Are you on Yelp?

As far as social networks go, Yelp hasn’t seen the attention of MySpace, Second Life, or now Twitter – but its impact on your reputation can be profound. Before I explain what Yelp is (don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it), I’ll illustrate the point.

Here’s a Google Maps search for credit union 94118.

Notice the five stars? When you expand the map detail, you’ll see:

I don’t need to explain how important a little company called Google is to your business. As seen above, many Google reviews originate from Yelp, a social network where users review businesses a la Amazon’s or eBay’s rating systems.

Let’s take the same search we made on Google Maps (for “credit union 94118”) and perform it in Yelp.

Clicking through to SF Fire Credit Union’s detail page (the number two result in the search), Brandon B., writer of 102 reviews to date, says (dollar signs added by me):

I JUST opened an account with the SFFCU last week, and while I haven’t had much experience banking with them, I will say that they were the winners at the end of an exhaustive search to replace Washington Mutual (I will not refer to them as ‘WaMu’ and no, its not cute) as my financial institution.

I found out that there are few banks out there that offer both great, affordable banking products AND stellar service. For me, it came down to two, and the personal, local touch of the SFFCU combined with a completely FREE checking account (no hidden fees or minimum balances) finalized my decision.

The other big upside – especially for those of us who are out and about and never have enough cash – is that you can use an ATM in the world and not only will they not charge you, they will refund you the fee the ATM charges. Hello? Is that not amazing?

You are greeted at the entrance of main branch, not only by a big a$$ bowl of candy, but what I thought was a receptionist was actually the branch manager. You really get the sense that you are part of the place and they treat you truly as a ‘member’ and not just a ‘customer’.

If someone said that about me, I’d print it out, frame it, and read it each morning as a self-motivation ritual.

Joining the conversation

How can your business participate in the conversation? (I use that “join the conversation” phrase a lot, don’t I?)

Yelp’s Business Section contains sage advice:

First the DON’Ts:

1. DON’T review your own business anonymously or get your friends to do the same. (see below for alternatives)

2. DON’T overestimate the impact of a single negative review. It happens to even the best businesses. In fact, in speaking to Yelp users, we’ve learned that negative reviews sprinkled in with favorable reviews often act to enhance the credibility of the positive reviews by illustrating the honesty and openness of the Yelp environment. That said, if you see a trend of negative reviews, you may want to take this feedback and determine if there is a way to improve your business.

3. DON’T lash out at the people who have written negative reviews about you. Tempting as that may be, we see that backfiring in some cases as the Yelp community may up the ante and even engage in “vigilante justice” by spreading more negativity (see below for alternative).

Now the DOs:

1. DO register on Yelp yourself, as an individual, and engage with the community (write some reviews, upload a picture, etc.). As a business owner or manager, you are a real human being, and Yelp is the right place to show that.

2. DO add photos to your business page and make sure your business information is correct. Click on the ‘Update Business Info’ link if you want to make changes, and be sure to note that you are the business owner when submitting the info.

3. DO review your own business – clearly stating that you are the business owner.</em> Full disclosure is important here, and will be critical in earning the respect of the Yelp community.

4. DO use Yelp private messaging to thank reviewers for writing about your business – but consider waiting 48 hours before responding to any negative reviews as a cooling-off mechanism. Be sure to put yourself in the mindset of your customer, and recognize that your tone may come across as defensive, so tread lightly.

5. DO take the feedback to heart… but remember that each review is just one single opinion, and it’s the entire set of the Yelp reviews together that really matters most.

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What sparked this discourse, Trey?

I’m making this post partly because I fear that a lot of credit unions are about to jump into social media with a “let’s throw a blog at it” mentality. “It” being (a) the problem of dwindling returns and rising costs for traditional marketing and (b) a desire to sit at the cool kids’ table.

I’d argue that Yelp is a social network in which businesses truly belong. Before you build a MySpace page (see the comment thread here for my thoughts on the disadvantages of credit unions using MySpace and one credit union’s dilemma in particular), before you talk your CEO into vlogging, and before you set up an office in Second Life (yes, Trabian has one that we rarely visit), get your feet wet in social media first.

Yelp is a good place to start, and the tips above double as a guide for participating in conversations about your business elsewhere on the social web, particularly in blog comments.

Comments

I’ve been active on Yelp in Seattle since last June. There have been many discussions in the Talk Threads about businesses Yelping themselves or employees Yelping the place they work for. I happen to think it’s a great idea and agree with the DONT guidelines Yelp offers.

In Seattle at least, I haven’t seen businesses setting up their own profiles. Also, I haven’t seen good results when business owners plug themselves in a talk thread.

I have heard great things about businesses recognizing Yelpers. For example, if you write a glowing review of a place, the business might send you a private message and offer you a discount on something. When that happens, the Yelper usually talks about it.

I’ve had great conversations about credit unions in the talk threads and have had a couple of my Yelp friends open accounts with Verity due to our discussions.


I just started digging on info concerning the myspace and social networking for our CU. Thanks for the insight!


Thanks for the information! I had never heard of the site and I’m excited about the potential.


I’m gonna have to explore this. I just signed myself up for an account, but it looks like it’s more for bigger cities. I’m not sure there’s much on there for smaller towns. But then again, who’s to say I can’t start it! :)


Jessica, you should go for it! I know the Yelp staff would appreciate you spreading the word, and you’ll be a rock star once it gets off the ground where you are!


I’ve been closely following the progress of credit union online presence and brand identities, as well as the ‘exploration’ of how to make the most of the social web and online community ‘word of mouth’ features. It’s nice to see things picking up a little bit.

I expected to find Trabian at the Web 2.0 conference. There is a small representation of Credit Unions here. Are you all here?

Yelp just came up in topic discussions today.


@Terrell: Thanks for sharing that: “I haven’t seen good results when business owners plug themselves in a talk thread.”

@Butch: Keep me posted on the decision your CU reaches on using social networks.

@Travis and Jessica: I just got my Yelp account set up, and I’ve found myself relying on Yelp a lot over the past months. Went to a restaurant last night and am going to post my first review.

@Amy: Let us know if you think it’d be worth our time next year. I know a lot of our friends are there, and I’m starting to feel like we’re missing out on a great time! Thanks for commenting!


Trey -

You consistently offer GREAT bits of info, and this one is fabulous! I just signed up for Yelp and am inviting friends and CU contacts to take a look.

(ctrl:smacktalk) I may have to throw an extra game or two in the fantasy league this week (NOT!). (ctrl:endsmacktalk)

Yelp seems like a good fit for a CU that is confident in its brand and customer service. Thanks again for sharing it!

Jeff


I want to clarify something: When I said I thought it was great if a business Yelps itself, I meant someone from the business Yelping under their own name as an employee of said business. I didn’t mean a business setting up it’s own profile.

That would get tricky because the point of Yelp is to review things and voice your opinion. If a biz sets up a profile and never Yelps anything, people will think it’s lame. On the other hand, if the biz does review things, it would probably need to be the PR person, and that might come off as fake.

And, I’m done.


Hi Trey,

It’s been a lot to take in, and has had it’s pros and cons, though the pros have outweighed the cons for a ‘first-time’ event launch outside of the Summit. I’ve been attending to research bringing social web to the Credit Union, along with the Web 2.0 marketing analytic capabilities, in addition to attending as a student in Web and Information Design, so it’s been tough trying to make the most out of each session, when many quality track sessions are happening simultaneously. I’m sure they will take the feedback and strive to make it an even better event next year. On the other hand, it would be nice to see more of the Credit Union industry and supporters here. Thanks for the great resource here with opensourcecu.com

Amy