Tag Archives: community

Two Types of Online Communities: Which Type do you Have?

Also cross-posted at Trendline Interactive:

Communities is one of those buzz words that has made its way onto everyone’s webpage. Are we really talking about the same thing? The traditional definition of communities doesn’t fit too well in today’s context as the internet has made anonymous and physically separated communities possible. This post won’t deal with all the psychological aspects of communities.  This blog post will deal with the two major ways I group communities. There are small subgroups of communities beyond these two, but here’s a start. Communities can either be built on a platform OR communities can use platforms to communicate.

You might be thinking, “What’s the difference? Users are users. If they are on my Facebook page, they are MY community.” Not so fast, Brand. These users don’t necessarily belong to your community. In fact, many of your Facebook likes might be people who “liked” you to complain on your Facebook Fan page.

1. Communities built on a platform. A common example is (or was) Yelp. Yelp built their own community on their platform. People spend hours and hours conversing on Yelp. Then they met in real life. They hung out with each other. They identified themselves as Yelpers. They had their own independent community, away from other social networking sites. When Twitter and Facebook became popular, some of the members migrated to other channels to converse, but they were still Yelpers.

Another example of this is World of Warcraft (WOW). This multiplayer online role-playing game had a community of their own. The players would spend hours and hours on the platforms. Some of the players met in person. They would coordinate elaborate battles in the dead of the night. I’m sure many college classes were skipped due to WOW battles. WOW player, @trianat, says that though she played five years ago, she’s still friends with some of them. While player quit actually engaging in the game, they still kept ties to people they met in that community. That’s pretty awesome.

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One might also argue that Instagram is also building a community on their platform. Interestingly enough, the community isn’t being build by a brand or the service, it is being built by the users! User lead Instagram meetups are all the rage now (though I haven’t been to any personally). These people are behaving as if they are a community, not just people using a tool for communication with other people they already know. See the hashtag #igersaustin that is being used by the location based Instagram community. This is used to track conversations within local IG communities.

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2. Communities using a platform. You’ll see plenty of these. Facebook is one of these. Twitter is one of these. These tools let people from existing communities chat with each other. If a brand develops a following (the metric not necessarily the behavior) on one of these platforms, do they have a community? I would argue, no. There may be a larger community out there, and perhaps some of the members converse on Facebook fan pages or follow a brand on Twitter. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the brand “owns” those users as part of their community.

The majority of new tools and services provide the a platform. They provide a platform in which communities can share information or cross promote content. The approach for these communities is very different. The service doesn’t own the community nor does the brand. It is always awkward for me to hear social media managers say things like “our Facebook community.” I’m not necessarily a part of a brand’s community. I likely belong to a larger community and have no loyalty to the brand.

Brands don’t own the community. The community may actually exist outside of the scope of the platform. If Facebook were to disappear, would the community still exist and use other modes of communication? If yes, then community managers need to rethink how they frame their social media campaigns. If Facebook were to disappear and the following disappeared with it, that would be choppy waters for a brand that did not build their own following independent of someone else’s platform. Community managers might start thinking about how to build a following on tools they do own and control. The take away: Build your community on your brand. Grow your audience. Nurture your loyal fans. Whatever you do, don’t ONLY build a following on someone else’s tool.

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@GoogleHotPot:The Evolution of Search, Social Media, and Community

I’ve been mulling over this topic on and off for the last couple of months. Google HotPot made it’s debut recently, and there are many more issues to discuss in this post. 

Isn’t everything social media these days?  If it is online and you can have “friends,” it must be social media.  Simon Salt and I have debated (friendly, of course because we’re both friendly) about this issue and Yelp.  We both run around in similar circles, and we both use similar tools. But we view them in different ways.  *My opinions are well, my opinions, and they do not reflect on any of the Yelp community managers or users. **I don’t work for Google, Yelp, or any other like website.

Side 1: Yelp is social media.  You can add friends. You can meet people who become your friends.  You can send messages to your friends.  It must be social.

Side 2: Yelp is crowd sourced content. People write reviews, and they sort through reviews.  Though Yelp has a community in select cities, those are free-standing and created after content starts to come in.

