Are you a small business owner wanting to build engagement in your community? Do you want to monitor the public opinion of your service or products? Do you use Yelp and all the capabilities as a business owner and/or a Yelper?

If you are not familiar with Yelp, it is a Website that puts people in touch with great local businesses. Whether it’s a boutique, dentist, or a mechanic. Yelp is loaded with reviews from people just like us! By visiting the site shoppers can make informed decisions where to spend their money and time. Yelp was founded in San Francisco in July 2004 and has taken roots across the US and 14 other countries.

Our Social Geek Radio guest last night was Elsa M. who is a Community Manager and Marketing Director for Yelp Baltimore. Elsa is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a former TV reporter and radio host. After 9 years in the news, she searched for a change that was creative, fun and would offer a new challenge. She was introduced to Yelp and became hooked.

Listen to the entire show or download to listen at a later time.

  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/btrplayer.swf


Our interview questions for Elsa and her responses are posted below. She shares some great tips and I now want to become a member of the “Elite Squad”!

What does a Community Manager do?

Answer: Basically, I am the physical embodiment of the Website for Baltimore. I craft a Weekly Yelp highlighting area businesses based on a theme – everything from best burgers in Baltimore to yelpers’ favorite karaoke bars or places to buy perfume. I also include an events calendar, so people know what cool things are going on in the area that week.  I write all of the weeklies based on what yelpers are saying on the site.  I also plan some pretty sweet events each month in an effort to get our more active contributors and Baltimore’s tastemakers out and about.

In addition, I work with business owners and help them use the site and take advantage of the free marketing tools – which are many.  I also develop and execute marketing campaigns to get people out and about more. “Yelp Shops Local,” for instance, was a campaign we did last year encouraging people to shop locally for the holidays.

Who are yelpers and why do they Yelp (i.e. Who writes the reviews on Yelp and how many exist)?

Answer: Yelpers consist of everyday people – well, everyday people 18 and older). They enjoy being in the know and sharing their experiences with local businesses.  By March of this year, Yelp had more than 71 million unique visitors.  Review-wise, there are more than 27 million rich, local reviews, making Yelp the leading local guide for real word-of-mouth.

We’ve seen Yelp mention an “Elite Squad.”  Who are these people and what does it mean?

Answer: Ahh, the Elite Squad!  Glad you asked!  The Elites are really the crème de la crème of yelpers.  Although it’s free to become elite, they actually have to apply to be on the squad.  There’s a national elite council that reviews their application and while there’s no tried and true way to for sure become a part of the squad, they always choose folks who are very thoughtful in their reviews and pride themselves on frequenting local businesses – and of course provide a real name and picture.  I’ve found our elites to be really personable and outgoing, which makes my job easier since I plan special elite parties for them once a month at local businesses.  For the businesses, these parties are a great way to get to their target demo and to show off what makes their business so special.  For the Elites, it’s a great way to discover businesses they may not have previously tried. I’ve had fire-breathing at my events, live bands and DJs, a belly dancer with a sword on her head, a six-foot tall rotating globe, and aerialist… you name it, I’ve done it or plan to do it. The Elites and the businesses both deserve a great time and I’m happy to help facilitate it.

What sets Yelp apart from other review sites?

 Answer:  In a word: integrity. Yelp takes its purpose and its content very seriously, so much in fact that since our launch in 2005, we’ve had something called a review filter in place to weed out fake, shill or malicious reviews. Why? You don’t want some business owner’s entire extended family littering his business page with fake 5-star reviews the same way you wouldn’t want a competing business to have all its employees spam a business listing with negative 1-star reviews.  While we don’t disclose how it works (because that would make it a moot point!) you can think of our filter like the spam filter on your email – every now and again a legitimate email from your mom might get sent to spam, but for the most part it works as intended. Because of that, and the fact that you are getting your reviews from people in the community just like you, makes Yelp a really trusted site… one that 71 million unique visitors turned to on average last quarter: because they trust the site and find it useful.

Q7: And it’s quick, right.  Tell us about the App!

Answer: Yes – Yelp’s mobile app.  Let me tell you: when I get the little alert on my iPhone saying that it’s time to update my Yelp app, I always let out a little squeal because it literally gets better and better.  That’s the truth! We’re on every major device, most notably: iPhone & Android, and also have a great mobile site: m.yelp.com.  It’s not only a great service to use when you know where you’re going so you can get directions, call the business, make reservations via OpenTable, or check out pictures and reviews so you can decide what to order or buy when you get there, but with functions like “Nearby” you can discover businesses in a new city or when in a jam – like a cobbler or a mechanic.

Recently, we also integrated Yelp Deals on mobile – meaning you can search for deals nearby to see what businesses are offering discounts or savings. It’s one of my favorite ways to discover a new business while saving money!

Is Yelp just for customers or can business take advantage of the site as well?

Answer: Businesses can most definitely take advantage of the site.  In fact, Yelp has a whole suite of free marketing tools for them. – biz.yelp,com  All business owners have to do is visit Yelp.com, type in their business name, and click on “edit business info.”  There will be a little button that they can click indicating that the business is theirs.  From there, you’ll get an automated call at the number on your business listing to verify their identity.  Once that’s done, they will be able to respond both publicly and privately to yelpers’ comments on the site.  Not only that, they can add unlimited pictures to their business listing, provide information about themselves or their business, and get in-depth analytic s about their page’s traffic and more.  Again – all of this is free and can really go a long way in building their relationships with consumers in a personal way.  I love when I see business owners taking control of their pages and getting involved on the site.  It’s like all of a sudden the business listing isn’t just a business, but a person. Yelpers and consumers in general love feel connected.  It’s what keeps people coming back no matter what.

What do you tell businesses when they get a negative review?

Answer: All of my Elite Events are reviewed on a separate event page as well, so I totally how some business owners may feel when they read something that isn’t favorable. Negative reviews are always hard to read, especially when you are putting your blood, sweat, and tears into your dream.  That being said, they can also be very helpful.  Some people get upset when they read that a customer has written something unflattering about their business, but more times than not, those negative reviews offer customers real feelings and thus allow a great window and insight that that business owners wouldn’t normally have.  If you notice a theme with the negative reviews, perhaps it’s something you should revisit.  I had one business tell me that they added noodles with a meatball entree that didn’t have it initially just because yelpers mentioned it on Yelp.  The business owner tried added noodles and now that menu item is now one of the most popular.

Sometimes, though, a negative experience deserves a personal response.  That’s when taking advantage of those free business tools really comes into play again.  You can either respond privately or publically under the review depending on the nature of the review and what you seem fit.

That said, it’s also important to note that if anyone believes a review goes against our Terms of Service, they can flag it where it will go to our customer support team. If they determine that review does violate our TOS, they will remove it and notify that user.

Please tell us which websites/social sites you’d like for people follow.

Answer:

www.yelp.com/Baltimore

www.facebook.com/YelpBaltimore

www.twitter.com/YelpBaltimore

www.pinterest.com/YelpBaltimore

Elsa was a great guest and we heard the passion she has for her job at Yelp and living in Baltimore. She told us she is excited about discovering everything she possibly can about her community and Yelp gives her the freedom to do just that.

Personally, I look forward to learning more about my own community via the new Yelp app I downloaded. I’m so excited to share my experiences to help promote local businesses via this social technology platform.