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May 20, 2013

My Year On Yelp’s Small Business Advisory Council

Yelp's Small Business Advisory Council plays an integral role in developing our tools for business owners and connecting the Yelp team with direct feedback from the small business community. Just as we recommend that local businesses pay attention to trends in the reviews they receive, this direct feedback channel helps us identify ways we can improve Yelp for business owners. Mellissa Morgan of Ms. Cupcake shares her experience below as a council member throughout the past year. Head to Yelp's Blog for Business owners for the original post and more info on Yelp for business owners.

About a year ago, Yelp did a call out looking for business owners who might be interested in joining the Yelp Small Business Advisory Council (YSBAC). My business, Ms. Cupcake, had been born through social media but, up until then, Yelp had only played a minor role. While Yelp is still a growing brand in Europe, I could sense it was something I wanted to be a part of, so I sent off the application.

A few weeks later I got the call that I’d been accepted on the council. I agreed to the monthly conference calls, but when they said they were flying me to Yelp HQ in San Francisco for a business owner summit I said, “Oh gosh, didn’t you realise I live in the United Kingdom?” They said, “We know! We want the European business owner’s perspective represented on the council.” Talk about investing in small business!

I appreciated the fact that they constructed a council with representatives from many different industries including barbers, florists and realtors from all over the US and Canada. We certainly were a motley crew who all had very different Yelp experiences, but were all there with the common goal of sharing our ideas and feedback with the Yelp team. Some of the council members had been waving the Yelp flag for many years, spending all of their advertising dollars with Yelp, but, refreshingly, they also had business owners on the council who weren’t advertisers, some whose businesses had low 2-star Yelp ratings and me, just starting out on my Yelp journey. 

At the summit we were shown around the Yelp HQ offices and met all of the movers and shakers in the company who were keen to hear our stories. Each session was led by top managers at Yelp who had to face some pretty tough questions from the council members, all of which (to their credit) they answered openly and honestly.  

The council hashed out a mammoth list of items that we wanted Yelp to consider. Some of them seemed pretty ‘pie in the sky’ but they were listened to and seriously considered by Yelp. As quickly as our action list started to take shape, tangible changes began to appear over the coming months. More Yelp Town Halls were scheduled for business owners (including ones in Canada), a video was made for business owners with CEO Jeremy Stoppelman directly discussing the Review Filter, the Revenue Estimator tool was launched to help businesses track how Yelp generated business compares to national averages, and there are still more changes to come.  

I am delighted to have had this opportunity to see how Yelp works from the inside and my experience has made me realise how much Yelp listens to the small business owner. As for Ms. Cupcake, our business has grown entirely through online marketing, with social media being absolutely crucial. Yelp has been instrumental in building our customer base – allowing customers to review or share tips about our products, whilst encouraging valuable feedback which helps improve the business.

Let’s hope more big companies follow in the footsteps of Yelp and admit that they too might have something to learn from ‘the little guy’!