Have you seen the “Yelp Elite” badge on profiles on Yelp or encountered community managers in your city, but felt unsure about what their roles are in the business community? Emily sits down with Gabi and Aimee—two Yelp employees who got their start as community managers—to discuss the importance of community and explain the inner workings of local Yelp networks. Listen in to understand how community managers and Elites work together to support small businesses across the country.
On the Yelp Blog: Get more tips on how businesses can work with community managers and Elites to market their business, expand their social reach, and increase customer loyalty.
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interactions. This week we throw our standard style completely out the window and I sit down to chat with Gabi and Aimee, two of my Yelp colleagues who started with us as community managers and grew into their current roles.
When Yelp first started in 2004 our mission was the same as today – to connect people with great local businesses. We were an online platform for people to get advice and find places – but we needed people leaving that advice and talking about the good places in their area! We essentially needed a community of people who made it a habit to write online reviews about their favorite businesses. And to start those communities, we needed to be in-person face-to-face on the ground making connections at local businesses and gathering places, with the community members who frequent those spaces. And that in-person element really distinguished us for a long time. As a tech company – having those local employees working to spotlight and spread love to local businesses was definitely unique. Today we’re going to hear it all – the early days and what got us going, and even today – how Community Managers can be a resource for you as a business owner, as well as how our consumer listeners can become a part of the Yelp Elite squad.
Let’s give our conversation a listen.
GABI: Thanks for having me Emily. So I started at Yelp back in November of 2007.
I applied for this job. That was the title was a Community Manager. And at the time I’d never heard of that before. It was not a common job title. But it just sounded great. It was appealing because you were a social butterfly. You weren’t connecting people in the community with local businesses. You were doing things like writing local newsletters and giving people recommendations on places to go.
You were educating both consumers about the local businesses in their community. And you were, you know, educating consumers about Yelp as a resource and hopefully getting them to write reviews as well. But also just getting to know business owners and letting them know about the tools that Yelp had to offer them.
And so I did that job for a few years as a community manager in Phoenix. And then I kind of was promoted into some different roles and at the time just took on additional responsibilities, such as starting a scouting and hiring program in Canada. And then slowly, but surely was promoted into overseeing different regions of community managers.
So I oversaw the Midwest at one point and the Southeast at another and kind of some different regions that we put together where you know, about 8 to 12 community managers at any given time would report to me. And with my experience, having done it in Phoenix, I’d help support them in their roles.
I was a regional manager for, I think, eight or nine years before my boss, Andrea Rubin was promoted from her current job at the time of VP of community, into an SVP where she then was overseeing different departments, including operations and social media. And I started then as the head of community for North America.
And now my title is VP, but I’m still doing a very similar job. We just continue to evolve in new ways and grow and engage the communities, but also our people in the community team.
EMILY: Thank you so much for that intro, Gabi. And before we jump over and meet our other guests, Aimee, I’d love if you could dive in a little bit to the early days of community management and what that role looked like in 2007, when you started as well as how the team has evolved in what it looks like today.
GABI: Sure thing! So back in 2007, Yelp was not even close to being a household name the way it is now. I was often telling people I worked for Yelp and they would ask me where? What? Is that like a dog website? And then I’d have to explain what indeed Yelp was. So there was a lot of educating involved in telling people what Yelp was back in the day. And we were very scrappy. We had very little budget to work with. We were doing a lot of grassroots marketing. Out at festivals, long days on our feet. Just having fun ways to engage people at festivals and letting them know about Yelp and ideally getting them to be more curious and sign up for our newsletter or potentially check into a festival or event and write reviews.
So that was the job back in the day. There was a lot of different aspects of it. We were crafting these long lengthy newsletters that were unique to every single market. Whereas today we now have, I think, over 85 community managers on the ground. In addition to the 50 plus community ambassadors that are like part-time community managers.
The company has evolved a ton. And so they’re not necessarily as much as grassroots and scrappy and on the ground and on their feet, but they’re doing things in a more, you know, turnkey ways, that I think are more efficient for the company. And for our resources that we have to work with. For example, whereas before we were putting out these long lengthy newsletters, unique to every single market now, CMS or putting together collections of great local businesses in their markets.
