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John Carroll, Senior Manager of Business Outreach at Yelp, discusses the importance of responding to online reviews and why you should never underestimate the value of good customer service.
Respond to Customer Reviews!
Did you know that reviews that mention good customer service are 15 times more likely to be a 5-star review than a 1-star review? The problem is that so many businesses are focused on perfecting their product and ‘brand identity’ that customer service is often put on the back burner.
John Carroll, Sr. Manager of Business Outreach at Yelp, believes that you shouldn’t have a different customer service strategy for each channel. Instead, you need to adopt a global customer service strategy that’s consistent across all of the channels. So, if you respond promptly in person, you should respond promptly online.
What your customers say about you online is important and if you want to keep negative reviews at bay, you’ve got to improve your customer service. Of course, you can’t always prevent customers from blasting negative feedback. But, there is a way to turn your most critical review into a positive insight. You’ll just need to tune in to our discussion with John Carroll to find out how…
In This Episode:
- 02:10 – Interesting statistics about how people leave reviews based on customer service and the speed of service
- 06:58 – Why it’s so important for brands to respond to reviews
- 14:13 – How brands have listened to Yelp reviews and turned things around
- 20:32 – John predicts the future of Yelp reviews concerning 5G, GPS and mobile
- 24:05 – Tips to help businesses get more reviews on Yelp
- 30:22 – How Yelp leverages social for customer service
Quotes From This Episode:
“A review mentioning good customer service is 15 times more likely to be a 5-star review than a 1-star review.” – John Carroll
Great customer service is more important than great taste. Click To Tweet
“There’s not a category on Yelp that is not positively impacted by faster customer service.” – John Carroll
- Get the new State of Marketing report for free from Salesforce
- Find out more about the community at SocialMedia.org with a special form for Social Pros listeners
- Learn how to stay connected with your email marketing subscribers using Emma
- Find out more about Yelp’s Study: Customers Often Talk To The Manager Before Writing a 1-Star Review
- Discover why Faster Service Leads to Better Reviews and Happier Customers
- Learn why Customer Service is the Secret to 5-Star Reviews
- Log in to Yelp for Business Owners and start responding to customer reviews
- Take a look at Marina Abramović’s nerve-wrecking performance of “The Other: Rest Energy” (1980)
We find that I think one in nine reviews actually gets a response. If you think that you’re one of those 80% customer centric businesses that is really absolutely killing it and your customers love you and you have superior customer service, if you’re not responding to your reviews I’m sorry to say that’s just not the case.
Well Adam, that’s disappointing mathematically a good way to open the show with a really sad and depressing statistic.
Here we are Jay. We do this everyday. You write books about this, and it’s so surprising and I’m trying to figure out, I’m sincerely trying to figure out why this is the case. Is it because we, as social pros and customer service pros, are more in the now about responding and engaging with customers that are having issues and situations now, rather than issues that have been posted about in past tense? I don’t understand it, but obviously I think the table is turning, that we are seeing more engagement, and of course the successful brands are indeed doing that.
Yeah I think we’re getting better. We still have a long way to go, which becomes very clear in this episode featuring John Carroll from Yelp. He’s the senior manager of a local business outreach. A lot of really good stats in here about Yelp, about local reviews, about how to interact with customers on reviews platform. It’s a really interesting episode on a topic that frankly we don’t spend enough time about on here, on the podcast so you’re going to love it, especially if you’re in the ratings and reviews game at all. You’re going to want to sit through this episode of the show. You’re going to learn a lot.
Before we jump in you got a lot to hear from from John. This week just a quick acknowledgement of our sponsors. Of course Adam and his team at Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Software release, the new Social Studio. Tell the kids about it Adam.
There is so much coming up in the next couple of months. One of the things we’ve recently added is the ability to engage with reviews and be able to listen to reviews from over 400 different platforms and sites, and more engagement coming here in the very next couple of months. It’s a really exciting time and I think it reinforces this whole idea of the importance reviews and empowering the right people in your organization, whether they’re the PR or the coms or the marketing or the social chains, or your customer service teams, or those frontline employees to be able to respond to the customers quickly, and that’s what we hear from from John on this podcast.
Yep absolutely, Salesforce Social Studio a great way to combine what you’re doing in social with what you’re doing in reviews. Those have been quite different in a lot of organizations for a long time and Salesforce is bringing them together into one platform, which is super useful. Also the show this week brought to you by our pals at Emma, terrific email marketing platform allowing you to send customized, smart, automated, merch, or email sequences, and they’ve got a great team of people down there in Nashville, Tennessee, one of America’s great cities in my estimation. You can go to myemma.com/jayisawesome, myemma.com/jayisawesome. As I always mention, a URL that I did not select, to learn more about Emma.
