Yelp OrlandoTo many it's one of several apps taking up space on their phones, used only when the debate of where to go to eat needs an informative referee. For some it's the omniscient guide that determines the fate of many purchases and plans. Then there are those who dismiss it as another outlet for angry internet trolls to leave their often incoherent, misspelled, and profane rantings and one star reviews.
So why use Yelp? Why care what reviewers are saying or bother leaving your own reviews? I didn't use Yelp until recent years of stuffing my face all around the city led me to want to make more educated decisions when spending my money. For months I was a dormant user, just stalking the excursions of others and getting caught up in the details of their food-ventures. It took quite some time for me to invest in participating in the conversation myself.
Yelp accompanied me on many out-of-town-vacations and led me to some pretty amazing places where delicious food was eaten and lifetime memories were made, so eventually I became an active participant in the reviewing process.
Three years later, I'm still "Yelping" all over town and across the country on vacations, however I was still left with some curiosity not to mention the judgement of some Yelp naysayers ringing in my ears.
I sat down with Andi Perez, Orlando's Yelp Community Manager, to get the low down on #YelpLife.
A Local Advocate
You may not know it, but Yelp has Community Managers all over he world in major cities (yes Orlando is a major city). As a community manager, it's Andi's job to connect local businesses on a micro-community level. She works to facilitate a connection between locals and the businesses in our backyard.
That local connection goes beyond the app and can connect users "IRL" in the form of Yelp events. I originally had a preconceived notion that these events came with a cost to the business and surely this was some genius way for Yelp to make money all while hiding behind the guise of promoting a local business.
The truth of the matter is that Andi seeks out businesses that might need a little help, or ones that are doing something special in our community. There is no cost to the business other than what they want to highlight at their event.
"It's all about helping businesses that don't necessarily have a marketing budget," stated Andi. "It serves as a way to connect the dots and show Orlando for what it is to it's locals."
Her role as an advocate goes beyond having fun events. Owners can reach out to Andi if they have simple questions about best practices when it comes to their business accounts.
"They can turn that empty desolate Yelp page into a virtual storefront. There is value in claiming their page and putting up professional photos. There are free and easy things that can be done to drive business from local consumers. Your average mom and pop business doesn't have the time or resources to find local taste makers to bring in them in for an event that will ultimately get the word out about their business."
The Elite Yelper
There are Yelpers and then there are Elite Yelpers. Being "Elite" by Yelp's own definition, is a verified and trusted source. Consumers can be confident in the validity of their reviews as they come with a virtual stamp of approval. An Yelp Elite counsel vets each nomination, taking it out of the hands of the Community Manager. The counsel, which I imagine sitting in a dark cavernous room with large minority report type screens, makes their decisions off of the writing quality and the amount of community votes claiming them as useful. Elite Yelpers must have real names and real profile pictures with a history of reviews.
I've heard some negative talk about Elite Yelpers being a bit pompus and covertly demanding five-star service by announcing their perceived prominence to business owners and staff. Let's be clear: Being an Elite Yelper is awesome, and it does get you the ability to participate in awesome events, much like the ones mentioned above that Andi curates for local businesses; but it certainly doesn't mean you get to have an elitist attitude.
With great Yelping comes great responsibility. Keep it classy.
When Yelpers Attack
It's the internet, and some people can ruin a good thing for everyone else. While we may believe that review sites are just another outlet for angry trolls, surprisingly data pulled by Yelp's analysts found that 75% of all reviews are "recommended" while only 25% are not. The system has complicated algorithms that will not recommend reviews that seem fishy or might have false information. If it looks like a person created an account just to leave some terribly rude remarks with a fake name and no picture, Yelp's system is programmed to catch it and may not recommend it. While business owners may still feel the burn of these reviews, take solace that most experienced Yelpers will view them as invalid.
What if you actually have a terrible experience? Is there proper Yelp etiquette? Andi shared some common sense tips with me.
"If you have a bad experience write the review as though you were talking to the owner in person. If you were face-to-face with them, you would most likely want to give them your honest opinion while being constructive at the same time as opposed to vulgar or profane."
Whether you use Yelp to navigate your weekend or prefer to explore the city on your own, I can't think of anyone more appropriate to be the liaison between locals and our beloved independent shops. Andi truly loves this city and exudes a rare glow of positivity for the work she does.
I asked her what some of her favorite spots in Orlando are, and after some thoughtful contemplation she shared a few:
Pho Vinh - especially for their Bún Càri Gà - rice vermicelli with chicken in coconut curry broth
Take Cheena - for those amazing Panko crusted cod tacos
"Everyone should do a sunset picnic at the Mennello Musem and the Winter Park Boat Tour."