I used to be on side 2.  Simon was on side 1. Yelp is full of reviews that come from people who want to voice their opinions.  Those opinions are combined into a star rating.  That is the quick and dirty of it.

However,a deeper look into why Yelp was leaps and bounds ahead of similar sites like Chowhounds or Urbanspoon was because they had a community.  They built communities after there was enough momentum by hiring an official community manager (to keep the peace and to put on parties) and started the Elite badging system.  Having been in two separate Yelp communities (Houston and Austin) and attending a Yelp Elite event in San Francisco, I could easily see that each community has a distinct demographic, personality, and dynamics.  You might have remembered my post about the destruction of the Austin Yelp Community by de-eliting Michelle C. Since then, the communities have worsened in my opinion.  Long-time users began to fade away, the speed of reviews posted seemed to slow, and the talk threads because much less active.  During the 2011 eliting week, threads like this one and this one brought about heated conversations.  Anyone who crossed Yelp, created problems for Yelp, or  voiced their opinions louder than Yelp did not have their elite status renewed.

I was one of those people who did not have their 2011 elite badge, and I was surprised at first.  At SXSW 2010, I spoke at a core convesation with Addie Broyles about how review sites were changing the restaurant review landscape.  As Yelp was just slapped with lawsuits, it quickly became Yelp-centric.  I stood up for the Yelp community (the users), and I gave my unbiased opinion about Yelp’s role in the restaurant reviews.  I still think that they had a genius model.  Before community became a buzzword, they were building them.  Yelp was one of the first websites that hosted in person meet ups.  I wish I had thought of that and executed as well as they did.  Anyways, after my post about how they were destroying the community and my voice in the social media world, Yelp was displeased and did not renew my elite status as well.  They didn’t give my the axe after the blog post, when I was expecting it.  They waited four months later.  That portion of Yelp’s Corporate email to me read:

“We also understand that you are a social media consultant. Though not technically a business owner, there is an inherent conflict of interest with being Yelp elite and a social media consultant. Per the above, unfortunately we are unable to welcome you back to the Elite Squad at this time.”

I’m putting that on all my future resumes.  :o)  It’s kind of flattering that an individual that has my own consulting service on the side would be a conflict of interest with a giant website.

You might be asking yourself, “Who cares about the community?  I don’t care about those people, I just want to see the ratings.”  And you’re absolutely right in asking.  I don’t think Yelp is going to fold just because the communities are less loyal, less active, but I know that I’m going to shift how I categorize Yelp.  Yelp to me is turning into a search tool, a very useful one at that.  I frequently listen and read Jason Calicanus and Fred Wilson’s blogs and podcast, and both of them use Yelp (mobile too).  But I’ve never heard or read of Jason or Fred commenting about feeling right at home with the Yelp community.  Most of the comments are about the search features.  I too really like the search feature on Yelp mobile.  I can drive into a new location, hit find close to me button, and start weeding it through.  However, one time late at night, Yelp recommended that I get dinner at the Yellow Rose, the gentlemen’s club.  I declined that recommendation.  The numbers geek inside me really likes that you can get more data.  While there is more noise in Yelp data (variability in reviews), if I didn’t know the source, I would rather look at the reviews of 100 people instead of 5 people.  Statistically, more reviews are more favorable.

I’ll update my views of Yelp.  It isn’t crowd-sourced content driven by a strong community anymore.  Honestly, who is going to join a community just to find out where to eat a taco?  Now that a particular threshold of content already exists (at least in Austin and other larger cities), Yelp is a great search tool. I use Yelp to collaborate with my friend’s recommendations, and I often read reviews to see what dishes are extra tasty (or not).

The Evolution of Search : GoogleHotPot

Search is great, and who is the typical suspect in search?  Google.  Google recently launched their HotPot product that could throw a wrench into the current review sites.  I listened to the This Week in Startups podcast with Lior Ron (the product developer of GoogleHotPot) several times.  Lior Ron describes HotPot as the evolution of search, making search personalized and socially relevant – almost like a Netflix or Pandora for places.  I would add that there’s an even more social aspect to this type of search.

A different type of community.