But I got to tell you, email can get a little tricky and at Emma you can actually get a real live human being on the phone who will help you make your email better and that means a lot to me. Great features, great price, great people, that is Emma. All right, let’s get right into this weeks episode. John Carroll, Senior Manager at Local Business Outreach at Yelp here on the Social Pros podcast.
John Carroll Senior Manager, Local Business Outreach at Yelp is our guest this week on the show. John thanks so much for being here, I appreciate it.
Yeah, thanks so much for having me.
Tell us a little bit about what your job entails there at Yelp and the challenges that you’re facing these days.
Yeah, so my role at Yelp has really evolved over the past five years. Actually started on our sales team in our New York office all that time ago, and then I got a role on our Business Outreach team, which it’s pretty much the internal organization tasked with working with business owners directly. I also do primarily face to face, a lot of in person time on stage, at conferences, things like that, and we’re handling the tough questions. We’re helping them talk through reviews and why Yelp has a recommendation software and things like that. Also coaching them on all of the free tools.
One of the great missions of our team is that we really were oriented towards and are oriented towards education first and this help mindset and help mentality. Then that role, I realized obviously I can get in front of 3,000 people on stage a couple times a year, but a piece of content can get in front of 3,000 people in a day or a month or a year on its own. I started focusing my, I guess time and energy, on really building out our content marketing hub and starting to build a content marketing engine, which I think building content marketing, especially in an organization that is techy and moves fast, it’s really about getting internal stakeholders on board and showing them the value of something that is a little bit more long-term payoff than a lot of the programs that we might have running now.
Sort of a sales versus marketing construct there. It’s amazing because Yelp is, being a technology company, you’ve got access to tons and tons of data, and so some of the content marketing that you’re doing already takes advantage of your access to that data. You put together a fascinating report recently that talked about the importance of customer service, and I’m throwing up the air quotes now for those of you listening to the podcast, that customer service is super important in how people leave reviews and when they leave reviews and what kind of reviews they leave. Can you talk a little bit about what you found when you dug into that data?
Yeah, so I think in a lot of ways everybody is a mini economist. I always think that people are optimizing for marginal utility. If you think about everything that you’re doing in your mind in this very subtle way, you’re doing a cost benefit analysis, and you’re trying to minimize your costs and optimize your benefits. Effectively at the end of that equation you have your maximum utility per experience, and what we found is customer service is actually one of the biggest factors in driving that. We found a couple of really interesting things. In 2012 we initially did this study about the impact of customer service on reviews and we found that a review mentioning good customer service was five times more likely to be five star versus one star.
We refreshed that data and we found that it’s actually now 15 times more likely that a review mentioning good or great customer service is five star versus one star. That is the top line number that we focused on, and then we really started diving in from there and we compared it to I think for a lot of restaurants they’re always concerned about the product and I think most businesses focus on the product, but we found that great customer service is actually more important than great taste. For every one review that mentions great taste, there are four that talk about a great price, and there were 13 that mentioned great customer service.
Then I think the last really interesting part of that data study is that speed of service is also incredibly, incredibly important. That there’s not a category of business, so we actually did this analysis across every single category, and on our blog we have an interactive tool and feature that you can look at your category of business specifically. There’s not a category on Yelp that has not positively impacted by faster customer service, that we found every single… In every single category if a review mentions fast customer service that review is tended to skew more positive as opposed to more negative.
I think it’s fascinating this idea that when people mention customer service in a review it’s 13 times more likely to be a five star review than when they mention great taste, even in a restaurant scenario. To me, my interpretation of that is people expect great taste from a restaurant, so when that is delivered that’s not necessarily a five star review because you’re giving the customer what they bargained for. However, consumers expectations around customer service is so low. We don’t expect much because we don’t usually get much, that when we actually do encounter a disproportionately good customer service it’s so shocking that it induces the consumer to actually spend the time to create and post a review. Do you see it that way as well?
Yeah, I mean I think the marketing buzzword that we might be dancing around is delight. I feel like that’s the big word that people love to throw around. If you’re looking at a business… I always think about Yelp and any type of review site, when I’m going online and I’m doing my research I’m setting my expectation, I’m almost creating this bar of brand promise in my mind, and how a business measures up to or falls short of the bar is really going to be what plays out in the reviews. It’s almost like this cognitive dissonance moment.
For me I always think about if they’re exceeding that bar then that means that equation is off the charts, and usually the thing that’s going to most likely impact that is customer service for me. I do tend to agree with that is if you have a really shockingly delightful experience you’re more likely to go online and share it, and we see that in our reviews. I mean over 80% of our reviews on Yelp are a three star or above, which is what we consider positive. The majority of the reviews on the site are those delightful experiences and there are more five star reviews on Yelp than there are one, two, and three star reviews combined.