And then those are going out, via our local Yelp newsletter, uh, every week, which is great.
I think back in 2007 was when I was a community manager, as well as nowaday CMS, or like local celebrities in their markets. They are the face of the brand. And I think that’s something that makes Yelp really unique compared to any other website or app out there is that we really do have folks on the ground meeting face to face with community members and business owners, planning events.
And really facilitating these connections that I think are so special to every single community that we have a presence in. So you might see your community manager on the news talking about, you know, the best burger in your market or a cool campaign that’s going on that’s being a partner of Yelp or something like that.
But I think that’s something that’s really unique to what the community manager position was back then and currently is today.
EMILY: Thanks for that, Gabi! Let’s head over to you now, Aimee—could you go ahead and introduce yourself and give me a little background on your Yelp journey?
AIMEE: Thank you for having me as well, Emily, it’s nice to be here with both of you. I started with Yelp in December of 2010, and I was actually recruited off of LinkedIn and it was just a time in St. Louis when not a lot of people knew what Yelp was. So my parents thought I was crazy for leaving my job for Yelp. But here I am, I’m going on 12 years later.
And I started as the St. Louis community manager and did that for about three and a half years. And then I was one of our first associate regional managers with Joy Brozac, and Gabby was my boss back then. And she still is today.
So I’m happy to be here. And I oversee 10 markets directly, mostly in the Midwest. And then I also get to manage two of our newer associate regional managers.
EMILY: I love a good story about parent’s who panic caus their kid took a job at Yelp before it was a household name, because that’s my story too. How far we’ve come. Let’s stick with you for a little longer—can you talk to me about one of your favorite campaigns that you worked on as a community manager?
AIMEE: Yeah. So I’ll, I’ll throw it back a little bit. And it’s something that we’re still kind of doing now. Like Gabby said, a lot of things have evolved, but Yelp’s passport was one of my favorite promotions I did as a CM.
And so essentially what we did was we gave our Elite squad a passport to a neighborhood and. The city that we thought maybe, just deserved more attention. Or there were more businesses there that people just didn’t know about and we thought they needed to know about them. And so we would – I created this promotion called passport to Cherokee street. Which is an amazing area here in St. Louis. And Elites got to make their way down the street over the course of two weeks. We hit up all different kinds of businesses. We did a latte art class at a coffee shop. We did a burrito making, um, seminar at this really cool Mexican restaurant and Elites just got to really, you know, explore this neighborhood that maybe they wouldn’t have without Yelp.
So that was, that was one of my favorites. And we’re still replicating that type of series in many ways.
EMILY: I totally can see why that would be a favorite campaign, it sounds so fun. So many of the things we started in local communities maintain throughout the years as campaigns other cities do all the time, right? They just really evolve to meet the needs of our customers and power users. Our Elite Squad is like that too. Gabi, can you talk to me a bit about how that community was originally built? I think the squad can be a little mysterious to a lot of people!
GABI: Back in the day, like I said, many people didn’t even know what Yelp was, let alone the Yelp Elite squad. And so once Yelp started to become a more known resource and app and people knew about it, then we started kind of promoting the Yelp Elite squad. Yelp Elites are our most active and influential users. They’re kind of like local influencers, if you will. All of them use their real name and a real photo. And typically they’re folks that just are wanting to support local businesses and share their experience and make sure that people reading their reviews, you know, have the insider tips if you will, so that they can make sure that folks reading their reviews have a positive experience at that the businesses they’re using, whether it be a restaurant, a doctor, a plumber, an automaton mechanic, a hotel, whatever it may be. Elites are sharing everything that there is to know about their local community. And so yes, back in the day, we were educating a lot about Yelp, but also about the Yelp Elite squad.
And it was growing – slowly. And we were trying to fill up events with Yelp Elites, but oftentimes having them bring multiple plus ones, and guests. And now we have wait lists for Elite only events all the time because the squads have grown so much. And there’s so many people out there that are wanting to be part of the Elite squad and have this unique experience to be, you know, a local influencer, if you will, for Yelp. It’s been a pleasure to watch and to actually see the connections that are being made amongst the squad. Aimee do you have anything to add?
