David PayneBy David Payne

Last month’s column was all about a new technology gaining buzz. This month, let’s focus on a locally-used technology that’s more well-known: Yelp.

I’ve been following Yelp closely since its 2004 launch in San Francisco. Since then, most of us have come to know it as “that site where you can read and write a bunch of reviews on local businesses.” Yelp is for the people by the (26 million other) people who want reviews from real people. But what a lot of those people don’t know is that Yelp provides a lot of great, free tools to small businesses. Whether you like it or not, Yelp is a new media tool that small businesses (and not just restaurants) should be a part of if they want to be part of the local online conversation.

The Basics for Business

If you are new to Yelp, you should start simple and check out the reviews of your business.  In a city like Atlanta, the more popular spots have at least twenty reviews and 85% of reviews are 3 or more stars. You can also search for your competition and see what is being said about them.  Be sure your regulars know to write a review for you; I’m a big fan of Elliot Street Pub, and they have a sign on their door asking their customers to review them on Yelp. Once you read up on the basics, you can go to the business section and claim your page for free. Once Yelp verifies your account by calling you, you can update basic information like hours of operation and address. After this is setup, you can check out how many Yelp users are looking at your profile each month.  This will give you a good idea of whether or not Yelp is valuable to locals looking to find your business online.  Due to Yelp’s popularity, it’s frequently a top Google search result when someone types in a local business name.

More Advanced Advice

After you get used to Yelp basics, you can get a little more fancy.  Begin by adding a website link and rotating photos to your business.  Like everything online, it’s best to be creative with these –Yelp users value honest dialogue (rather than the typical sales pitch you’d find on a business’ actual website). As you get more comfortable with using your business account, you can send public or private messages in response to reviews of your business. I was recently at a local coffee shop writing a review and I incorrectly noted the brand of cupcakes they sold.  I received a message back almost immediately from the owner with the correct brand. Pretty cool, huh? Finally, use your business account to highlight promotions or events for potential customers to come across when perusing your profile. It’s easy to spot a savvy business by seeing promotions on their Yelp profile page.

Recent Additions

Whether you’re a business owner or just a savvy local reading this business-focused article, you’ll want to check out Yelp’s mobile application.  If you are lucky enough to have an iPhone, Yelp uses the camera and compass functions to offer an augmented reality feature; in other words, you can point your camera down the street and see all of the business names and reviews.  This ain’t your typical Yellow Pages. In Atlanta, Yelp is a community-wide conversation about local businesses of all flavors and all sizes. So, if you are a small business owner in this economy, it’s definitely worth your while to be a part of this conversation. And since Yelp’s tools are free, there’s really no reason not to!

David Payne, a local entrepreneur, began www.scoutmob.com & www.skyblox.com to help local businesses utilize new media.  You can contact him at dave@scoutmob.com or @scoutmob on Twitter.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.