Even though GoogleHotPot is a search, there are still community components to it.  Google users have friends.  You can share information with your friends and you can read information posted by your friends.  The community is already there, and users are sharing the information with each other which is similar to a social media tool.  Yelp on the other hand, tried to nurture a community by bringing together users to contribute content.  Sure, there is a community, but that community didn’t exist without the Yelp platform.  The Yelp community was created after the platform was available.  I view GoogleHotPot as giving a community a tool, and Yelp built a community on a platform.

You can watch/listen to TWIST episode with Lior Ron here.

What can GoogleHotPot do for users?

1. You wouldn’t have to go to multiple review sites (Yelp, Chow, UrbanSpoon) to see reviews.  GoogleHotPot collects the ratings and shows it to you in a pretty box.

2. You can start to personalize the searches, and thusly improve recommendations.  Every time you rate a place, Google starts to learn what you like and don’t like, and thusly adjusting recommendations to you.  I’ve asked Yelp about this several times to no avail.  I wanted a tool where Yelp would discard reviews from people who did not share the same taste preferences or styles of food as well.  From a data perspective, their ratings and reviews would be ignored by me anyways.

3. You are already in your community.  Since GoogleHotPot is on your Google profile, it is easy to add friends that are already in your email box.  No need to join a new community or to start one.  You already have your community of friends that you can add to your GoogleHotPot.  I have just shy of a quajillion contacts on Google.  I already know these people, and I already communicate with them.

What can GoogleHotPot do for businesses?

1. Your business shows up on Google.  They don’t adjust or change your rankings, but you get to highlight when you are on Google.  With Yelp, you have to hope that Yelp’s SEO will get your Yelp page ranked high on the first page.  And well, Yelp business pages aren’t getting as high as they used to.  There were some Yelp business pages that I couldn’t find on Google.  However, Yelp talk threads are still highly ranked. Like really highly ranked.

2. Information that Google gives business owners for free:

  • Update your details, phone number, address, hours, photos, or special announcements.
  • Business intelligence and insights via a dashboard.
  • Where are people coming from (physically)?
  • What queries are people searching to find you?
  • Impressions (and mobile impressions)
  • User behavior on your Google Places

3. The ability to add tags to highlight your business when it shows up in Google.  The fee to for the tags is only $25 per month.  That is very affordable, even to small businesses. You add tags to enhance:

  • Photos of your business
  • Videos of your business
  • Coupons for your listing
  • Menu for your restaurant
  • Reservations page for your business
  • Posts for your business

Other benefits are:

  • Easily and inexpensively highlight your listing on Google from Google Places.
  • Potential customers in your local area will see what you think is most important or unique about your business.
  • Track the effectiveness of your tag with your Google Places dashboard.
  • There is no additional work or ongoing management is needed.

3. Boost, which is like Google adwords.  I can tell you from experience that the Boost is effective on mobile devices.  I once searched for a business by name, and all the similar businesses who had Boost showed up on my Google Map.  The actual business I was searching did not.  That can be a very practical way for businesses to edge out the competition in the mobile space.

What’s in the future?

I can’t tell you how GoogleHotPot will pan out.  To be honest, Google has had their fair share of failed products like Wave and Buzz.  However, unlike HotPot, Wave and Buzz relied entirely on people to talk to each other using Google tools.  GoogleHotPot is capitalizing on content that already exists.  That might make or break this new product.  After attending the Launch Conference, I also saw that new tools that were quoted to be like the “Netflix of _________.”  Whether or not GoogleHotPot takes off, it is pretty obvious that search is evolving.

You might wonder why I’ve made such a big deal about GoogleHotPot, I kind of love Chinese hot pot.  That’s my comfort food, one of them anyways.

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Where’s your face? Walnut Cafe cultivates a community.

Crossposted at Misohungrynow.com.

Saturday morning, @hopsafari/@windaddict and I took a little stroll down to Walnut Cafe.  He read on Yelp that they had a blueberry cornbead, and that was enough to get us moving.  Needless to say, there were many other interesting aspects of Walnut Cafe.  One of the first things that I noticed were all the photos of faces.  There were faces everywhere.

On the walls, on the menus, on their car out back were photos of customers. All of their materials were printed with photos of their customers.  I absolutely love, love, love this community building strategy.  There’s no website for people to sign up and to post there comments.  This was a community of loyal customers.