Wow, that’s an interesting statistic because I would have expected that. I think we oftentimes will-
Yeah because you have trolls.
Will focus on the trolls. John you mentioned something that I think… that’s fascinating and I agree with Jay’s impression of the expectation, for example, at a restaurant that the food’s going to be good, it’s all about customer service. You mentioned the importance of speed of service and I want to take that to the next level and talk about speed of response or the speed of engagement with a customer, whether they’re having a great five star review on your platform or a one or a two star review. How important is it for a brand to respond in the Yelp platform to those? Do you see any correlation with future customer service or future score when brands are more responsive and more quickly responsive?
Yeah, so I think one of the really interesting stats that we glean from that study as well, is that 80% of the reviews that mention spoke to a manager actually result in a one star review still, which is pretty shocking to me because that’s one of those things that it’s like… I think there was an article that came out a few months ago or maybe almost six months ago that was like please people, just talk to the manager, have the conversations. Don’t just go online, and it turns out that those people aren’t just going online, they’re actually taking that step first and talking to the manager, and there’s a failure in customer service.
Traditional customer service is not succeeding, which is a huge opportunity for businesses to figure out how can we possibly better serve our customers and Jay I think in Hug Your Haters you mentioned this one stat that maybe you can help me out with, but it was 80% of people think that they have great customer service but when you survey their customers I think only 9% or 17% or something have-
8% yeah, yeah that’s from Bain. 80% of businesses say that they deliver superior customer service and 8% of customers agree, which just shows the fundamental disconnect between how companies think they’re doing in customer service and how customers think they’re doing in customer service. The thing about the managers doesn’t surprise me because my observation, and I don’t have data on this, it’s just anecdotal, is that if you experience poor customer service from a frontline team member, typically it’s partially because the manager sucks too. If you’re like, “Hey, let me go see the manager,” it’s not very often that you’ve got some poor frontline people but then a great manager. Sort of fish rots from the head, so that doesn’t really surprise me that all of a sudden that you talk to the manager and the managers throwing gas on the fire, not water.
Yeah, and there’s this great business in Indio, California called TKB Bakery, and they have been on our top 100 list for the past three or four years. I think two years ago they were the number one business in the country. I sat down with the daughter, it’s a wholly family operated business and Malina was just like… Her name’s Malina and Malina was like, “I will ask people who are making sandwiches on the line, is that a five star sandwich, and if they can’t instantly answer yes we throw it out and we make it again.” That is the kind of managerial attitude that it takes. When they get a negative review they round up as a team and they unpack it.
Going back to your point Adam, they’re responding to those reviews, they’re having those conversations, and they’re doing it in a timely way because businesses are so… We tend to silo online feedback or online review versus in person conversation versus face to face versus an email versus a phone call, and from a customer service strategy we almost create unique strategies for each of those channels and create those silos, when for consumers is actually becoming an increasingly blurry world. Some people are more comfortable going online or some people are more comfortable sending an email versus having the manager come over because maybe one time they had a manager come over and the manager barked at them and they didn’t have a great experience. Maybe they have they tend to choose a more slightly passive channel.
Either way, from the consumer perspective, it’s identical so businesses shouldn’t really have an overly different strategy for each of those channels. The level of customer service should be the same, and if you respond promptly in person you should respond promptly online, and that’s one of the things that we really are trying to encourage business owners to do is to participate in the conversation. We find that one in nine reviews actually gets a response. If you think that you’re one of those 80% customer centric businesses that is really absolutely killing it and your customers love you and you have superior customer service, if you’re not responding to your reviews I’m sorry to say that’s just not the case.
One out of nine reviews get responded to. That’s not good enough because if you said, “Hey, here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s the new plan guys. Everybody gather around, staff meeting. We’re going to answer 11% of the phone calls, you guys cool with that?” You couldn’t survive as a business like that.
You couldn’t respond to 11% of the emails, but because it’s a review you’re like, “We’ll get to some of them, and some of them we won’t, and whatever.” You can’t think of it like that. The customer has chosen that mechanism because they believe that is the ideal circumstance or whatever it is they’re trying to express. Nobody spins a roulette wheel and says, “Yelp.” They’re going there for a reason, and so what we always say is you have to address the customer in the channels that they prefer, not the channels that the business prefers. I cannot believe, it’s so disheartening that still only one in nine. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised but it is kind of a bummer.
Yeah absolutely, and what I find is even anecdotally just going on stage and asking people in the audience what are they responding to? Most people are responding to the negative reviews, which is shocking to me because effectively these people are going on there saying I love this place. They’re whispering in the ear of a future potential customer saying, “This place is phenomenal, you should go there,” and they are single handedly shrinking your advertising budget just a little bit. This is digital word of mouth, which nowadays remove the digital it’s just word of mouth. There is no difference between somebody saying this at a brunch table versus somebody saying it online to the average consumer.
