That buzz you've been hearing may just be the 38 million Yelp users talking about businesses—including yours!—in your community. But there's no need to let people talk behind your back. Yelp give business owners a way to join the conversation, and build customer relationships while you're at it. It's easy, fast, and most likely, profitable.
1. Claim or add your business profile on Yelp. Yelp calls this "unlocking your profile." It takes about two minutes and is completely free. Once your profile is unlocked, you will be able to:
Communicate with your customers (both privately and publicly)
Update your business profile with description, photos, services, and more
Promote special offers and discounts
Announce events, sales, and important dates
Track how many people view your business page
2. Let your customers know you are on Yelp. This will give your customers an opportunity to tell others about their experience with your business. Yelp encourages you to do this, and will even provide "People Love Us on Yelp" stickers for businesses that have many positive reviews. At the same time, Yelp warns to never solicit reviews. This seems a little disingenuous, i.e., Tell your favorite customers, "Hey, we're on Yelp... wink, wink." but don't say, "Please leave a nice review." Of course, it makes sense for Yelp to say this, both to protect their brand and to make the service as valuable and trustworthy as possible. The bottom line is, don't spam Yelp. Yelp uses very effective filters to block spammy reviews. More importantly, other Yelp users and businesses can smell overly-positive, solicited reviews and could create trouble, including adding negative reviews to your profile. Genuine reviews will accrue gradually over time, and while 70% of Yelp reviews tend to be positive, even the most favorable will likely include both pros and cons.
3. Engage your customers. Yelp is a two-way street. Okay, it's a thirty-eight-million-way street, but we're talking about the back and forth that Yelp makes possible between you and your customers. Set yourself up to receive email notifications when reviews about your business are added, but don't write a word until you've read Yelp's excellent article on Responding to Reviews. This article offers a succinct, step-by-step tutorial in how to best engage happy or unhappy customers, not only on the Yelp site, but in any social media forum.
4. Create offers and announcements to promote sales, specials, press releases, events, etc. This is one of the most powerful tools available to business owners on Yelp. Why? Because these announcements will show up on your business page, in Yelp's search results, in the Offers and Announcements directory, and could even be included in Yelp's weekly email blast to local customers. Also, Google indexes these pages, so they may even reach out beyond Yelp's site. Just make sure offers and discounts are worthwhile, and presented in a concise and attention-getting style.
5. Review other local businesses on Yelp. Once you've set up your Yelp account, you're ready to add reviews for other businesses as well. This is quick and easy, and well worth the time. Business owners who see positive reviews from a neighboring business will be motivated to return the favor. As stated above, don't gush; simply write with honesty and respect. Remember, your review is directed to potential customers here, not the business owner. To make this even easier, grab the mobile Yelp app for your iPhone, Droid, Blackberry, or Palm Pre.
Postscript: Yelp has faced criticism and even lawsuits alleging that Yelp offered to remove bad reviews for customers who purchased advertising. Yelp has vehemently denied the practice, and said the confusion came from a policy that allowed businesses to highlight a "favorite" review if they were a paid advertiser. Yelp has since removed this feature and made their filtering methodology more transparent to protect their reputation as a repository of unbiased reviews.
Claim and complete your business profile.
Publicize your Yelp profile on your Web site, printed materials, etc.
Interact with reviewers, whether their comments are positive or negative.
Regularly post special offers, deals, events, and announcements.
Become part of the Yelp community by reviewing other businesses and building your reputation.