Behind the Community: Spotlight on Your Local Yelp Team
Listen to understand how community managers and Yelp Elites work together to support small businesses across the country.
Yelp was founded in 2004 with a mission to connect people with great local businesses, online and in person. In 2021, Yelp reported 33 million unique users on its app and cumulatively reached 244 million reviews. Almost 70% of those reviews are 4 stars or higher with 52% of those a 5-star rating.
One of the ways Yelp has connected people and places is through its community managers, a group of employees charged with being the in-person, on-the-ground faces of Yelp—making connections at local businesses and within the community itself. Gabi Messinger and Aimee Knebel Dougherty are two of Yelp's original Community Managers, or CMs to use insider lingo. Gabi is now the vice president of community management and Aimee is a senior regional manager.
Gabi started at Yelp in 2007. "I applied for this job. That was the title, a community manager. And at the time, I'd never heard of that before. It was not a common job title. But it just sounded great. It was appealing because you were a social butterfly. You were connecting people in the community with local businesses. You were doing things like writing local newsletters and giving people recommendations on places to go," said Gabi.
"You were educating both consumers about the local businesses in their community. And you were educating consumers about Yelp as a resource and hopefully getting them to write reviews as well. But also just getting to know business owners and letting them know about the tools that Yelp had to offer them."
It wasn't an easy start though. In 2007, Yelp was not quite the household name it is today. "I was often telling people I worked for Yelp, and they would ask me, 'Where? What? Is that like a dog website?' And then I'd have to explain what indeed Yelp was. So there was a lot of educating involved in telling people what Yelp was back in the day," said Gabi.
"We were very scrappy. We had very little budget to work with. We were doing a lot of grassroots marketing. Out at festivals, long days on our feet. Just having fun ways to engage people at festivals and letting them know about Yelp and ideally getting them to be more curious and sign up for our newsletter or potentially check into a festival or event and write reviews."
While the community's awareness of Yelp has grown, the mission is the same: to facilitate connections. As Yelp has expanded it's reach, it has developed a not-so-secret club of Yelp reviewers, the Yelp Elites—a group of reviewers with a passion for building up small businesses. They are Yelp's most active and influential users, checking in and reviewing as many businesses in their community as they can.
"They just love local businesses, and they love meeting other people who have that local passion," said Aimee. "And hearing stories of business owners. It's neat to see. I remember when I was a CM, and I had kind of that bigger-purpose type of moment where I had a bunch of brand new Elites at an Elite event, and they all met each other, and you would expect that to be awkward. You know, meeting for the first time, but it wasn't.
"And then I remember seeing, later that weekend, all of them check into the same brunch restaurant on Yelp. And it was like, okay, we made some actual friendships here."
In general, people, including Elites, want to leave positive reviews on Yelp. They want to share places they love with the community, to share a sense of place and purpose.
Gabi said, "I know just from conversations with Elites over the years that they tend to be positive in nature, and they want to be a cheerleader for these local businesses. And I think it really makes them feel like they're making a bigger difference when they're leaving that review or adding those photos."
"And then especially when they hear back from a business owner, when the business owner actually thanks them for the review, or maybe they go in for another visit in the future and they are recognized because of their review and they get thanked in person. So I think that that's one of the major reasons that folks love being Elite and continue to be Elite year over year is because they do see that it's making a bigger difference. And it's helping their local community in so many different ways."
There are a few common threads among Yelp reviewers, and it's easy to get in the habit of reviewing on a regular basis, with the thought of one day becoming a Yelp Elite reviewer.
Aimee recommends starting small. "I think the most important thing is to check in on Yelp, add photos as you're there. If you're standing in line waiting for food, snap some photos, add them. Yelp is going to remind you later to write that review.
"And I also just think it's important to remember that you can review any type of local business. There's lots of businesses, especially now, that would probably love to hear feedback, to receive that review from you."
And Gabi echoed that sentiment, adding that timeliness is important as well. "I like to suggest that people review while it's fresh. And if you don't think that you had a full experience, like you want to go back a time or two again before you give a full review, then that's okay," she said. "Sometimes I'll add photos on my first visit and then a month or two later, I'll go back, add more photos, and then I'll add my review. It doesn't have to be a novel. It can be a few sentences, and then you can always update it later."
When your experience is less than 5-star worthy, Gabi says it's important to remember that the business owner on the other side of that review is human, and feedback should be given about things that can be implemented or changed by the business.
"As far as giving constructive feedback, I think that's definitely something that we all want to do when we're giving reviews. I think we need to also take a step back and know that there's a crazy shortage when it comes to staffing right now, and that we might not get our food or whatever our order is or whatever our experience is and in the timeliest of manners. And just recognizing that in the review goes a long way to just showing respect to the business. Everyone's struggling post-COVID. And so maybe not being as harsh as you initially feel. Taking some time to think about why the experience may not have gone as well as you would have liked to. And I recognize that Elites are doing that. Of course, there's some users that don't do that. But we do our best to encourage folks to be respectful and kind in their reviews."
Yelp is an excellent tool for finding small businesses in a local area or while traveling. If you're interested in becoming a Yelp Elite reviewer or know someone who would make a great member of the Elite squad, you can nominate them at www.yelp.com/elites. Some final takeaways for businesses:
- The Yelp Elites love small businesses. Yelp users and the Yelp Elite are a diverse group with a passion for high-quality businesses.
- Almost everyone wants to leave a positive review. Many reviewers are motivated by positive experiences that they want to share with the community.
- The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Yelp community has changed a lot since 2007, but its values and goals remain the same: to connect consumers with great local businesses.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Gabi and Aimee, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
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