I was speaking to a client of mine the other day about Yelp. She owns a restaurant in downtown Palo Alto, and has been in the hospitality industry for years. We were talking about how much business Yelp has brought to her new restaurant, and she said to me, "You know, I don't know how they've done it, but somehow they have really managed to make this user review thing work".
I got to thinking about this over the past few weeks, and she is 100% correct. Somehow Yelp has defied the traditional market research user review trap whereby only the extremely satisfied or dissatisfied bother to fill out a comment card or otherwise review a service. Yelp has managed to take user reviews from the biased extremes to create well-balanced reviews of local restaurants, hotels and services for their users. How did they do this?
Many web 1.0 sites - CitySearch, Yahoo! Local, and even Google - tried to create local review destinations without nearly the same success. What Yelp figured out is that it is all about the reviewer, not necessarily just the service being reviewed. By enabling social mavens to express themselves and be rewarded with popularity by readers who think they are “cool” or “funny”, Yelp takes online reviewing from reviews where only the extremely satisfied or unsatisfied participate to an interactive community where contributors become cool for their knowledge. By requiring and enabling reviewers to create a profile, Yelpers reap rewards of popularity known as “elite” status on the site, readers consume well-balanced, useful reviews and can discover new local hangouts or “content topics” from their favorite Yelpers, and Yelp clearly benefits from highly monetize-able, targeted traffic.
Yelp has perfected the social web model. No one wants to hear what website editors have to say. We want to know what people just like us have to say and what they care about, and those mavens who actively contribute content to the social web want to be rewarded by their peers for doing so.