I think BrightLocal did a study and they found that 89% of consumers are reading their response at a business center. I always tell people respond publicly, so on Yelp you can actually respond with a DM, a direct message, or you can leave a public comment. I always say respond publicly because at least you’re getting credit for it. I think a lot of folks have this orientation to depersonalizing it and picking apart the response and really going after the small things that they need to correct. Take the high road. That’s not the way to do it. Start with a thank you, thank them for their feedback. I’ve never seen a review, even the most negative review, that doesn’t have some positive component of it because nobody just wants to seem like they’re that person who just went in and had a completely miserable experience and couldn’t find any silver lining. Even if the food wasn’t great and the service was slow, at least the staff was friendly or something.
Find that bright spot. Acknowledge it and then address the concerns and then sign off with a thank you for your negative, and then on the positive reviews, again start with a thank you. Find the bright spot, invite them back, maybe use that as an opportunity to recommend something else that they might enjoy. Not in a salesy way, you’re not trying to push new products on people but you’re trying to tailor your response and show them that you’re thinking about them, that you care.
John there’s so many directions I want to go in. I’m so glad that you’re on the show this week. I do want to go back to something that you mentioned. You talked a little bit about the bakery that has been on your top 100 list for a while. I’m going to assume that if they’ve been on your list for a while they’re doing things right, they have the right frontline employees with the right mantra and the right attitude. They have great managers and leadership. They’re doing everything right. As Senior Manager of Local Business Outreach you have this opportunity to go out and speak to these companies, the ones that are like this company that are doing well and maybe companies that are not doing so well. My question for you is have you seen brands, and you don’t have to mention any names, but have you seen brands effectively listen to their customer using Yelp and turn things around? What are the one or two things that they focused on first that you believe gave them that traction to be able to follow through and get those scores higher?
Yeah, so there’s this great business that I absolutely love in Denver. The business owners name is Stephanie and she owns a few different boutiques. I think now she’s up to three or four. One of the things that she mentioned, and we had her on for a webinar where she talked about how responding to her reviews actually really helped her change the direction and change the way that she grew her business. One of the things that she mentioned was she talked about this one customer who came in, and she has a small boutique, so during off hours she’s staffing maybe one person because the overhead of staffing more than one person is frankly too much, especially in the off hours.
She had this one review where somebody came in and it just happened to be the time that there were two customers in the store. One of them was being helped by the employee and this other person was walking around. The review was like I was walking around and things seemed expensive but I couldn’t figure out if they were locally made and I couldn’t really figure out what the store was about and the perspective and the person was busy so they didn’t pay me a lot of attention, which in her mind she was like, “Well I’m a small boutique. Of course I can’t staff a bunch of people to be running around and paying their overhead if I’m not going to sell anything. That’s a limitation of mine.”
She’s like once I got over that initial visceral adrenaline rush reaction she’s like, “I realized that I should be having shelf talkers throughout my store so that I am touting that these are locally produced goods by local artisans and that that’s why things are expensive. This money is going in the pockets of local artists.” That was something that she made that was a positive change and I think the best businesses that are doing this and the best businesses who are engaging with Yelp are doing is they’re getting over that initial visceral frustration with their reviews and they’re looking beyond that, and they’re actually looking at the reviews as feedback.
They’re using it as ways and tools to help them grow directionally because you can go and make 90 degree turns in your business every other day and not really figure out what’s working. But if you have a source that is your customers or potential customers telling you exactly what you need to do to win their business, that is providing much more meaningful direction for the changes that you’re going to make and it’s a small incremental micro changes. And those changes that are coming from the frontline are from the people who are on the ground who are bubbling that up to you that are going to be the most meaningful in the way that you grow and actually sustain.
John would you say that that emotional visceral response is one of the biggest mistakes that you see business owners make where they see those reviews and they have that immediate emotional reaction and they either say, “Hell I’m not going to respond. This person is a bozo.” Or is there another common mistake that you see business owners make when they first read reviews and don’t go through a calculated methodology for responding or changing their fundamental business?
Yeah, I think that folks tend to… The visceral frustrated response is natural. I think everyone has that in any situation. I once was on stage and somebody gave me some feedback at the end that was like, “You talk really fast.” I was like, “Whatever, that’s just me, that’s my brand, I talk fast, people can understand me, whatever.” That’s not the right way to approach that. Literally every time I’m on stage now I think about that exact piece of feedback and I have to stop myself and I’m like, “Am I talking too fast?” Often times the answer is still yes but I am a work in progress just like we all are, right?
