Sunday, February 20, 2011

Telling Nebraska's Story - Yelp!

This blog post has two purposes. To tell my readers about the excellent tools provided by Yelp and to goad my colleagues into recognizing the importance of this type of location-based social media tool. We in tourism need to use it ourselves and encourage our constituents to make full use of it.

Are you familiar with Yelp?
Our purpose: To connect people with great local businesses
10 Things You Should Know About Yelp
  • Yelp was founded in 2004 to help people find great local businesses like dentists, hair stylists and mechanics
  • As of January 2011, more than 45 million people visited Yelp in the past 30 days
  • Yelpers have written over 15 million local reviews, 83% of them rating a business 3 stars or higher
  • In addition to reviews, you can use Yelp to find events, special offers, lists and to talk with other Yelpers
  • Every business owner (or manager) can setup a free account to post offers, photos and message their customers
  • Yelp makes money by selling ads to local businesses - you'll see these yellow, clearly labeled "Sponsored Results" around the site
  • Paying advertisers can never change or re-order their reviews
  • Yelp has an automated filter that suppresses a small portion of reviews - it targets those suspicious ones you see on other sites
  • You can Yelp on your phone at http://m.yelp.com/, or use Yelp for iPhone, Yelp for BlackBerry, Yelp for Palm Pre, and Yelp for Android
  • The Weekly Yelp is available in 42 city editions to bring you the latest business openings & other happenings
On a recent road trip to Pennsylvania, our party found ourselves caught on the Ohio turnpike in the early afternoon, absolutely starving. Despite my smart phone and internet access, I was unable to to find out what services were available at any particular exit. We ended up driving for hours before finding signs that directed us to the great "Quaker Steak and Lube". I don't begrudge that find, but imagine if I had had the tools to simply point my smart phone at an upcoming town (monacle view), and voila, up on the screen would appear a list of restaurants available, and their ranking based upon customer reviews. That is the tool that Yelp provides.

For those of us in Nebraska along I-80, taking full advantage of a tool such as this is invaluable. The lifeline of traffic that speeds past us is vital to our economies. At the lowest point in winter, there is just under 10,000 vehicles each day, and in summer, can be nearly 20,000 cars. The ease of merely pointing a device at our communities to immediately discover the visitor services and amenities is a dream come true for tourism marketing. It may be just as important in our communities off the beaten path. It was invaluable to us on our recent trip to Norfolk. In other views, Yelp brings up a map with all of the business locations (which you can filter) within a specified distance from you.

I'm not too familiar with how Yelp operates from a business standpoint. My House Concerts are operated out of our home, so I'm not going to ask to create a page for it. However, my limited research shows that business owners can become involved in their page, posting specials and interacting with the customer reviews. Yelp purchases lists of businesses, but I've found that it doesn't contain all the businesses in an area. In fact, one of Sutherland's most important businesses from a traveler standpoint is Ozzie's I80, which is a convenience store, gas station and Godfather's Pizza franchise at our Interstate 80 exit, and isn't even listed in Yelp.

If you are a business that specializes in visitor services, you better check it out and make sure that your business is included, then become active in the social aspect of the site and increase your visibility. It is an easy tool for you to use, (and appears to be FREE!) and more importantly, is easy for the travelers to use. Don't let them pass you by because they didn't know you were there.

Thanks for stopping by on this icy, windy day in western Nebraska. The coffee is always on.

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