AIMEE: I was just going to say it’s interesting because as much as, you know, things have grown and changed none of the core values of the Elite squad and why we’re all here, they’ve stayed the same. You know, we had Emily, you met, you referenced this panel that we had recently, our team was lucky enough to finally get together in person.
And we had some Yelp Elites join us to talk about, you know, their experience and why their Yelp Elite. As Gabby said, like they, they just love local businesses and they love meeting other people who have that local passion. And hearing stories of business owners. And, you know, it’s neat to see. I remember when I was a cm and I had kind of that bigger purpose, type of moment where I had a bunch of brand new Elites at an Elite event and they all met each other and you would expect that to be awkward. You know, meeting for the first time, but it wasn’t.
And then I remember seeing later that weekend, all of them check into the same brunch restaurant on Yelp. And it was like, okay, we made some actual friendships here. And, yeah, it’s grown, but you know, the people are still here for the same reasons, like Gabby said.
EMILY: That’s such a great story. I love hearing about those ‘offline connections’ as we call them. I think one misconception about Yelp is that it’s a bunch of young people looking for a slice of pizza. When in reality 74% of our users are over the age of 35 and the gender, ethnicity, sexual identity – everything about our user base is diverse and unique in ever market!
And overall, I think something that is consistent on our site is that nearly all of our reviews are neutral to positive. The current % is just over 75% of reviews on Yelp are neutral to positive. More impressive to me is that we have more 5 star reviews on the site than 1, 2 and 3 star reviews combined. And that’s because of the habitual nature of these most engaged users, right? People want to share places they love!
Is there anything either of you can share about the panel you held with Elites that gives insight into peoples’ motivations or examples of times they were able to connect with a business on a deeper level because of Yelp?
GABI: I know just from conversations with Elites over the years, that they tend to be positive in nature, and they want to be a cheerleader for these local businesses. And I think it really makes them.
Feel like they’re making a bigger difference when they’re leaving that review or adding those photos. And then especially when they hear back from a business owner, when the business owner actually thanks them for the review, or maybe they go in for another visit in the future and they are recognized because of their review and they get thanked in person.
So I think that that’s one of the major reasons that folks love being Elite and continue to be Elite year over year is because they do see that it’s making a bigger difference. And it’s helping their local community in so many different ways. Um, yeah. What else I was going to say, is there an opportunity here to say, like, to like, learn more about the Yelp Elite squad?
As far as giving constructive feedback, I think that’s definitely something that we all want to do when we’re giving reviews. I think we need to also take a step back and know that, you know, there’s a crazy shortage when it comes to staffing right now, and that we might not get our food or whatever our order is or whatever our experiences and the timeliest of manners.
And just recognizing that, and the review goes a long way to just showing respect to the business. Everyone’s struggling post COVID. And so maybe not being as harsh as you initially feel. Taking some time to think about why the experience may not have gone as well as you would have liked to. And I recognize that Elites are doing that.
Of course, there’s some users that don’t do that. But we do our best to encourage folks to be respectful and kind in their reviews. And we’ve, I think done a great job of getting the word out about the Yelp Elite squad and what it takes to be Elite. Of course, there’s still some mystery to it.
There’s this national Elite squad committee that makes the decisions on folks becoming Elite, not but for anyone listening and who wants to learn more about the yelp Elite squad, you can go to yelp.com/Elite to learn more.
EMILY: What I love about the squad is you can nominate yourself, which is highly encouraged.
You can also nominate friends. So if you’re listening and someone in your life writes a ton of reviews, or they always whip out their phone to take pictures before they meet, tell them they should check out their local Yelp Elite squad because to Amy’s point – it really is an awesome way to meet new people in your community who have the same interests as you.
It’s a fun way to get a couple of behind the scenes opportunities at local businesses, sometimes new ones or ones that have been around for a long time. I think a lot of business owners start their business because they want to be connected to their community. So. Any way that you can deepen those relationships as a consumer and show that you’re trying to be a local cheerleader. I think that really gives some positive mojo to business owners too.
