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Yelp was started in 2005 in San Francisco. Initially it focused on restaurants, but it soon accepted reviews on everything from shopping, beauty services, hotels and travel to medical and professional services.  It even rates religious organizations. Yelp spread geographically throughout the USA to Canada, and more recently to several European countries.  Meanwhile, Yelp grew out of it’s original purpose as a search and review site to also include social networking.

Yelp Social Media Review Network is, in many ways, a miniature of the social media empowered world of today’s consumer. Understanding and appreciating its many characteristics, rather than judging and isolating them, will be key to understanding both the nature and the meaning of life for today’s consumer. The information here will assist the reader in gaining an appreciation of Yelp, and an understanding of the role that it plays in the new marketplace.

Yelp provides online local search capabilities for its visitors. A typical search includes what the user is seeking (e.g. a barber shop) and the location from which the search is to be performed, entered as a specific address, neighborhood, city/state combination, or zip code. Each business listing result contains a 5-point rating, reviews from other site visitors, and details such as the business address, hours, accessibility, and parking. Site visitors can aid in keeping the business listings up to date, with moderator approval. Business owners can also update their own business’ listing information. It is this two-way interaction that makes Yelp special.

Yelp encourages users to have a public persona “to bolster your credibility as a contributor”.   The feeling is that the reader naturally devalues comments from anonymous posters, therefore, users are encouraged, but not required, to use their own names. Nonetheless, pseudonyms are allowed and used.

Yelp Communities

In order to establish the relevance of these activities in the eyes of the real estate industry, readers should appreciate that real estate brokerages and agents are two of the fast growing areas of interest on the Yelp site. In almost every market in the country, consumers are increasingly using Yelp to share information regarding their real estate service experience. More specifically, over the past several months more than 33 million consumers have participated in the Yelp community.

Because review writing is an art form in the Yelp community, these reviews are both artful and informative. By the way, 85 percent of the reviews posted on Yelp are positive in nature, throwing a wrench in the cogs of the cyber-conspirator lobby.

Yelp listings and related content are organized by city and a multi tier categorization system. Content and listings can also be discovered through categorized reviews via Yelp member profiles and their review lists. Maps, leveraging Google maps, show reviewed businesses to further aid in the search and discovery process.

YelpYelp Participation

Yelp has gone even further than other social media sites in its effort to create the perfect social media universe. Recognizing that today’s 18 to 48 year old consumer wants to create, enjoy and harvest relationships, the site combines local reviews and social networking functionality to create a highly effective and rewarding local online community.

Moreover by adding social web tools to user reviews the site has created an almost “real life” reputation system (another millennium generation expectation). Site visitors can see which contributing users (including real estate service providers) are the most popular, respected, and prolific, how long each has been a member, and which have personal interests similar to their own. Strong peer feedback tools, and the featured placement of popular reviews on the site and in local newsletters, help motivate contributors.

Yelp also applies a “First to Review” reward system to stimulate a competition among contributing members, further motivating the creation of reviews and adding to the site’s business coverage. This feature should contribute greatly to the site’s growing real estate service review sector.

The company further encourages consumer participation and strengthens its online community through off-line events (read parties) at nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and cultural venues in various cities for its most active and sustained contributors, named “Elite” members on the site. In return, these members receive a special badge on their personalized page for every year they author a specific number of reviews or contribute to the improvement of the online community. The concept is meant to indicate that the user is a trusted author of business reviews. To gain Elite status, it is often helpful to be nominated by other Elite users, but recognition is bestowed when one writes useful, funny or cool reviews so members can vote on those reviews. Again, it is articulation, not negativity, which designates a winner here.

Finally, the site has a forum for online socialization and discussion of local businesses and events. In short Yelp is a multifaceted media community.

So, here is an opportunity for every brokerage and agent in the country to invest 30 minutes in a free opportunity to engage 33 million new consumers. By investing another 30 minutes each week, they can become a full and contributing member of the Yelp community and further their return on this investment.

Yelp Filter

Yelp has a filtering system for reviews based on an automated algorithm. The stated purpose of the filter is to protect against fake reviews. While Yelp concedes that the filter sometimes affects legitimate reviews, it is cagey when it comes to explaining why certain reviews are filtered. Users – and businesses – have numerous complaints about the filter system including the criticism that both negative and positive reviews disappear and sometimes come back.

Yelp maintains that the filter, created in 2005 , is automated and algorithmic and ensures that what the customer sees is generally useful and trustworthy information, but it is otherwise opaque about how the algorithm works. And it is adamant that the review filter is not linked to the actions of its sales representatives.

Yelp Advertising Policy

Yelp’s profits are earned from businesses advertising on the site. Several class action suits have recently been filed accusing Yelp of extortive advertising practices.  In 2010, a number of small businesses filed a federal class action suit against Yelp alleging that there was a connection between advertisement purchase and negative reviews. Yelp strong denies these allegations, but as a result of the negative publicity from these pending suits,  it changed the way it displayed reviews: it dropped the “Favorite review feature”, the latter allowed advertisers to feature a favorite review at the top of the page,  and it gave users the possibility to see all posts that are filtered.

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