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How to Make Yelp (and All Our Lives) Better

dive bar

Ever look in a restaurant and decide not to eat there because there weren’t any customers in the place? Or have you ever decided to eat in a Chinese restaurant because you noticed a lot of Asian customers? My Dad was one of many men in his generation who believed that trucks parked outside a roadside diner were an indication of the quality of the fare inside. The point is we trust the “wisdom of crowds”.

These days that wisdom is becoming a pervasive influence in our lives. When was the last time you bought a product online without reading user reviews? Or dined at a new restaurant without checking Chowhound or Urban Spoon? Or hired a contractor without checking Yelp or Angie’s List?

There’s no question that tapping in to other people’s knowledge can be tremendously helpful. Especially, if you’re away from your traditional support network. But there’s a downside to this as well.

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dive bar

Ever look in a restaurant and decide not to eat there because there weren’t any customers in the place? Or have you ever decided to eat in a Chinese restaurant because you noticed a lot of Asian customers? My Dad was one of many men in his generation who believed that trucks parked outside a roadside diner were an indication of the quality of the fare inside. The point is we trust the “wisdom of crowds”.

These days that wisdom is becoming a pervasive influence in our lives. When was the last time you bought a product online without reading user reviews? Or dined at a new restaurant without checking Chowhound or Urban Spoon? Or hired a contractor without checking Yelp or Angie’s List?

There’s no question that tapping in to other people’s knowledge can be tremendously helpful. Especially, if you’re away from your traditional support network. But there’s a downside to this as well.

If it weren’t Friday afternoon, I would use the example of the Pharma space where trusting the wrong person online could lead to serious health complications (as, could, self diagnosing yourself on Web MD). But since it’s almost the weekend, I’ll use a more fun example.

Earlier on today, my girlfriend sent me the Yelp review for a place in New Orleans where she used to work. It’s a classic dive bar with friendly, bizarre staff and a decidedly seedy aesthetic. It’s near the convention center and favored by a lot of the laborers who work the various trade shows there. And it’s got three five star reviews on Yelp (everyone loves their Po’boys).

I’m grateful to the people who took the time to write those reviews. Hopefully, they bring some more business to that bar (and highlight the fact that they do indeed have great sandwiches). But I have to admit that when I’m going in to a dive bar or a Subway restaurant or my local gas station, I’m really not in need of a stranger’s opinion. I also know that there are only so many hours in the day when people can engage with each other through these kinds of digital tools.

So my point is this. Let’s focus on the quality of our engagement rather than the quantity. Write a more detailed review of the new restaurant in your neighborhood rather than a review of five restaurants in your neighborhood. Find out where the owner is from, what influences his menu choices and who his other customers are. Paul Gillin recently said, “We are all the media now.” But that comes with a responsibility. We have to choose what kind of media we want to be.

Are we going to be directories and boring reference manuals? or are we going to inform and entertain each other. Will we just provide each other with data or will we tell each other stories that enrich our experiences? Which choice are you and your company making when it comes to digital engagement.

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