Aimee, could you give us a little more insight into the evolution of the community management team and what the culture is like?
AIMEE: So it’s interesting to see how the Community Management team has evolved. You know, I started almost 12 years ago. There’s a bunch of us that have been here a very long time.
So we’ve grown along with the company and I think that is representative of the Elite squad as well. It’s interesting you’ll go to an event and you’ll have a conversation with a college student. You’ll talk to a couple who just retired and, I think that keeps it fun and interesting. And that’s one thing that we have in common, like we’ve talked about a ton here is that passion for local businesses.
It’s funny, like here in St. Louis, you’ll walk into a business. I can think of a couple and they have Yelp reviews, like taped up to the wall and I think those are the businesses that are doing such a good job of, you know, really showing who they are and why they care about the community. And that’s what the Elite squad cares about is obviously the products, but their stories as well and how they can connect with them.
So, yeah, it’s a diverse group and it’s never boring
EMILY: That’s for sure. We’re going to take a quick break and when we come back we’ll dive into all the things you can do on Yelp to make your search experience better and find the best local spots.
EMILY: We’re back! So I need to know from you two as power users, what are your favorite features? How do you guys search on Yelp?
GABI: So coming off of this diversity topic, I will say it’s been amazing to see the community at Yelp rally around searching by attributes such as women owned such as black owned, such as Latin X zones, and just how we’re celebrating all of these different minority owned businesses. So that’s been amazing to see. As far as power user tips for searching – something I do often is I go to Yelp. Even in my own community if I kind of know where something is, I’ll search the business and then I’ll hit get directions on. Just so that it takes me right there. So I love using that when I’m traveling, sometimes I’ll put in the location, I’m either staying at, or I know I’ll be coming from and, and search nearby to find, you know, the best taco shop or the best sushi, which is like super close to wherever I might be.
You can put in an actual address and find what’s nearby there, which is great.
I also love that you can share your own collections or find a collection that’s public and share it with friends or even just a business. It’s really easy to tap the top right corner of the business you’re looking at on your app and share it with friends directly so they can’t go wrong.
Many businesses have different addresses or locations. And if you share the direct business you’re at, or you’re wanting to go to, there’s no confusion. And it’s just so useful. I can’t even remember what life was like before some of these things.
EMILY: Those were great features Gabi. I have to start doing that location search more where you put a physical location in the search bar when you look for something like restaurants or bars. I always do a neighborhood or zip code, but that’s way better – looking around a location you want to go to. Aimee, how about you?
AIMEE: I think searching for like the coveted date night spot is, something I do, you know, whenever we’re lucky enough to have a babysitter. But I think I use the open now button pretty often, because usually I’m making a very quick decision on where to go. Also just the delivery option on Yelp has been huge. And something I share with my CMs quite often, just because we’re on our computers all day for work is when I want to leave a more detailed review, I’ll actually use the voice to text feature and, you know, it, it requires going back and doing some editing. But for me, it’s a little more that my review comes off a little more authentic and maybe a little more colorful when I can, when I can speak it versus just typing.
EMILY: I love the advice for sharing through voice to text, because I think a lot of people maybe don’t even share their experiences because of the barrier of sitting down and writing a review. In the same vein, could you guys share some tips about how to become a more habitual reviewer? What type of things do you do to make sure you remember to write a review for all the places you visit or love?
AIMEE: So I think the most important thing is to check in on Yelp, add photos as you’re, as you’re there. Right? If you’re standing in line waiting for food, like snap, some photos, add them. Yelp is going to remind you later to write that review.
And I also just think it’s important to remember that you can review any type of local business. So there’s lots of businesses, especially now that would probably love to hear feedback. You know, to receive that review from you. And so I think that’s important to remember as well.
EMILY: Tell me more about going back and reviewing places you visited earlier—how far back do you go?