I don’t think that the visceral reaction is wrong. I think that it is human and that is okay. I think what people do that as one of the… I consider the biggest mistakes is they ignore the feedback and think that it’s anecdotal. But as we know, I always like to think about that 1/9/90 principle, which was first observed on Wikipedia all those years ago, that for every 100 people using a site 90 of them are just going to lurk and consume, nine of them are going to engage and edit, and only one of them will create net new.
How that translates to Wikipedia is out of 100, 90 of those people are reading an article, nine of them might go in and add an Oxford comma or add a citation, and only one of them is going to create a new Wikipedia page or Wikipedia article. When you think about this principle that has been observed across the internet, barring the like button and some social media stuff in there, but generally pretty consistent, we find that if you think about that and apply that to a site like Yelp. For every one person who has said it, that means that there are probably 99 people who thought it but just never took the time to write it down. You can’t look at a review as just one one off anecdotal person. You have to look at it as a failure to meet a brand promise or an expectation that was set before that person walked into your business, and you need to understand where that is coming from if you want to solve it and prevent it from happening in the future.
John with 5G around the corner and in growing reliance on smartphones I suspect you’re seeing more and more Yelp reviews being created on the mobile app, and how do you take that to the next level? Is it AR? Is it using geo location to say we know this person was in the business when they left the review? What’s the future hold for Yelp in a manifestly mobile world?
Yeah, we do have some tools that use GPS now. I think Yelp, as far as our business model and what we think about, we’re always thinking clicks to bricks. We’re thinking about how do we drive new customers, foot traffic, phone calls, things like that. We’ve evolved some really great tools and functionality that do that. I think early on we’ve tried to use that GPS and really play with mobile and create more interesting incentives along mobile. So one, for consumers one of my favorite tools is a check in offer. That’s exclusively on mobile devices, so what that is for businesses is it’s a little offer that somebody sees on your Yelp business page when they’re on the app or on the mobile site, and you can customize it for yourself, it’s free to setup and it doesn’t cost you anything if anybody redeems it. It’s just an offer that you create that somebody is saying check into this business, which means that they walk in, they use their GPS, they hit the check in button, it looks at them from a geography, and if they’re in the business they can check in.
As a result of checking in and coming into your business they get a free can of soda when they purchase lunch or whatever the offer is that you want to create. There have been businesses that have been giving free hugs, free handshakes, free high fives, whatever it is. With that that’s a really great, fun way to engage people on mobile and it’s another way that when somebody does that it puts it in their hey, remember you were at this business so the next time they come in it’s there and it’s top of mind for them. That’s one way that we’ve done it.
With reviews I think that’s always people on mobile… We have our elite community, which are our super engaged Yelp users and reviewers, and it’s always mind blowing to me the length and detail that people put into reviews. I think there are always going to be different cohorts and reviewers. There are the people who maybe they check in and they go to their desktop and they want to write that review out. Maybe they’re pounding it out on their phone then and there. I think that’s always something to think about is what is the medium that people are sharing this experience with? Because what you may be lack in review content, again this is more speculative at this point, but you’re making up for in photo content because it’s so easy to share and take photos of a business on mobile. There are always going to be content trade offs depending on the medium that you apply.
Yeah that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but it makes a lot of sense. A longer text review on a desktop where you’ve got full keyboard, but then more usage of photos on mobile because it’s just so easy to take it on your phone and then post it to Yelp. That’s fascinating. As I recall correctly, your terms of service discourage or prohibit solicitation of reviews and certainly discourage or prohibit paying people to create a review. That being said it is obviously true that businesses should seek more reviews because it’s great to have additional feedback, etc. As the head of Local Business Outreach, what do you tell businesses who want to get more reviews but obviously they’re not going to bribe people to do it. What is your best practices on nudging consumers to actually take the time to provide feedback via Yelp?
Yeah, I mean so obviously they’re not going to bribe people to do it is a little bit tricky because we unfortunately do find instances where businesses do try to incentivize and pay people to write reviews. We actually have a consumer protection initiative where in those instances where we find really egregious examples of people trying to buy or solicit reviews we actually put consumer alerts on their page and we link to the evidence so that consumers are aware of what this business is doing.
I always start with this pretty simple anecdote and story for businesses, and most people can relate to it and I think it really paints the don’t ask for reviews in a slightly different light. For me, as a business when you’re concerned myopically on growing your business and you’re trying to think about how do you get it to the next level and the next step. You think, “Well I think reviews are really important and I see this person on the street and they have 100 reviews and I only have 10 so I need to get to 100.” It becomes this focus and this fixation and you almost become irrationally attached to it in some regards. What it’ll do really, I mean almost anything, and I actually find that asking for reviews can damage your relationships with customers.
