It's amazing how much social media has changed small business. As I mention often, embracing social media can make or break a small business. Being open to it allows you to communicate with your customers, control your brand and public relations, and stay on top of your business through feedback.
The scale of the Internet and social media makes a customer complaint or praise VERY loud. Yelp is one of the top review websites in the country. As they say, it's the "fun and easy way to find, review and talk about what's great - and not so great - in your area."
Yelp gives the users they feel are the most influencial and active (on and off the Yelp webstie) the honor of being in the Yelp Elite Squad. These are your marketing mavens, the people that are in the know and talking to your audience for you. I interviewed one of Seattle's Elite Yelpers today, "KatyFace." This interview is very revealing of how social media works for small business and why it is important...
You're an avid Yelper. What made you start yelping?
Initially I started Yelping to create a stir about a local company that was practically scamming people with their prices. I wanted to make sure that people knew they could get the same service elsewhere for half the price.
How many Yelp reviews have you written?
So far I'm up to 146. I try to sit down every few weeks and think of new places I've been and sum up the experience.
What makes a business worthy of a Yelp review?
I'll Yelp just about any business. However, I try to only review places where I feel the experience was a good enough sample of what the average experience might be. If I go into a bar and decide not to stay after just 5 mins, I think my review could be unfair. How much do I really know after just walking in and out? I try to only write about places that I got a good feel for.
I understand that sometimes people have bad days and maybe a waiter is just really busy. I try to put that all into consideration and be as fair as possible. I'm totally aware that these reviews can really make or break a business these days. It's not about whining or being snobby.. it's about being honest. It's a good way for restaurant owners to learn about making improvements or even learn about their staff members being really great or really bad.
Are there certain experiences or interactions you look for specifically from a business?
First and foremost, I look for the quality of customer service. One issue I have with fellow yelpers is that people often use the site to complain. (similar to my first Yelp experience.) However - for as often as people complain about a business, I feel they should compliment other businesses. I want to know where to go just as much as I want to know where to avoid.
I also find that there are a lot of "foodies" on Yelp. People who consider themselves to be connoisseurs. I appreciate their opinions but often find that they give poor reviews to places that aren't the typical 5 star joints. I try to base my reviews off of the entire experience. If I am aware that I'm eating at an inexpensive, hole-in-the-wall place, I can still give a 5 star review if the food was worth it's cost and if the service was good. Great reviews are about the overall experience and are not specifically relative to how much I had to pay for a world-class meal. Likewise, a really popular and expensive place could get a bad review for poor service. It's not entirely about the ambiance, the price, the quality .. it's about all of it combined. One place I've given a 5 star review to isn't fancy at all. But if you're hungry, you have a time limit and you're on a budget - it's great! You have to keep lots in mind before you callously rip apart someones business.
Have you ever been approached by a business that you've Yelped about?
All the time! I get thank you notes from owners for my reviews. I've even been offered coupons and free drinks on my return visits. It's quite a perk!When I give a bad review (which isn't too often) I've gotten letters oof apology and coupons as well. I just don't have the courage to use those coupons and explain I was the disgruntled customer!
How did you feel about being approached?
I suppose that I like being approached. Even fellow Yelpers communicate with me. There's a great little sense of community when you're really involved and it's nice to know that people are actually reading what I type. Especially when they offer me coupons or thank me for the review.
Have you ever been approached by readers in regards to a business you've yelped about?
I have been approached many times actually. Most recently I was contacted by someone who read a review about the apartment complex I live in. He wanted to know more information and I actually helped convince him to move in. Thanks to the review I made a friend AND money! He used my name as his referral and we split the check.
Now that you've written 146 reviews, what makes you keep yelping?
I don't know... I guess as silly as it sounds, I feel like it's almost a duty of mine. I still feel as though a lot of people write unfair reviews. I'm still peeved about this 1-star review I read once. A woman berated a restaurant and gave them 1 star because they didn't have vegetarian options. (Which is actually not true- they do have veggie options.) It's a restaurant I frequent and I took offense at the harsh review because the woman didn't actually eat there. How can you review food when you don't eat it? It just seemed so unfair. A poor score like that can really hurt the reputation of a small business. Hopefully by being honest and taking all kinds of other factors into consideration, I can provide readers with the most accurate portrayal of the average business experience. I know when I depend on Yelp to lead me to a tasty dinner or a good doctor, I hope that I can really trust the review. Otherwise - what's the point?