coming out, eventually those extrinsically motivated individuals will learn their lesson and give up, abandoning their Places account entirely. That’s not how you build a self-sustaining community.

Secondly, Google Places vs. Yelp will always be an us-versus-them scenario for the die-hards. People who have been following the Google vs. Yelp saga know that there’s bad blood between the two. To sum it all up:
1) Organic search reportedly supplies Yelp with a whopping 75% of its traffic.
2) When Google starting emphasizing their business pages in SERPs, they aggregated reviews from different sites including Yelp to provide their own “rating”. But they also overstepped their boundaries when Google took content directly from Yelp reviews and posted it on those pages, leaving users no reason to click through to Yelp.
3) Google was quiet on the local reviews front and then did a soft launch for Google Places in key cities.
4) Then, out of nowhere, Google bought Zagat.

If you follow the logical progression of things, it’s clear that Google wants to be a bigger player in the local space. Heck, just do a search for “dentist” and see how many results from your city show up. But Google is totally handling this the wrong way. Obviously, Zagat’s business model is in a totally different direction than Yelp’s, which makes me think Google might be taking the high-brow approach. But then again, crowdsourcing is the future of not only search, but of the internet as well (as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts) so it would be very silly for Google not to make a play in that space. That’s where Google Places would ideally fill the gap. However, I just don’t think they have a sound strategy to build up its review and user base to rival that of Yelp, and they’re just taking too many shortcuts.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if any other service can topple Yelp, it will take a lot of time and a much better plan than what Google’s employing.

September 2nd, 2011
according to

I’ve recently become big on using Yelp (my newly minted “Elite” profile is here: So it’s no surprise that with more reviews, I’ve been getting more messages from business owners; it definitely comes with the territory.

With Yelp, there’s very little a business owner or customer service rep can do in the way of preemption. Therefore, a lot of these messages are bound to be reactionary. Responses to reviews, whether good or bad. Very recently, I’ve had instances of both.

Take for example, my glowing review of Blue Water Grill in Union Square. I’ll spare you the details of my meal, but all in all, I had a great time. A couple of days after leaving the review (during Restaurant Week NYC), I received the following Yelp message from someone on their customer service team:

Thank you so much for taking the time to let us know about your recent visit with us at Blue Water Grill!
It truly means a lot to us to hear from you and we will consider your feedback with the team here.
We look forward to seeing you again soon and wish you all the best!
PS- Caught the typo! THANK YOU!

Not only was it a friendly message acknowledging that they appreciated my feedback, but the last line regarding the typo means she actually took the time to read my lengthy review and not just take the four stars at face value. Wow, that’s good community management. And now, they have free press from my blog as a result as well.

On the other end of the spectrum, I had a very very terrible experience at Guitar Center at the Atlantic Mall in Brooklyn. As a result of my scathing (and 100% accurate) review, I received this message on Yelp:

My name is and I run Customer Service for Guitar Center. I’d love an opportunity to help turn this around for you. Please email me at and I’ll gladly jump in.

I’m all for people reaching out and trying to change my perception or rid the bad taste of poor customer treatment (as well as potential future discounts), so I replied to the rep. Told him my story, and he said he would have someone contact me. It’s been about two weeks now, and I haven’t received any messages or follow-up. So not only is my negative review staying up, but they actually got my hopes up and are now lower in my opinion than before.

For any community managers out there reading this, here’s a basic tip- if you’re going to try to do some reputation management, you better do it right.

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