I’ve been in a few instances myself where I’ve actually not gone to businesses, even prior to working at Yelp and drinking [inaudible 00:29:01] and review Kool-Aid about… I once went to a barber shop and they grabbed my wrist as I was leaving and the guy was like, “Write me a review.” Simply because I’d used his check in offer and he knew that I was an engaged Yelper. The story I always tell is about rideshare and Uber. I travel a lot for work, I end taking a lot of Ubers, and if you haven’t guessed already I’m definitely that person who loves a weird conversation with my Uber driver. I get in that back seat and I’m pretty much flowing out like the Heinz ketchup bottle and reading the conversation starters.
Every once in a while I will end a 20 minute trip or a 20 minute conversation where we’re vibing, we’re connecting, we’re having weird conversations. It’s great, both of our days are more interesting now, and as I’m getting out the guy will just be like, “Five for five, right John?” In that moment I wonder, and I have to think didn’t we just have a great 20 minute conversation because were just like two people passing the time and vibing and it was just authentic and organic, or did we just have a great 20 minute conversation so you could get a five star review? As a business that is so toxic. What a dangerous idea to plant in somebody’s head because you’re calling into question your own integrity and your own authenticity, which is really going to undermine and undermine the confidence that you’ve built up with that person and with that customer.
You always hear these stats like if somebody comes back to your business three times, then the likelihood that they come back the fourth time is 70 whatever percent. Now I’m wondering if I come back that fourth time is the customer service level just going to completely drop off? Can I really trust this business? Businesses spend so much money advertising and getting that new customer in the door, that to ask for a review that removes consent from the review equation and then puts this weird burden onus on me as their consumer, that’s not actually doing you any favors and that short-term gain is not going to have long-term payoff.
I think about myself as I ask this question, and also familiar with a lot of statistics. John I don’t know if this came from Yelp, but recently read a study that showed that I think the average person needs to read about 40 reviews before they believe that there’s a correlation between the reviews and the points. I think another statistic said that 43% of review users, your product included, are only going to look at reviews over the past two weeks. We have this challenge, as you said, if we can’t ask people for reviews and we need to feed the kitty so to speak, how does this all work? My question for you is this. Have you ever done a study and looked at the review score of people’s first Yelp review and seen how it trends? Is the first review typically a negative or a very positive one, and as people give their 20th, 30th, 40th review do the points kind of mellow out?
That is interesting. We haven’t done that study, but if I had to guess how that would play out, most businesses as they’re getting started… My mom growing up she owned a deli and I can say from first hand experiences most businesses, especially her business as it was getting started, was a wreck. The menu changes 15 times in the first two months, you’re changing new products, you have stock turnover, your hours might change, you’re so focused on getting the ship to float that you’re not really thinking about will it sail.
I think that if I had to guess most people probably don’t love writing a one star review for a brand new business, so I’d bet that most initial reviews skewed positive and then maybe that first 10 starts being a more honest read. Then over time if as the business grows and evolves and starts figuring things out I would imagine that it would start trending up. We haven’t done that data but I’m going to ping [inaudible 00:33:12] right now and maybe that’s [crosstalk 00:33:14].
Yeah, I’ve got about 50 other studies I want you guys to run. We’ll talk about it offline. I got a whole list of [inaudible 00:33:20] I want you guys to put together. We’ll do it together. We’ll have you back on the show to talk about new stuff. How do you guys… I know you mentioned you’re building out a larger content marketing team, which we think is terrific obviously. How do you guys use social? Is Yelp using social for customer service in your own world? If you’ve got businesses or consumers who have an issue with the platform are they reaching out to you on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.? How does all that work?
Yeah, so we right now for businesses we primarily focus on Twitter as a consumer… from a consumer platform we have Instagram, Twitter, I think we also have Facebook pages for all of our local communities. Yelp has an interesting challenge in that we’re a national brand but also we have these really robust local communities throughout the country. What the Local Business Outreach team does is we have people in certain markets throughout the country who are either managing a region or that city and doing events there and really cultivating the community. There are counterparts who are there for the consumer side, who are really cultivating that elite community.
Right now for businesses we’re focused on Twitter, and we of course, the best practices there of responding promptly, staying on top of it, that is something that our social team actively manages. It’s something that we actually are very recently getting into as our organization is maturing and our marketing organization is maturing, that’s a channel that we’re definitely building out and something that we see as more important. Shameless plug at Yelp for Business if you’re looking for business owner tips and advice. That will probably expand. I think other communities and other spaces are relevant there as well. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, which our social team keeps on telling me is really important. I think I struggle with that one a little bit because it’s just so visual that I find that what tends to do well and what we are really good at is more of the information side of things. I will still be convinced by them, but again, that is their expertise and I defer to the experts in situations like that.