GABI: I like to suggest that people review while it’s fresh. And if you don’t think that you had a full experience, like you want to go back a time or two again, before you give a full review, then that’s okay. Sometimes I’ll add photos on my first visit and then a month or two later, I’ll go back. I’ll add more photos and then I’ll add my review also.
So I think as long as you’re confident you can share something with anyone that’s using your review. It doesn’t have to be a novel. It can be a few sentences and then you can always update it later. That’s something to keep in mind as well.
EMILY: Let’s get into what motivates reviewers. What motivates you both, and why do you think consumers as a whole like to write reviews?
AIMEE: you know, for me, I am motivated by those genuine experiences where people are, you know, just showing who they are.
I’m having a really pleasant interaction with whoever I’m talking to at the front of the house, that type of thing. And so for me, it’s more fun to share those positive experiences, versus the negative ones. That’s, that’s typically what motivates.
GABI: I would say the same for me. I really love sharing positive experiences that I have.
And sometimes when I’m not even going into a business thinking this’ll be a great place to review. For example, I recently took my son for a consultation at an Orthodox. And the orthodontist was so amazing. Her bedside manner was great. She made us both feel comfortable. And so I wanted to support her and write a review and share some pictures there.
One of the reviews I get so many comments on is a review that I gave of my gynecologist years ago and another one from a fertility clinic. But you would be surprised how many people have written to me and said, thank you for sharing that experience. I found it super helpful. So I think just keeping in mind that folks can review anything and especially, you know, a positive review goes a really long way for a business owner.
EMILY: So, we all know it’s easier to write (and surely, to read) reviews of positive experiences. But what about when the experience maybe wasn’t so positive? What advice can you share with consumers to be more powerful or helpful?
AIMEE: I guess I would just add that when you do have that negative experience, like Gabby said, I think now is the time for extra empathy. But something I try to keep in mind is anytime I’m writing a negative review – would I say this to the business owners face, if I was standing next to them in person.
And I think, you know, it’s easy to kind of sound off behind a keyboard. And when you stop and think about the person who’s going to be reading that review, I think that will help you be a little more constructive. In a positive way.
EMILY: That’s such a good point, and it aligns with the importance of remembering that business owners and employees are people too. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but they’re doing their best.
Let’s finish up by touching on the power of responding to reviews—can you explain why responding to reviews is so important for businesses?
AIMEE: I definitely get extremely excited when I get an email in my inbox that says an owner responded to one of my reviews. I think that’s such a fun way to interact with a business.
And so it does go a really long way. And I always tell business owners as well, like yeah, your instinct is to respond to those negative reviews to maybe correct anything that you feel like needs correcting, but there’s a ton of power behind responding to that five-star review. It’s just going to make people even more excited to come back.
It’s deepening the relationship. That’s definitely one of my favorite moments.
GABI: Well said, Amy, I would totally agree with all of that. It makes my day to hear back from a business owner when I leave a positive review. And when I do stick in some constructive feedback about something that maybe they could work on improving, it always goes a long way when they respond and acknowledge that. And thank me for that feedback.
And it’s really cool when you actually go back to that business and see that they did make some slight tweaks or changes. And now my experience is much better. And it’s really cool to see when you can go back and maybe write a new review and give them even more stars than the last time based on some changes that the business has made or improvements they’ve made over time.
EMILY: That was great and I love that advice Gabi—make sure when you’re providing feedback or criticism, it’s in a way that something can be implemented or changed. You don’t have to be negative for sake of being negative. Well, thank you so much for your time. I do want to give a couple of shout outs and call to actions for all our listeners. The first thing is if you’re listening to this, when it gets released or before the month of August, you’ll want to check out the local events happening in your area that month, because they’re open to anyone! So you don’t need to be an Elite to attend those August events being hosted in local community. Just head to www.yelp.com/events and you’ll see what’s coming.
And if you want to nominate yourself or someone else to be a part of the Yelp Elite squad go to www.yelp.com/elite.
For all my business owner listeners, we want you to be able to get in touch with your local community managers as well! So check out the form in the show notes. Once you fill that out, I will personally connect you with your local community manager. Thanks so much for listening, and we hope to see you next time.