Poor Customer Service and Increased Competition Take a Toll on Yelp
An active community of users and businesses makes Yelp valuable. Community members are individuals. As Yelp matures as a business, the temptation to de-humanize the community while developing cookie-cutter procedures and policies grows.
Users Grow Bored with Yelp
A few years ago, I was an active Yelp Elite of four years, using my writing and photography skills to build their database of places. Then, the Community Manager sent me an email asking innocuous-seeming questions like, “Oh, so you own a business? That’s so COOL!” I told her about my marketing consulting work, and the next email I receive informs me I have been yanked from the Elite program. I was left wondering, “Was this sneaky treatment really necessary?” As a user, that’s when I started to ignore Yelp.
Turns out, I was ahead of the times. In 2016, Yelp averaged 145 million unique visitors. This year, that average is down to 142 million. That’s still a lot of users, but a platform’s user base is not supposed to decrease three million people.
Whitney Filloon wrote about this trend last year, when Yelp signaled it was suffering from increased competition:
“When was the last time you used Yelp? If your attention (and/or ire) has wandered more toward instantly accessible Google reviews or meticulously curated Instagram feeds in recent months, you’re not alone: Yelp revealed during an earnings call last week that the review site is struggling to attract and retain advertisers — the primary way it makes money. That revelation resulted in a 30 percent stock plunge, leading some to wonder if the era of Yelp is coming to an end.”
Yelp Tries to Strong-Arm Businesses
Faced with declining users and advertisers, Yelp is growing increasingly desperate with its sales efforts. Salespeople are reaching out to long-dormant accounts with high-pressure sales techniques.
How do I know this? I’ve experienced it. One of my contractor clients tried advertising with Yelp several years ago, but we didn’t see any results and stopped. In the last few months, I’ve been hounded by emails and voicemails from a very energetic and insistent salesperson. (Sorry! I can’t take your call right now!)
Then, there’s the story of “The restaurant owner who asked for 1-star Yelp reviews.” This highly-entertaining chef made a tidy profit from defying Yelp and appealing to users’ pent-up frustrations with the platform.
What’s the Marketing Lesson?
I’m not trying to pick on Yelp, but it’s a valuable case study in business growth gone wrong. As your business grows, don’t lose what made you special in the first place.