CEO Q&A: Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp

Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp, speaks about its mobile app and the importance of educating people about the brand's mission.

How has Yelp evolved in the last decade?
We went from being a desktop-only site to releasing our first iOS app in 2008 with the launch of Apple’s app store.

Now, the average number of monthly unique visitors that access our site through Yelp mobile is 61 million. More than 60% of searches on our site are performed on mobile devices around the globe.

A new video feature was recently added to Yelp’s app. How can businesses and PR professionals benefit from this tool?
The video feature provides consumers with the ability to contribute brief, three- to 12-second clips via the mobile app.

We believe a short video clip can capture aspects of a business that are difficult to express in other ways. For example, pictures don’t capture the noise level or ambiance. These clips are easy to capture and, more importantly, easy to consume for someone who is trying to decide whether a particular business is providing the experience they are looking for.

We studied the impact of visuals on Yelp’s business listings and found that people spend two and a half times longer on pages with photos than on those without.

How can PR pros help their clients to partner with Yelp to their best advantage?
Yelp serves as a branded consumer guidebook, and only recommends reviews we believe to be helpful and reliable. 

More often than not, these reviews come from active members of Yelp’s community. This is one reason we discourage businesses from soliciting reviews from their customers. Explaining to clients that a big part of Yelp’s appeal to consumers is our recommendation engine and discouraging review solicitation is a way they can help educate.

Many people wonder how they can rely on online reviews and how a company can ensure content is real.
We support communities of passionate locals who are motivated to share their experiences with their fellow community members, both online and offline. This leads to high-quality review content.

Yelp contributors also share information about themselves so consumers can see their previous reviews and evaluate them. Then we use recommendation software to highlight the most reliable and useful reviews based on what we know about that reviewer. In order to protect consumers from misleading or biased content, we recommend about 75% of the reviews submitted by members of the community.

There have been allegations that Yelp chooses which reviews to show based on whether businesses advertise. How do you address that concern?
We take a number of approaches to highlight that those false allegations have been disproved by academic research and dismissed by the courts.

We’ve called attention on our corporate blog to an independent Harvard Business School study that found our recommendation software treats advertisers and non-advertisers the same. We’ve explained how consumers can see this for themselves by finding plenty of advertisers with negative reviews and plenty of businesses with perfect ratings that don’t pay Yelp a dime.

We’ve taken advantage of the fact that more than 100 million unique visitors come to Yelp each month by placing messaging to this effect right on the review page with a link to more information.

And we have worked with local media to highlight our successful efforts to stop business owners from trying to game the system. We also have a local business outreach team that travels nationwide to educate business owners on how Yelp works.

How is your communications team structured?
We have five PR team members in the US and two in Europe. We generally work with PR agencies on a project basis. For example, if we are launching in a new country, we need to rely on agencies for local media knowledge and contacts. However, in Europe, where language knowledge and local relationships are key, we also rely on ongoing support from agencies including Dynamo PR in the UK, Schwartz PR in Germany, and Hotwire in France.

What is Yelp’s biggest challenge?
Educating people on best practices for engaging with online reviews can be a challenge, especially as online word of mouth continues to become more commonplace.

It is something our team is constantly focused on. Yelp is a disruptive phenomenon. We are giving consumers more power through information and transforming the local business marketing landscape to one where consumer opinion is extremely influential and accessible and businesses can no longer control their reputations simply by spending money on more ads.

Yelp filed an objection regarding the EU’s antitrust settlement with Google because its search engine favors Google+ over competitors. What is your PR strategy surrounding this?
We will cooperate with regulatory bodies that seek to preserve a level playing field and protect innovation and competition from anticompetitive practices, and let all parties know via the media what our experiences have been.  

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