Check out all those smiling faces.  I happened to meet the owners of Walnut Cafe.  They have a photo day in which customers can come in to get their photo taken.  You joined the community “board” by showing up and getting your photo taken.  The photos are later used on the menu and other advertising.  Apparently, customers really want to be on the menu, and they are annoyed when their photo doesn’t make it.  That is a pretty awesome situation for a restaurant.  When you have people who want to be the face of your brand, you’re doing a pretty damn good job.

Oh, and @hopsafari had a Walnut Latte.  Yum.

The quiche was pretty fantastic.  Tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and cheese melted together into a hearty and tasty breakfast.  The breakfast potatoes were wonderfully seasoned and spicy.

@Hopsafari had the eggs marcos (eggs, bacon, cheddar cheese, and cream cheese) with breakfast potatoes and blueberry cornbread.  I loved the eggs marcos.  It reminded me of putting cream cheese on eggs when I was in undergrad.  The cornbread was also wonderfully tasty.  It was solid in structure, simple in flavor, and comforting.

Really appreciating your customer.  This one comes to Walnut Cafe every single day.  He gets to be the face of their restaurant.

Another shot of the customer heavy menu.  I want to be on the menu.

Not only are the customers on the menus, they are the vehicles.  I’m starting to feel that this restaurant isn’t for the food (however, tasty), but really for the community.

And the pies are award winning.  I love this concept.

More happy customers on the car.

In addition to the two Walnut Cafe locations, they also have a brand new food truck.

Here I am, in the Walnut Cafe truck.

In addition to having an awesome customer community, the food truck community in Boulder is unique.  All the food trucks have a name and identity separate from the food.  Walnut Creek truck’s name is Dinah.  The StrEat’s truck name is Tina.  Hear that, Austin?  Name your food trucks.  They need to have an identity, and their own community.  I love to anthorphomize objects, and giving a food truck a name and identity is perfect.

Another shot of the brand spanking new truck.

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Shared interests + behavior = Community: The 99% rule in the Craft Beer Community.

What makes up a community?  According to dictionary definitions, it is a social group.  Many of the factors that tie this social group together are location or common heritage.  It can also be a group of people or nations sharing a common interest.  And online interest community is typically comprised of people with a shared interest (knitting, reading, eating, cooking, gardening, etc…).  These communities not only have a shared interest, but they usually have shared behaviors (engaging in behaviors as well as how they interact).   Being an active member of over 20 different clubs and communities over the last few years, each community has it’s own culture and social rules.

I’ve been in the craft beer community for almost two years now, and I have to say that it is a pretty awesome group.  While there are different types of beer drinkers, I’m referring to the passionate group of beer evangelists who know and love craft beer (denoted in the blue and purple circles).  These people might write blogs, organize local beer events, work in a craft brewery or craft beer organization, or participate heavily in homebrew activities.  The shared interest is the promotion of craft beer, and how they interact is extremely friendly.

This core group of craft beer enthusiasts are extremely dedicated to producing quality beer (commercially or at home), share the same philosophy, and are really nice.  No, really.  They are really cool, chill, friendly, and awesome.  You might think that it is just a front, but it is not.  Even in a heavily drunken state, craft beer enthusiasts are really, really nice. At the Great American Beer Festival Media lunch in 2010, Paul Philippon of Duck Rabbit (and I quote) said “the national brewing community is a$$hole-free.”  The general rule for this group (denoted by the purple and blue circles) is the 99% rule.  99% of craft beer enthusiasts are really awesome, and only 1% is a total !#%%#$!er.  It wasn’t until recently that I met someone in that 1% that I got to thinking more about defining community.

It started about two weeks ago when I was looking for a graphic designer to do some work for my new project (more on that later).  Graphic designer, we’ll call him Mr. 1% for now, contacted me with the slant that he was heavily involved in the beer community.  He claimed to be friends with brewers at a Texas brewery, a home brewer, had beer brands as past clients, and 18 years of experience. He also offered me a very low rate of $125 per logo as he was hungry for some referrals and work.  I took Mr. 1% up on that offer because of his past work experience and to support another fellow craft beer lover.  Turned out Mr. 1% probably deserves an ejection from the craft beer community.  Among many of the offenses he committed, these are just a few.

