Confessions of a Yelp Elitist

I am a Yelp Elitist. When I say that, it means two things. Firstly, I’m a member of the Yelp Elite squad, a group of “superusers” recognized by social media reviews site Yelp as active reviewers and brand ambassadors. Secondly, when trying out a new business, such as a nail salon or car shop, I live and die by Yelp review ratings.

Despite the criticisms of its advertising and rating algorithms, Yelp is simply too big to ignore. A business’ Yelp page is also second only to the website in Google search results. It boasted 78 million unique monthly visitors in 2012 and that number only continues to rise. If you’re a small business hampered with bad Yelp reviews, begin your turn-around strategy with a peek into the mind of its most prolific users.

Ambience Matters. As much as Yelpers claim to relish in undiscovered and unpolished hole-in-the-wall joints, a cursory glance at any 4 or 4.5-rated business will reveal that decor and cleanliness– particularly for restaurants– matters. If you’re a diamond in the rough, try not to look like one. Even Yelp Elites interviewed for this article who value product over the service have written reviews with in-depth praises for glass chandeliers and angry rants about sticky, wobbly tables.

Service Matters More. It’s an inside joke among Yelpers that most reviewers will ramble self-centeredly about an overwhelming experience– both terrible and positive– before ever writing a word about the haircut they received. A warm smile or a friendly gesture goes a long way. Denis Waitley’s words are especially true in this instance: “Attitude is either the lock on or the key to the door of success.” Even disgruntled Yelp Elites find it difficult to argue with a genuinely concerned attitude.

Reach Out to Reviewers. Bo Yu, a four-time Yelp Elite member from Houston, went to a local sushi restaurant and was unimpressed with their specialty rolls, given the high price point. “I gave it 3 stars. The owner messaged me on Yelp, thanked me for my honest review and mailed me a $20 gift card to try them out again.” A few months later, Yu returned with friends and the second visit changed his mind. “I think I just ordered the wrong things the first time. I [ordered] what my friends ordered and it was very delicious. The atmosphere grew on me and I definitely liked it more the second time around.”

Since the sushi restaurant typically charges $15-18 a roll, gifting Yu a $20 voucher was a smart move, since, A.) it makes it easy for the reviewer to give the place another try and B.) hardly anyone gets full off of one sushi roll. Worst case scenario: you’re out $20 (or whatever amount is best for your business’ consolation voucher). Best case scenario: You have a newly enthused, vocal fan, with a positive testimony to match.

… But Be Gracious About It. My earliest review on Yelp was for a Brazilian churrascaria I took my dad to– who lived in Sao Paolo for over a decade– for his birthday. We both enjoyed our evening, but found certain parts of it disappointing, so I gave it 3 stars. To give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt, I wrote that I’d be willing to try it again, since the cons could be a result of a slow Wednesday night.

A representative from the restaurant replied to my review a few months later. Her reply wasn’t particularly virulent, but it was defensive and an apology wasn’t given. Business responses are generally a good idea, but this one made me feel belittled– something your customers or clients should never feel. Despite my initial intention to re-visit the restaurant, the Yelp exchanges that took place afterwards (no apology offered for the belittling or the service) shut the door on that possibility.

And now I’m sharing my negative experience on Jennifer: 1. Brazilian Steakhouse: 0.


For a look into other niche social networks like Yelp, read 'Beyond Facebook and Twitter.'


Jennifer Chang is the former associate editor for SUCCESS. She has a corgi puppy who has more Instagram followers than a dog should have. Tweet or follow her thoughts and favorite links at @jenzchang.

Leave a Comment