Yelpers Spread the Word
By Tom Ryan
If online customer reviews
become integral for brands and retailers, a future model may resemble Yelp.com.
It appeals because it works more as a social network for foodies than purely
a restaurant review website. Joncarl Lachman, a Chicago chef and restaurateur,
called Yelp “word of mouth on steroids.”
With four million reviews
written and 15 million visitors a month, Yelp is growing much faster than
its rival, Citysearch, and has either surpassed it in page views or is
on the verge of doing so, according to a review in The New York Times.
Approximately 81 percent of “Yelpers”
are under age 40.
Like other social networking
can e-mail each other and each has a count of “friends” he or
she has made on the site. Personality profiles (The Last Great Book
I Read, My Favorite Movie, My Last Meal On Earth,
are also included, and most Yelpers include at least one photo. Each
reviewer has a count of restaurant reviews they’ve written, as well as
the number of “fans” awarded by other yelpers who like their
reviews. Yelpers can also rack up a number of
“firsts,” or being the first to review a restaurant. The biggest
honor is earning the “Review
of the Day,” voted on by fellow yelpers.
are a group of reviewers designated as the “Yelp Elite,” who,
according to Times, “write
often enough and cleverly enough to tickle the algorithms at headquarters
into singling them out for promotion.” Yelp sponsors monthly Elite-only
events at which restaurants, distillers and vintners offer free samples
to build a reputation.
Many yelpers join the
site to make friends and find dates. But there’s also a chance to become
famous. The most credited get invited to food events to meet chefs, or
they earn the vilification of chefs through exchanges on the site.
More than one Elite member
described the game of racking up restaurant reviews, friends, fans and
firsts as well as sharing feedback as addictive.
“You get so much
positive reinforcement,” Rebecca Shansky, a doctorate in neurobiology
whose online persona, Becca S. hangs out in cocktail lounges.
“People tell you you’re cool, you’re funny, you’re a good writer.”
Critics like Paul Kahan,
the owner of Blackbird, Avec and the Publican in Chicago, complain that
websites like Yelp were “a forum for people who don’t necessarily
know what they’re talking about.” But he admitted to the Times
that any reader who struggled through 20 to 30 Yelp reviews of one
of his restaurants “would get a fair impression of it.”
restaurant reviews dominate the listings, Yelp also now includes reviews
on department stores, bars, beauty salons, Broadway shows and other businesses.
What do you think of the melding of social networking and customer review
sites? Do you see similar social networking sites around retailers/brands
emerging to drive online customer reviews? What do you think the future
model of online customer review sites will look like?
Join the Discussion!
12 Comments on "Yelpers Spread the Word"
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The real power is not so much in the social network itself, but lies with the influencer. Whether the influencer is blogging about products or reviewing products on Amazon or restaurants on Yelp, the influencer is where marketers need to focus their efforts. And that is what makes it all so difficult.
It is not enough to send free product or free coupons to these influencers. As someone recently said, that is so 2006. Instead, marketers and brand owners have to engage with the influencer, remain honest with them and above all remain transparent. The marketers must gain the trust of the influencer, and then and only then can they build a strong and lasting relationship.
Yes, the social networks are important. But don’t focus on the network, focus on the people.
John Andrews, senior marketing manager of emerging media for Walmart, gave a presentation here in Bentonville last week that I think spells out the future retail implications of ALL forms of emerging media (check out our coverage at http://www.nmbblog.com). Walmart’s ambitious vision for “connect and share” is to tie together multiple platforms including polls, ratings and reviews, live chat, feedback buttons, discussion boards, Q&A, blogs, mobile apps, and Walmart’s revolutionary in-store Smart Network. If they succeed in taking these individual components out of silos and integrating them toward full consumer connectivity, they’ll have unprecedented reach and influence as retail pulls out of the doldrums.
P.S. I’ve been an avid Yelper for over a year and cross-reference it with other sites to get the 411 on restaurants, services, etc.
I agree with Max. Social networking and review functions are the wave of things to come. Yelp is terrific because you can read reviews by date and often can get a profile of the writer. Also, importantly, reviews of local businesses are listed. This works so well, because franchises vary in terms of service and quality. Yelp beats Angie’s List and Zagats because the reviews are not hand picked. Yelp is fundamentally democratic and that will be the key, I believe, to effective and credible reviews for product and service search.
Interesting to note in the poll that a majority of respondents said that this would become the way of the future. Having joined a number of social networking sites in areas that I have some interest in both on Ning, LinkedIn and freelance sites such as Yelp.com, I find the sites like Yelp that are able to build a real community that has similar interests and give people a way to connect seem to really be growing organically. In today’s world, it seems everyone under 40 and even some of those over 40 find real value in the opinion of others who have the same interests as we do.
Social networks give consumers access to more and more diverse information than they have ever had before. People trust word of mouth. I see only benefit as long as…
…The traditional reviewer/rater does not go away. Take Zagat for instance. Zagat is, of course, a survey. I live in New York City where if a restaurant is rated 28, it’s probably one of the best in the world. But, if you go to Tampa, a 28-rated restaurant is probably a totally different thing. It could simply be a bar with really good seafood.
That’s why reviewers and Michelin guides will always be important. To give us the relative scale. Is this the best restaurant (or doctor, or hairdresser) in Peoria? Or, is it the best on a broader scale, including other cities and locales?
With the traditional reviewer combined with social networking reviews, it seems to me the consumer has the best of all worlds.
Lachman is right about this being WOM on steroids. WOM is by far the most powerful and influential form of marketing. However it is also the slowest and in many cases least reliable. As statistics have shown that those who have a negative experience with a business will tell 3 times as many people than those who had a positive one, it stands to reason that good businesses could unfairly suffer. Let’s also not forget grudge campaigns by special interest groups with a bone to pick (hey that’s funny).
What’s interesting about the Yelp model–and about the combination of social networks with reviews in general–is that it allows people to get to know their reviewer a bit better. Anyone who has ever read through a pile of conflicting book reviews on Amazon knows that there are many opinions out there, so the question of “who said it?” becomes increasingly important. If, for example, I’m looking at hotel reviews on Trip Advisor I probably want to know if the person reviewing usually stays in Holiday Inns or if they usually stay at the Four Seasons–it helps me put their review in context by understanding their standards and whether they are or are not like me. Right now most reviews are unidentifiable and potentially shills.
By adding more elements of social profiles the online community can better understand the voice behind the review in weighing whether the review is one they want to listen to or not.
Sites like Yelp are the future. Survey after survey have shown that consumers trust word of mouth much more than advertising, even if that word of mouth is coming from a stranger.
Many online retailers are allowing consumers to post reviews for products. This trend will continue to grow.
Smart businesses are monitoring important consumer sites and posting responses to consumers who wrote about less than satisfactory experiences. These responses offer solutions, not just acknowledgment.
This is the future.