  • He said women were too stupid to know what tulip glasses [are], and the only people who would know are 50 year old male beer drinkers. He didn’t know what a tulip glass was either.  This comment was beyond offensive.  Women are gaining ground in this male dominated industry.  Here’s @lyonsgal’s article citing women in the industry, and @snax, Beer Queen of Austin, has won medals for her homebrews.  Here’s a very short list of some other women in beer: @beerfox, @thebeerwench, @girlslovebeer, @theartofbeer, @girlspintout, @miriyum, @hereforthebeer, and @carolfarrar.
  • Mr. 1% was stealing clip art off the internet and trying to pass them off to me as his own work.  He didn’t even bother to change the stolen art besides changing the colors.  It isn’t too difficult to catch someone stealing when he steals the first item in the Google Image Search.  He also mentioned that he applied for a job at Gowalla.  They might want kick that one to the curb.
  • I indicated to him many times that I wanted something very distinctive yet simple, like Johnny Cupcake’s logo.  He proceeded to use derogatory language regarding that brand.  Making rude remarks about a successful brand is truly telling of one’s character.
  • When I decided that Mr. 1% just isn’t capable of producing anything original and his attitude just wasn’t going to cut it, he practically threatened me.  He wrote to me in an email that he frequented craft beer watering holes like the Elephant Room and the Gingerman, and that I might run into him.  I wrote back that even if I did, I’d still be friendly. :o) That made him go off the deep end.  Also, craft beer drinkers don’t go to the Elephant Room for beer.

Well, he surely stuck out as a 1%.  He wasn’t just un-cool, he was a total #$#@%er.  This leaves several questions concerning community.

 

Women on the Great American Beer Festival Media Bus Tour. Ginger Johnson of Women Enjoying Beer on the left and Chelly Vitry on the right. Photo by John M. P. Knox.

 

Can you be a member of a community while only engaging in some activities?

 

I do consider myself a member of the craft beer community, but I don’t engage in all of the activities surrounding the craft beer community.  One of the more common activities is homebrewing.  @Windaddict does that already, so there’s really no need for multiple batches of homebrew at the same time.  Mr.1% claims that he engages the activity of homebrewing, but whether or not he shares the same craft beer attitudes and philosophy is questionable.  I would tend to say that just engaging in activities isn’t enough.  One must also have the shared attitude or philosophy.

 

Another example of my point of view would be in the dog fancier community.  If you don’t already know, I show, train, and handle dogs.  The people who put forth hours and hours of work and thousands and thousands of dollars showing and sometimes breeding dogs are called fanciers in my book.  Other terms for them are breed enthusiasts or, generically, dog show people.  These are a very special breed, pun intended, of dog lovers as they are highly invested into improving their beloved breed in structure, health, type, and temperament.  These people make up about .01% of all dog owners.  One of the activities that they engage in is breeding to improve the breed.  Nope, there’s no money in breeding a litter to improve a specific breed.  Dog fanciers are losing thousands of dollars.

 

On the other hand, many people engage in the activity of purposely breeding dogs for other reasons.  Those other reasons might be due the desire to make money, to show kids what birth looks like, or because they don’t see a reason for pet population control.  These people are NOT in the dog fancier community because they don’t have the same philosophy of improving a breed’s type, temperament, structure, and health.

 

I could write a novel about the dog community, so I’ll sum it up in a phrase commonly said in the dog fancier community.  If you make money breeding dogs, you’re not doing it right.  If you’re not interested in spending a large fortune improving a breed, you’re better off getting a dog from rescue or the shelter.

 

If someone’s interactive behavior is completely out of line with the norm for the community, is that person even considered in the community?

 

Can someone be such a !#%$^@$#@ that regardless of all his other behavior, he’s a pariah? I suppose the answer is sometimes yes, and sometimes no.  Kayne West was a real jerk to Taylor Swift.  But I think he’s still out there doing whatever, wait…. I’m going to let you finish writing, but…  Kayne West committed a fatal mistake in my opinion.  It isn’t clear whether or not he is still in the inner circles of the music community, but he appears to be doing okay with his fans despite his stunt.  I’m not in the community so I can’t say for sure.

