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January 2014

January 29, 2014

You Have the Right to Express Your Opinion Online

Because of the First Amendment, it is rare that we hear about consumers being sued for exercising their right to free speech -- even with nearly 50 million reviews contributed to-date. That's probably why there's been a fair amount of media attention surrounding a couple of recent cases in Virginia. But despite this press hype, it’s important to keep in mind that the First Amendment guarantees the rights of consumers to express their opinion about a business and honestly describe their experience.

These strong protections are why these suits are unlikely, especially when a reviewer has thoughtfully shared their views (Yelp provides guidance on how to do this in our Content Guidelines). We find the most useful reviews include a rich narrative, a wealth of detail and perhaps a helpful tip for others who are looking to spend their hard-earned money at that local business.

As we mentioned a couple weeks ago, litigation is not a good substitute for customer service. Businesses that try to sue their customers into silence rarely prevail, end up wasting their own time and money and usually bring additional, unwanted attention to the original criticism (a phenomenon known as the Streisand effect). Many states (though, unfortunately not Virginia) have laws designed to further protect consumers from being intimidated or silenced by these types of lawsuits. These Anti-SLAPP laws allow consumers to quickly end meritless lawsuits and require the business to pay the consumer's legal fees when the business loses.

The bottom line: reviewers who share their experiences help their fellow consumers as well as good businesses and provide the marketplace with valuable information, so we will continue to fight for the protection of free speech for all internet users. We know the reason an average of 117 million monthly unique visitors turn to Yelp is because consumers trust the content they are reading and find it useful in helping them make a spending decision.

January 28, 2014

A Day in the Life of Hilary H., Senior Community Manager in Providence, RI

Meet Hilary H., the social mayoress, party princess and walking Yelp of Providence, Rhode Island! This brainy beauty delivers perfectly planned parties to her beloved Yelpers, she puts in the work educating bartenders and business owners alike on the power of Yelp and always offers patient and pertinent advice to her colleagues through video and phone chats. We’re excited to introduce you to a day in her life as she reps the folks on web and mobile that know just the place in America’s Creative Capital.

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Hilary H., Senior Community Manager

Why do you love being a part of the Yelp team?

Asking me why I love being a part of the Yelp team is like asking me why I love kittens: there are too many reasons to list! I get to work with some of the most creative, energetic, intelligent, fun and positive people I have ever met, and all of that good mojo oozes into everything we do. We’re constantly encouraged to break the mold, to be original all while being our authentic selves. It’s inspiring!

What is a typical day in the office like for you?

Every day is different from the next, but they all begin with a cup of Earl Grey and a good look at my calendar. It could be a day of buzzing between meetings with potential media partners and local businesses to plan a massive Elite Event, or deciding what crazy booth we’re going to set up at a festival to introduce the people to Yelp. I could be meeting up with a group of Yelpers to grab a beer or hit up a restaurant opening. You’re likely to find me at any one of the amazing shindigs thrown to celebrate different businesses in the city, chatting with locals and spreading the Yelpy goodness. Or, I may have a day of writing ahead of me, which means curling up with my computer (and my cat, Rufus) and pulling inspiration from the Talk boards or the recent reviews feed for Weekly Yelp ideas.

Hilarydesk
My home office, complete with couch-dwelling cat

What’s your advice for someone who might be interested in the Community Manager role at Yelp?

That this is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. CMs don’t hang up our hats at the end of the day - that’s usually when we’re putting them on! It’s important to have a sense of fluidity, a dash of self-discipline and knowledge on how to turn a phrase. Be your authentic self, have a genuine passion for your city, your community and Yelp. It also doesn’t hurt if you’re an adventurous eater and cocktail enthusiast!

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L to R: With a group of CMs at our annual Yelp Off-Site / Prepping for an Elite Event / Enjoying a meal with a group of Elites / Photobooth hijinks at a Providence Yelper Party

What’s your favorite thing about living in Providence? What are you up to when you’re not at work?

