3 Rules for Surviving (and Thriving) on Yelp

Or: How to succeed when the Internet is full of jerks.


My sister is a really good doctor. She runs two busy offices in South Philly. Her patients include CEOs of large companies and union workers from the neighborhood. She sees everything from colds to cancer and knows the best specialists in town. I wouldn’t let her cut my fingernails, of course. But that’s because she’s my sister and I still remember her as a bossy 15-year-old. But her patients I know love her.

Except for this one guy. He skewered her on Yelp. He complained about her office. He gave her a low rating. And what was worse, that she didn’t even know about it until somebody (that was a gloating me) told her about it. She barely knew about Yelp. But apparently, her office was listed there and a handful of people made comments — all great except for the one guy. And it really, really upset her. I get it — people don’t like to hear bad stuff.

Is your business on Yelp? You better check.

Like my sister, it may be there because someone created a presence or it was automatically added from a directory. This is a good thing. You want to be on Yelp. And probably on Foursquare, Trip Advisor, Google My Business, Bing Places, Yahoo Small Business and other review sites where your customers may be. These are all good places with big communities where your company can create an image, build a community, and get more business.

Want to know how to create a great Yelp presence? There are lots of companies in town doing a good job. For example, check out the Parc Rittenhouse’s page on Yelp. Or the nearby Heads & Tails Beauty Boutique or even the opticians at Modern Eye on 13th street. These are all examples of Philly businesses using Yelp successfully. In fact, according to a Yelp analysis done on this site recently, Philly even has a lot more great service than bad service overall.  How can my sister, or you, succeed on Yelp? You just need to remember the three rules.

Rule #1: The Internet Sucks

That’s because most of the people on the Internet suck. They’re haters and jerks. They love puppies, raise good children, keep nice homes, give to charities, cry when watching the Hallmark channel and then go online and turn into complete douchebags, where they make fun of complete strangers, offer uninformed and mostly ignorant commentary and get into online fights with other douchebags like them. If you’re on Yelp, you must accept this. If you’re going to put yourself out there, this is what you’ll get. You can’t take it personally. Once my sister got over the initial shock of her first (and only) hater she realized that the guy was a nutter, and one of a very, very few of her overall audience. People who use Yelp or other sites like it can sniff out the douchebags pretty easily. If you do Yelp right, the good will outweigh the bad.

Rule #2: Homicide Is illegal

I did a little research and found out that if someone writes a negative review about your company on Yelp, you can’t find him, go to his house and beat the shit out of him until he dies. Sorry. So instead, you must put on a professional, brave, positive online face and respond professionally and positively to his dumb-ass comment. You will always take the high road. You will thank this dickhead for his feedback and promise to do better. You may offer a quick reason why he had the problem and how you’ve fixed it. You will apologize. You will not make fun of his sorry-ass life. You may even offer a free something if he returns. But don’t worry, he won’t. Because people on the Internet suck (see above) and he’s probably too big a pussy to reveal himself in person.

Rule #3: You Can Lose 10 Pounds if You Want To

It will require a much better diet, tons of exercise and a healthier lifestyle. It will not be easy. But you can achieve this. And it’s the same with Yelp. Like some of the successful listings I’ve noted above, if you put the right amount of effort into it, you’ll see great results. And by effort I mean this: a complete listing with info and lots of photos because not only do the people on the Internet suck, but many of them are pretty stupid too (evidence: Kim Kardashian’s new mobile game is a best seller on iTunes) so they need lots of pretty pictures. You must keep this listing current, fresh and always updated. You may need to hire a part-timer to maintain this listing, respond to comments, add new content, create events, administer an ad or two, and then do the same on other user-review sites because each one has their own community with potential customers of yours. This is hard, time-consuming and a long-term commitment. But if you make the investment, you’ll see a return on that investment well before you put those 10 pounds back on again.

Yes, Yelp and other review sites are worth it. Depending on your business, these sites may be a better use of your resources than even Facebook. Just remember: The Internet can be wonderful, profitable and brutally merciless. You won’t please everyone, no matter how great you are. Just ask my sister.

Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.