 

The sometimes yes part comes in when someone is so rude, abrasive, and hateful that no one wants to interact with that particular person.  While the person might still engaging in activities and share the common philosophy, being a jerk can get you ejected from a community.  If you show up to a party, and no one wants you there, you’re probably not a member of the community.

 

These were mostly theoretical questions, and as a commercial brand, Mr.1% might be considered part of the target audience.  But I’m not sure that Mr.1% should really be considered part of the community, at least from a community perspective.  His behavior wasn’t just a little unusual for the community.  His behavior was so out of line of the community norm that I can’t see him lasting long where the community is extremely friendly and cohesive.

 

This article doesn’t get into the the ins and outs of organization governed communities, industry managed communities, or self-selected participatory communities.  However,  if I managed the community, my ninjas would have taken him out a long time ago.

 

Some sexy Ladies of Craft Beer. By John M. P. Knox.

 

And because women in beer are totally awesome, I teamed up with @Snax to bring you the “MisoHungry and Austin Women’s Beer League Host Beer & Dessert Pairings.”  On Sunday, Oct. 24th, 2-4 pm, at the Gingerman Downtown Austin, join us for beer flights and tasty treats.  Sponsored by Austin Cake Ball and Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop.

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Destroying an Online Community

While we wait for photos and videos of Cupcake Smackdown 2.0 to be processed, let’s jump into some deep thoughts about online communities.

Online communities have been around as long as the internet has been around.  While they used to be a collection of people with a particular interest, online communities have been created for big brands and political issues.  Online communities take time and effort to nurture and grow.  Gone are the days where people would just stumble onto a website, join the form, and taaaaaadaaaa, communities grows.  Modern communities now rely on content, engagement, incentives, and loud voices to grow the member base and loyalty to the community.

Note: This article is not a reflection of the current or past Yelp Austin Community Manager.

The Community Rocks!

One controversial website that did a stunning job of growing their local communities is Yelp.com.  Through meet-ups, parties, complimentary drinks and food, promoting active members, rewarding engagement on the website, Yelp Austin had a core group of fans.  These fans spent time with each other regularly by forming book clubs, knitting clubs, dinner groups, scavenger hunts, bar crawls, and even birthday parties outside of Yelp’s direction.  Acronyms for these get-togethers were called “UYE” (unofficial Yelp event) or “DYL” (destroy your liver).  Active Yelpers were also rewarded with a Elite badge on their profile and monthly private parties.  This badge was usually granted after a user had showed active engagement in the website and had profiles depicting their true names and photos (not anonymous).  The users typically had an decent number of reviews, participation in the talk threads, and showed their face as events.

Changing the Social Rules of Elite

Though I don’t always agree with Yelp’s sometimes policies (I abide by them anyways), I was always impressed with their ability to build a community of extremely loyal fans.  Outsiders described them as cult-like.  When someone describes your community as cult-like, you know you’ve done a good job cultivating those cheerleaders.  Over the last 10 months or so, all that started to change.  Yelp started bringing on more and more Elite members, who oddly weren’t very active at all.  Some of them had only written a handful of mediocre reviews.  Some had never participated in a talk thread.  Some of the reviews aren’t even written coherently.  At parties, they seemed to have the “I just got this email invite, but I’m not really sure why.” vibe.  It seemed like Yelp was just pumping the numbers.  The monthly Elite parties became less and less about community bonding.  The number of those reviews written about the Elite parties fell along with the ratings of such parties.  Yelp’s shiny luster was becoming to fade.

Then came the law suits, and a change in policy.  Business owners were no longer allowed to be Elite members because they would be biased in their reviews.  The website actually reads. “If you are a business owner or affiliated with a local business (spouse, general manager, partner, etc.), we unfortunately can’t invite you to join the ranks of the Elite because it presents a conflict of interest.”  That cuts out almost all of Austin’s population and ALL the members of Blackstar Co-op, an Austin based member-owner brewpub.  This would probably disqualify all REI members as there are two REI stores in Austin.  It also assumes that business owners cannot be unbiased, and that people who aren’t closely affiliated with a business are never biased.  These assumptions are pretty illogical and ridiculous.