I’m a born and bred New Englander and Providence embodies so much of what is special about this corner of the world that I love so dearly. There’s such a sense of community and creativity, pride and a bit of scrappiness, too. I love walking along the river downtown, a bag of scrumptious macarons from Ellie’s Bakery in hand, admiring the mix of colonial brick buildings, gorgeous Victorian structures and modern minimalist architecture.

Providence has amazing culinary talent, and I take full advantage of that at Broadway Bistro, where the seafood is always impeccable and Loie Fuller’s, which I believe has the best steak in the city. When I feel like exploring, I’ll pop over to Downcity to peruse Symposium Books for literary treasures or wander through the boutiques of the newly-renovated Arcade, which is the oldest indoor mall in the U.S.! To end my day, I’ll grab a stool at my favorite bar, The Eddy, where I’ll chat with my friend Jay while he mixes up an amazing cocktail.

What are a few of your current favorite local businesses?

Right now I’m crazy for Sharon Marie’s particular style of yoga at Wayland Square Power Yoga. I’m there at least three times a week, working on my asanas and feeling the heat. Yelpers love this studio because the teachers are kind, compassionate, and respectful. They are all dedicated and inspiring teachers, and the studio is a great addition to the city.

I’m also digging The Grange. They struck the right cord with Yelpers by emphasizing their hyperlocal, health-oriented mission. You almost forget that you’re eating vegetarian food, especially with one of their inspired cocktails as an accompaniment. Their weekend brunch is not to be missed!

When I feel I deserve a little pampering, there’s only one place I go: Alayne White Spa. They really know how to take care of you! Yelpers always comment on how considerate the staff is, how relaxing the environment is, and how incredibly fabulous the treatments are. I’m partial to The Best Facial You Will Ever Have and The Mega Muscle Meltdown Massage, myself. I guess you could say that’s a theme with all successful business in Providence - they care about the people in their community, and strive to form a connection rather than merely an exchange.

January 24, 2014

Yelp Elite Spotlight: Christy F. Takes on Tucson

The Elite Spotlight Series continues with a Tucsonian overflowing with enthusiasm for exploring her own backyard. Drum roll, please. Introducing the adventurous Christy F!

This Elite made the move from Detroit to Arizona without knowing a single soul, but that didn’t stop her from jumping right in. As a former Detroit Elite, Christy knew that Yelp could help her discover all types of local businesses in her new city and Yelp events would be a great way to meet people. Tucson Community Manager Bella J. says that Christy, “embraced the Southwest culture right away” and quickly became a role model in the Yelp Tucson community. Bella adds that Christy’s “passion for learning and sharing her experiences emanates both on and offline - from her entertaining and detailed reviews to the positive and engaging energy she brings to community events.”

But enough from us, let's hear from Christy F. herself on some of the best finds she has discovered in her new city!

PhpH2cIfzAMChristy F. (Tucson, AZ)

Q: Describe your most memorable Yelp moment.

A: I would have to say it was when I took the plunge at being a Yelp viewer to a Yelp reviewer. I had been reading reviews on Yelp for the longest time and one day I had that ah-ha moment. A lot of the content I was looking for was not there and I, little ol’ me, had something to contribute. So, I took a shot and wrote a review. Later that same day, I logged on and people thought I was funny, cool and useful- say what?! Call me hooked!! Every chance I could, I would log on to write more and check my FUCs (Funny, Useful, Cool votes). I made it my mission to set out and explore my city like Magellan and Yelp the entire journey out.

Q: What does it mean to you to be part of the Yelp Elite Squad?

A: Being Elite is HUGE for me. When I was in Detroit, I was single and I needed to get out and meet people. I loved putting a face to some of my favorite reviews. I was beyond flattered to learn that many people were fans of mine, too! When I moved from Detroit to Tucson, Yelp provided me an instant friend base and I basically had every meal out planned for years to come. I get a huge bolt of excitement when I get a fan, compliment, an FUC... I love being the first to try something and I love sharing my locavore info. Yelp has changed how I experience any city.

Q: What are the top 3 local spots you’re loving in your city right now?