John I’m curious as it relates to content marketing for Yelp, which again is by definition kind of a content kind of a company with all this user generated content. As you look at content marketing, so I think this a question that our listeners probably ask themselves, I see three ways that you could use it. You could talk about Yelp like you were talking about in how you manage reviews, so if your product be it on the iTunes store or the Android marketplace, you could talk about how your customers, retailers, and establishments use Yelp to manage and curate, engage with customers. Or you could talk about how the end consumer and how they get all this information. Talk about how you balance those priorities or those pillars and if there are other pillars that I haven’t thought about?
Yeah, so one of the things and actually this is right out of a Jay Baer talk. We go with that seven, eight, or nine to one ratio where ideally that is what we’re going for. Because we haven’t had a super robust content marketing program, what we’re doing right now is we’re just covering the ground work. We’re doing some of that product marketing, go to market launch pieces that we frankly probably should have had when we brought some of these products. Basic guides for products and tutorials and video content and some of that, so we’re doing some of that groundwork. I would say that that ratio is a little bit out of whack for us right now.
When we started our content marketing program we actually worked with an agency who did some keyword research for us, and the keyword research and the topic that they decided on that we started to try to go deep with this hub on we’ve found is a little bit too broad. I think this is a challenge that a lot of content marketers have is the help mentality is really wonderful but it does have to have adjacency to what you’re talking about. Example of this and as we’re building our content marketing team and actually we’re interning somebody to be my boss, which is exciting, is if you’re taking a piece about financing your small business and you look at Yelp and you look at a credit card company or a bank or anything like that, nine out of 10 times somebody’s probably going to go with that bank and the piece of content from that bank compared to Yelp. How do we tighten and narrow our scope and our focus to things that are really adjacent to what we’re doing as a company and that we’re using as these almost bridge topics and bridge subjects?
If we’re talking about finance we’re probably five steps before we can pivot that through suggested articles and things like that, into a conversation more directly about Yelp. But if we’re talking about something like improving your customer service or we’re talking about something like creating trust with the consumer or something like that, then maybe we’re only one or two steps away from getting them to read something directly about Yelp. Our reality is our ratio is not yet in that ideal spot, but the good news is once we do and we clear this groundwork away and clear this brush, then going forward that’s something that we have strategically have really aligned on internally is that we are down to help and we’re here to help. And with content marketing it’s not about selling to your customer, it’s communicating to your customer and communicating with your customer without selling to them.
I think content marketing is what we do that is everything but communicating to our customer while selling to them, so that’s really how we think about it.
The difference between help and Yelp is just one letter ladies and gentleman, so keep that in mind.
Wow, can I get that tattooed somewhere on my body?
There you go, on a t-shirt near you. But I think it’s a really great idea because there’s a lot of misinformation, even disinformation in the business community about Yelp and how it works and how you should handle it and those kind of things, and I think that’s partially because the company hasn’t done a ton of content marketing historically. Nature abhors a vacuum right, and so without information from you people are going to draw their own conclusions or rely on other sources of content marketing. Yeah, I think it’s going to really benefit the organization to lean in to that approach.
Speaking of leaning in, the one thing I wanted to ask you before we get to the big two, is you told us off air that you are a near legendary or perhaps truly legendary billiards player, a pool shark. I just want you to touch on that a little bit because we don’t get a lot of pool sharks here on the Social Pros podcast. To become a pool shark requires a great deal of time and effort, and I want to know how that happened and why you chose to make that your one thing.
Yeah, so near legendary I’m also a fan of hyperbole so thank you. When I was a kid, so my parents are divorced and when I was a kid my dad lived in Nashville, New Hampshire and it turns out other than the Pheasant Lane Mall there’s not too much to do in Nashville, New Hampshire.
We went on Yelp and confirmed that, that there’s nothing to do.
I mean there’s no dig, but back in the day as a 13 year old or a 10 year old kid it was like there was Fun World, which was like in fact a very fun world. Then there was the Pheasant Lane Mall and then there was pool. My dad was just like… He always played pool growing up so he would take me and play. Initially I was really bad and my dad is a hilarious guy because he is merciless. He doesn’t believe in kiddie rules or like, “Oh you get two shots because you can barely hold the stick.” He was just like, “I will destroy you and you will learn.” True trial by fire.
The only time I ever won was when he accidentally scratched on the eight ball. That was my childhood. From there I was just like, “Cool. I’m going to get really good at this.” Then when I moved to New York right after school I tried out a bunch of different activities and just trying to make friends and things like that. The thing that I always enjoyed doing was every bar in New York seems to have a pool table. I would just always end up playing there and then through that I actually met somebody who was in a league. It turns out that New York has a really awesome LGBTQ pool league and I ended up joining that league, and then briefly before I relocated to San Francisco, was actually the president of that league.
Really it started as something that I just picked up as a kid and really enjoyed doing. Then when I moved to New York it was a great way to socialize. Let me tell you this. Playing pool as an adult is really a lesson in stay dependent memory, which I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what that is. Stay dependent memory is pretty much like if you learn something in a certain state, like say after a couple drinks, you are going to be best when that state is replicated.