This policy only makes sense if I was the owner of a store that constantly reviewed my competitors.  However, business owners are consumers of many other industries.  Surely, the community thought that this silly rule would just be another one of those terms of service things that are never enforced.  After all, Yelp is fairly inconsistent and arbitrary on which rules they feel like enforcing and which ones they don’t.

Inconsistencies in Rule Enforcement

~Users’ accounts can and have been deleted for posting URLs, though this is not specified in the terms of service.  Yelp wants your free content, but it doesn’t want traffic leaving.

~A very nice woman’s account was deleted because someone flagged her thread and message as spam when it was obviously not her intentions.  She was a pet sitter who sent a message to her friends with a warning about a dog toy.  Emails to Yelp Administrator at Head Quarters (HQ) located in San Francisco in protest did not bring her account back from the grave.

~Yelp has yet to delete accounts of users who have caused great disruption in the community.  There are several users (anonymous yet vocal ones) in Austin Yelp with the goal of creating anger and hate in the community.  That user spends hours upon hours upon hours writing posts on the talk threads every single day, yet claims that he/she doesn’t care about Yelp.  That particular user has been reported to Yelp HQ many times (also reprimanded by Yelp HQ), yet the account remains.  I guess you don’t have to be “cool” to keep your account as specified.  You can be a completely insane jerk.  Many users have stopped spending time on Yelp because of this particular user.  Hey, Yelp! Mind taking care of the village belligerent fool?

~Some unscrupulous business owners do make fake accounts in which they review themselves and their competitors.  One business has been writing themselves fake reviews and giving competitors shill reviews.  They have been caught so many times that they decided to accuse other people of doing it their specials box. see below.  Yelpers weren’t naive enough to fall for their dirty tricks, but Yelp HQ hasn’t stopped this particular business from repeatedly engaging in that prohibited behavior.  You’d think Yelp HQ would be smart enough to log IP addresses.

De-Eliting your Best Asset

These issues have severely impacted the quality of the Yelp Austin community.  However, something that happened made me realize that the community was on its way down the tubes.

You might know her as @Foodiethenew40.  You might know her as Michelle Cheng, attorney at law.  You might also know her as Michelle C. Super Yelper Michelle C. is the Queen of Yelp.  She was there from the beginning contributing 584 reviews to date along with 104 fans.  Her views are consistently fair, entertaining, accurate, and extremely well-written.  That’s probably because not only is she an awesome writer; she’s also an awesome cook with an educated palate.  In my conversations with casual Yelp readers or businesses owners, I consistently hear the same comments about a certain user.  They go something like: “Who is that Michelle C. girl? She’s cool.”  It is amazing that Michelle C., but not at all surprising, could impact people who don’t have a Yelp account.  She is Yelp Austin’s star user, hands down.

Michelle’s on the left.  I’m on the right.

Unfortunately, Yelp HQ decided that since Michelle was a partner at her practice, she no longer deserved the little red Elite badge next to her name.  That’s right.  They de-Elited her.  Four years of Elite designation gets nothing now because Michelle is also awesome in her professional life.  They also removed the Elite badge from Robin S., Rick G. and Steve B.  Yelp just screwed with their own social rules.  Instead of rewarding active and engaging users, Yelp started handing out Elite badges to less active users thus diluting the meaning of the badge.  They also took Elite badges away from star users simply because were business owners.  These business owners have never, ever abused the Yelp system.  Yelp decided to that they were guilty anyways.

Some might argue that the Elite badge is meaningless and only gains one access to a free monthly party.  I disagree.  The Elite badge is a social designation and social reward, much more valuable that free food and drinks.  Even if it didn’t come with a free party, badges in online communities are meaningful.  I even have four different badges (called garages) in my efficient driving community that gains me nothing tangible.  Yelp was tremendously more successful than their competitors on the community front, and now that just isn’t true anymore.  Thanks, Yelp HQ.  Thanks for slapping the wrist of your best cheerleader and turning your back on the community.  Have fun with the law suits and your sparring match with the big Google machine.

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