A: 1) Picante Designs is a tiny, independently owned gift shop filled of wonderment that magically transports you to Mexico and Guatemala. It is filled with tchotchkes, clothing, handbags and jewelry. Bonus - most items are fair trade and I love me some guilt free shopping! Also, next door is the coolest independent toy store I have ever set eyes on, Yikes Toys.

L-1Photo of Yikes Toys via Patricia K. on Yelp

2) Boca Tacos y Tequila has ruined any other taco for me. Picture fresh tortillas with a perfectly roasted Anaheim pepper placed on top. Then pack that pepper full with schmeltzy, Mexican cheese and the marinated meat of your choice. It is a masterpiece. I am a huge fan of these Macho tacos - you could call me the Madam President of their fan club. BUT it does not stop there. Maria is a salsa whisperer. She whips up insane combinations of ingredients like a mad scientist. When you dine in you get a platter of four to eight salsas to try. I promise your tastebuds will be going off like car alarms on the Fourth of July!

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Photo of Maria’s famous salsas via Jessica D. on Yelp

3) My third pick is the Shelter Cocktail Lounge. It’s another place that just transports you like an acid flashback to the 60's. It is something you just have to see yourself. Velvet paintings, Kennedy memorabilia, vintage movies playing, vintage pinball- I’m really not doing it justice. The three stunning infusions are the stars. You cannot leave the Shelter without trying one of their White Russians made from house infused vanilla bean and chocolate vodka. Fill me up a pool of that and let me dive in it. They also host food truck round-ups in their parking lot. Total win.

Q: Yelp is more than just a restaurant review site. What else have you discovered on Yelp?

A: I have discovered so many things on Yelp! Besides the great people and awesome events, I have discovered my favorite travel tool! I never leave home without Yelp. I love planning my attacks on cities with the help of Yelp.

January 22, 2014

Yelp Elite Squad 2014: Welcoming the newbs and the 10-year vets

Every day millions of people around the world use Yelp to discover great local businesses. When the realization hits that they can also share their own experiences through Yelp, many start writing reviews and become members of our community of engaged locals; some may even be selected to join the Yelp Elite Squad.

While there are thousands of Yelp Elites across the 24 countries where Yelp has a presence, there are some who have been a part of the Elite Squad since the very beginning, with 2014 marking their 10th year of Elite-dom!

Every year Yelp Elites receive a new badge on their profile to not only proudly display their commitment to the Yelp community, but also so other users can see how long they’ve been Yelping it up. For the Yelp Elites that are celebrating their 10th year on the Elite Squad, a shiny, new black badge now graces their profile pages.

A decade of Elite-worthy behavior is no small feat. In the process of exploring their communities and sharing that local knowledge on Yelp, these Elites have racked up some serious cred. Take Jordan N. in Miami, for example. Yelping since August 2005, Jordan embodies the true spirit of Yelp, helping his community discover new hidden gems with 718 firsts (meaning he was the first to review those businesses) and 1,578 reviews of businesses ranging from caterers to bookstores to landmarks and historic buildings, and, of course, restaurants. Take a look at his list of parks in Miami for 16 spots to soak up some Floridian sunshine in the great outdoors. With 3,771 useful votes on his reviews, it’s obvious Jordan’s local expertise is helping others discover the best of Miami.

Jordan N. Yelp
Jordan N., Miami Elite Yelper

For those of you that are newly minted 2014 Yelp Elites, congratulations! We can’t wait to hear about the places you discover. We made a little video - narrated by one of Yelp’s most tenured employees (after the CEO himself) and fellow black badge Elite Jessica T. - to introduce you to the wonderful world of the Yelp Elite Squad, and many of the acronyms you will come to know and love. As the Yelp community continues to grow and develop in countries around the world, we look forward to welcoming many more Elites to the 10-year club. Want to be a part of something awesome? Nominate yourself or someone you know at yelp.com/elite.

