Yelp restaurant, business review site gets local with community manager

Like all sorts of review websites that have popped up in the last few years, Yelp relies on local input from seers and doers for its millions of reviews of restaurants, local services and businesses.

Yelp, though, is going a bit further with its local investment in Cincinnati and in dozens of other cities hiring community managers who do everything from host local get-togethers to write weekly newsletters.

In Cincinnati, Alex Shebar, a city import with a background in reporting and communications, is spreading the Yelp gospel, highlighting the city's local businesses as community manager.

"It's a lifestyle job. You cannot run Yelp Cincinnati like Paris or London or even Columbus. You need to love the city and want to talk about it for a living," he said.

Shebar's job is to know  - and tell - what's new and hip in Cincinnati, from bars and supermarkets to hotels and boutiques. He does this by exploring the city and by hosting Yelp events with an especially enthusiastic group known as the Yelp Elite Squad. This squad is made up of locals who spend time crafting insightful, varied and numerous reviews.

"They are the best of the best. They write great reviews and a lot of reviews," Shebar said. This Elite Squad is an invitation only group, but anyone can apply to be part of it (except business owners who can open free business accounts). As part of being in the Elite Squad members are invited to Yelp events across the city once a month in partnership with a local business.

"We throw a party for them. We've had them at bars, galleries, bowling allies. I've been trying to do more in Over-The-Rhine so people can see it's really not the most terrifying place on earth," said Shebar, who lives in the historic, but sometimes troubled, neighborhood.

He also hosts events open to the public.

Though Yelp might be most known for its restaurant reviews, it also contains reviews of dozens of services and businesses like spas, hospitals, auto repair shops and veterinarians. You can even find a few apartment and school reviews.

Yelp reviews have had an impact on businesses, even ones those that aren't so glowing.

"There are two ways you can handle negative reviews, you can get upset about them or you can respond to them. A great example is Coffee Emporium (an OTR coffee shop where Shebar has hosted an event). Some reviews said the place was noisy, and the owner put in $5,000 of sound dampening equipment," he said.

The events are free, and offer writers more fodder for their reviews. In addition to setting up events, Shebar also writes the Weekly Yelp Cincinnati edition, a theme based email newsletter that highlights entertainment and other local interests. Focusing on only independent businesses, it includes reviews, event listings, openings and other news. You can interact with Shebar on Twitter @YelpCincy.

Shebar doesn't sell ads for the site, though it does have a corporate sales staff since the site relies on advertising to make money.
The next scheduled Yelp event is Yelp Drinks in April which will feature about a dozen bars that will offer half-off of their three best drinks. It's an open event.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson
Source: Alex Shebar, Yelp Cincinnati community manager

You can follow Feoshia on twitter @feoshiawrites

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