I know where this is going.
Becoming good at pool is also having to become good at pool in multiple states of your life and in multiple states in itself. Multiply that hundreds of hours by three.
You had to learn it three different times.
Three different ways.
Yeah pretty much, pretty much.
Yeah it’s amazing. I feel like pool, darts, and bowling I think all share the same contradiction in that if you have a couple of beers you all of a sudden get better and then you get a lot worse. There’s this roller coaster situation.
[crosstalk 00:43:45] bell curve.
That wow, this couple of beers is really helping me focus and then it goes right off the rails. At least that’s my personal experience.
I remember. It’s funny you mention bowling. In my first job I remember we had this big… I was at Macy’s and we had this big team offsite just before the holidays and my boss was like, “Oh the woman who is in charge of our entire division is really good at bowling. Are you good at bowling?” I’m like, “No, I am terrible at bowling.” But of course, go to this thing, at the party, you have a couple drinks and I bowled a turkey and my boss is just like, “Are you kidding me right now?” Meanwhile the lady who’s a head of division is all high fives all over the place loving it, and my boss is like, “What is going on. I thought you said you weren’t good at bowling.” I was like, “I wasn’t, but apparently I’m not that bad.”
John Carroll is the Senior Manager of Local Business Outreach at Yelp and also an expert at all bar games evidently. If you ever run across him at a conference do not play him for money at anything, that is my advice. John we’re going to ask you the two questions we’ve asked everybody here on the Social Pros podcast all the way back to our first episode in 2012, January of 2012 to be specific. First question is if you could give somebody one tip, somebody who’s looking to become a social pro, what would you tell them?
Yeah, I mean this is probably a tip that you’ve heard before but it’s just simply know who you are trying to become a pro at talking to. I think that that is… knowing your audience is the single most important thing that you can do, and oftentimes you don’t know your audience nearly as well as you think you do, so find somebody else who’s trying to talk to a same or similar audience and learn from them. I’d say figure out who you’re talking to, [inaudible 00:45:32] them, and then find a mentor who can actually coach you and help you. That mentor doesn’t have to necessarily be a tangible IRL mentor. That mentor can be a website or a piece of content that you follow or subscribe to that you brush up on, a podcast that you listen to, a webinar that you tune into regularly. I don’t think mentor necessarily has the most conventional definition these days.
That’s terrific advice. I think that is spot on, and one of the ways you can learn about your audience is to actually pay attention to your reviews and really listen to what people are saying. Last question for you John Carroll is if you could do a video call with any living person who would it be and why? Preferably a professional billiard player but you do you.
Other fun fact about me, when I was at Indiana University Bloomington, shout out to Bloomington J. I was a finance marketing and art history major, so have always loved art and museums. When I was in Denmark we went to the Louisiana and there happened to be this Marina Abramović exhibit. It’s very seldom I think that when you are walking through a museum, you turn a corner and you see something that makes you just stop and then feel viscerally anxious or excited or whatever it is. I remember going through the museum and turning the corner and there was this one piece that I definitely recommend that you look up and it’s called Rest Energy. It’s Marina and her partner Ulay, and she is holding the shaft of a bow and arrow and there was an arrow knocked in it and he is pulling the string back. They’re leaning backwards in this V and the arrow is pointed right at her heart.
It is one of the most difficult, tense, nerve wracking things that you can possibly watch. Even in the context of a museum exhibit that you know she lives for another… I mean she’s still alive, you can see some of the work that she’s making now, she just did a Ted Talk a few years ago, whatever. It is still just so difficult and anxiety inducing to watch. For me yeah, I think just sitting down and talking to her and actually just letting her talk at me would be phenomenal.
Terrific answer, we’ll make sure to link that up in the show notes. To see that piece we’ll find an image of it and put it on SocialPros.com where we’ll have a transcript of this show and also we’ll link up to some of the research resources that John and his team have created so you can grab those as well. John thanks so much for being on this show. Terrific job. Congratulations on all the great success at Yelp and your billiards accomplishments as well.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Next time you’re in Bloomington come back for homecoming or something and we’ll do it up.
Yeah it sounds great.
We’ll find a pool table. I’ll give you all my money. He’s John Carroll from Yelp. He is also Adam Brown from Salesforce Marketing Cloud. I’m Jay Baer from Convince and Convert. This has been hopefully your favorite podcast in the whole darn world, it is the Social Pros podcast. If you hadn’t had a chance to leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcast that would be super cool if you did that, we’d really appreciate it. We’ll be back next week with another fantastic guest. Don’t forget, every single episode is on SocialPros.com. We’ll see you then. Thanks so much.