January 21, 2014

SBA and Yelp Present: Success With Online Reviews

Sharing what you dig and what you don’t is nothing new, but today this consumer word-of-mouth happens at lightning speed online, in the form of reviews. What’s more is that in a recent national survey, 85% of consumers said that they read online reviews about local businesses. With that in mind, Yelp and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) launched the Success With Online Reviews initiative to help America’s small businesses successfully engage with online reviewers.

 

The kickoff event was held this past week at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) where local business owners were invited to learn online marketing insights from a panel of business owner experts and reviewers from Yelp's Elite squad. The panelists included Pam Nelson of Butter Lane Cupcakes, Michael Brau of Dorado Tacos, and Jay Sofer of Lockbusters (who also holds the title of most reviewed locksmith in New York on Yelp). During the interactive session, attendees learned several key points including what motivates online reviewers to write as well as the impact of customer service on ratings -- it turns out the highest rated businesses tend to be focused on providing a great customer experience. Another pearl of wisdom from the panelists was that consumers actually like it when business owners respond to their online reviews.

 

In the coming months Yelp and the SBA will bring these local expert workshops to several key cities around the country, as well as host a series of webinars which begins on February 11th at 2PM EST. For additional dates, times, and workshop locations be sure to check out www.sba.gov/onlinereviews.

The Success With Online Reviews initiative will run through National Small Business Week (May 12-16).

January 15, 2014

What The Heck is Hackathon?

Yelp recently hosted its 12th Hackathon - the first in our brand new headquarters! Over the years, Hackathon has become a beloved tradition here at Yelp, resulting in such legendary projects as the Kegmate and the first Yelp check-in in space. But what exactly are these Hackathons and why the heck do we have them?

 

In a nutshell, Hackathon is a two-day event where our engineers have free rein to work on projects they think will be useful, funny or cool. The 48-hour extravaganza kicks off with a traditional mimosa toast led by yours truly while engineers gather around to snag a piece of special edition Hackathon swag. Then, it’s off to the races.

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Leading the traditional mimosa toast.

For the next two days, regularly scheduled projects take a back seat while engineers build, code and hack away on something that fascinates them - whether it be an issue they want to solve, a process they’d love to streamline or improve, or something completely fantastical they want to build. They’re encouraged to play around with with Yelp’s rich wealth of data and they have a chance to work with other engineers they may not normally interact with. Assembled teams call dibs on conference rooms, keep each other alert with nerf gun wars and some even camp out at HQ into the wee hours of the morning. To give our hard-working engineers a breather between coding sessions, we have surprises such as petting zoos, massage chairs and DDR battles.

The affair culminates in a science fair-type event where engineers show off their projects to the rest of the company and are later voted in Useful, Funny, Cool, Hardcore and Unhack categories. Some Hackathon projects have even gone on to be incorporated into Yelp’s site and mobile apps. Others, like Yelp Looking Glass, Eurodash and many more, were just really really cool. Some have even resulted in larger side-projects. For instance, a number of engineers formed Darwin Aerospace, a group that worked on cool stuff like the Burrito Bomber. They were also the first to 3D print in space (beating NASA!).

These Hackathons embody our company culture of creativity and ingenuity. Giving our engineers the freedom to build whatever they want for a couple of days keeps them on their toes and challenges them, both creatively and technically. We believe that being surrounded by unique and innovative ideas helps develop new ones, and pushes us to think outside the box.

Already started daydreaming on a project you'd work on for Hackathon? If you think you might be a good fit for the Yelp Engineering team, head on over to yelp.com/careers to apply for an open position!

January 10, 2014

Protecting Consumer Free Speech in Virginia: A Fight We’ll Continue

Hadeed Carpet Cleaning

Earlier this week, the Virginia Court of Appeals announced a ruling that sets Virginia apart from other states when it comes to free speech rights for consumers.  

In this case, the owner of a Virginia carpet cleaning business argued that because he could not find in his customer database the screen names of some Yelp reviewers, their critical comments might be from a competitor rather than customers – ignoring the fact that these reviewers might have used pseudonyms to avoid the justifiable fear of retribution from the business. The owner did not dispute the underlying validity of the comments (shared by other reviewers), nor did he submit evidence to support his theories. Yet, without requiring any actual evidence that wrongdoing had occurred – or even any evidence that the reviews themselves were untrue – the Virginia appellate court ordered Yelp to disclose the identities of the reviewers.

