In March last year I had a conversation with Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman about communication between consumers and businesses on Yelp. It was clear at that time that Yelp was starting to think about interesting new products and services targeting businesses beyond advertising:
Yelp is thinking in extremely creative ways about how to facilitate communication between local businesses and their existing and potential customers. In this way the site becomes far more than a way to deliver clicks/CPM views/leads to local businesses. It effectively becomes a CRM platform, in addition to a consumer destination.
In that spirit Yelp has just added new tools grouped together as “Yelp for Business.” This was also apparently motivated in part by requests from business owners.
The new system allows business owners to:
- See analytics that offer page views and traffic to their profiles (in the current month and historically)
- Update and enhance their business information, including hours, etc. (which will become the basis for new consumer tools and filters)
- Receive email alerts when new reviews come in (reputation management)
- Send messages to consumers that have reviewed their business (thanking or trying to “make good”)
There’s also best practices information about engaging the community in a new Business Owner’s Guide.
Originally, to communicate with “Yelpers,” businesses had to become members of the consumer community. This is both unlikely and awkward. Yelp for Business streamlines that process — owners no longer need to become members of the community — and makes it much easier for merchants to reach out to both fans and foes alike on Yelp.
I asked Stoppelman about the messaging feature, which happens entirely behind the scenes and isn’t published to the broader community. Stoppelman thought this approach was better than allowing businesses to respond publicly on the website. The stated reason was that businesses are often defensive and in a position of having to rebut critical reviews. The “behind the scenes” messaging approach enables businesses to communicate individually with reviewers in a more tailored and specific way.
Businesses cannot “spam” reviewers; they get to send a single message via the Yelp site. No email addresses are exposed. If the reviewer responds to that message, owners can reply again. But businesses cannot repeatedly contact reviewers. Stoppelman and I discussed some interesting extensions of this capability.
Yelp has become, in certain US markets, a powerful lead generator for local businesses. I told Stoppelman that my wife came home from a hair salon with a sheet of paper entitled “How to Write a Review on Yelp.” It was a step-by-step guide to posting a review. That anecdote reflected back to me how seriously some business owners are now taking this UGC phenomenon.
On balance, however, it appears that merchants have a largely positive attitude about reviews. The following is from an SMB survey conducted by Opus Research and AllBusiness.com in August, 2007:
Silicon Alley Insider estimates that Yelp is worth $225 million and change.