This ruling would allow a business owner in Virginia to obtain identifying information – such as birthdates, email addresses and IP addresses – of individuals that wrote reviews about that business based not on evidence, but only on the speculation of the business owner that maybe these individuals were not customers, but unidentified competitors.

This decision fails to protect the First Amendment rights of Virginia consumers who are turning to sites like Yelp to share their experiences with local businesses. Protecting consumer free speech is paramount at Yelp, which is why we worked with Public Citizen to defend the identities of the reviewers in this case. The Washington Post and Gannett Co. joined our efforts to further protect free speech, as part of a supportive brief submitted by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. While the Virginia ruling is unfortunate, we plan to appeal and we’re optimistic about the future for protecting free speech online.

The good news is that the situation in Virginia is far from the norm throughout the rest of the country. Courts elsewhere have respected the First Amendment protection for citizens to speak anonymously – after all, consumers may feel the need to speak anonymously for privacy reasons or for fear of unfair retaliation by the business. Furthering these rights, many state and federal courts require actual evidence of a valid claim to be presented prior to disclosure of an individual's identifying information. For now, Virginia appears to disagree, as the court there chose the empty speculations of a business owner over the First Amendment rights of Virginia citizens.

This case highlights the need for stronger online free speech protection across the country, and is a reminder of why Yelp is fighting to expand the protections of consumer free speech and privacy in courts and legislative bodies across the country.

Litigation isn’t a very good substitute for customer service, and businesses considering using the courts as a weapon against their customers should think twice. Overreacting to a bad review can often make things worse, as most courts are quick to protect online reviewers in the face of intimidation. We plan to appeal the Hadeed ruling, and we will continue to fight for the protection and expansion of free speech for all internet users.

January 07, 2014

Yelp’s Year in Review(s)

By now you’re day seven into your new workout regimen and are counting the minutes since your last [fill in vice here], but before you dive too deep into the new year, let’s take a quick look back at the local businesses and Yelpers that topped the Yelp charts in 2013.

Without further ado, the most reviewed local business in 2013 is Bottega Louie. People voiced their opinions about this LA eatery in 2,193 recommended reviews over the course of the year, boosting Bottega Louie’s overall review count to more than 7,000 while maintaining an impressive 4-star rating. Though the portobello fries are clear crowd pleasers, Bottega Louie’s famous macarons take the cake, with mentions in 1,230 reviews!

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While Bottega Louie topped the chart, they’re in good company. Here’s the full list of top 10 most reviewed local businesses in 2013:

1. Bottega Louie, Los Angeles, CA
2. Phil's BBQ, San Diego, CA
3. Bi-Rite Creamery, San Francisco, CA
4. Wurstküche, Los Angeles, CA
5. Pink's Hot Dogs, Los Angeles, CA
6. Katz's Delicatessen, New York, NY
7. Ippudo NY, New York, NY
8. Brenda's French Soul Food, San Francisco, CA
9. The Halal Guys, New York, NY
10. Founding Farmers, Washington, DC

But let’s not lose sight of the people writing these fabulous reviews: the vibrant community of Yelpers across 24 countries who have contributed over 47 million reviews to date. The Yelper with the most review contributions in 2013 is Oakland, CA’s Victor G. who penned 1,712 in 2013 alone (that’s nearly five a day!), bringing his grand total to over 7,000 reviews. A Yelper since December 2007 and a member of the Elite Squad six years running, Victor G. has reviewed everything from gelaterias to thrift stores. But he’s not the only one contributing heaps of useful, funny and cool reviews; below are the top 3 Yelpers with the most review contributions in 2013:

1. Victor G., Oakland, CA
2. Kim N., Mountain View, CA
3. Kenneth N., Vancouver, BC

And with that, let’s get on with bringing in the new! Thank you all for making 2013 such an amazing year - we can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.