If you are unfamiliar with Yelp.com, as I imagine many people are, given the percentage of times I tell someone I am an Elite Yelper and they say, “What’s that?,” it is time to get familiar.

On March 2, 2012, Yelp hosted their IPO with shares closing at $15 a share, 64% higher than anticipated.  Nearly 6 million people use Yelp’s mobile app to find businesses near to them and 66 million unique users visit the website per month.  Some of the top Yelp communities in America are in San Francisco (where it was founded), L.A., New York, and Austin (of course!).

Why is this important to you?  If you are a small business owner, Yelp can be used to add value to your business by leveraging social strategies to increase visibility of your business in your community.  That is, unless you have poor customer service or are peddling a poor product, then Yelp can be your worst enemy.   Let’s assume you have a nice small business, be it a restaurant or food trailer, day spa, clothing store, salon, day care, gym, or what-have-you.

Why Yelp is Good for Your Awesome Small Business:

1. Yelp is Mobile

Both dedicated and casual Yelpers look up businesses on the mobile app.  I found it especially useful when traveling since the app allows you to look for places meeting your criteria within a certain distance (2 blocks, 6 blocks, etc).  One author called this “enabling hyper local neighborhood searches” and this is the reason that many people prefer Yelp for local business searches to Google.  Yelp’s directions to your business are also superior to any I have seen on the web or on apps.  In New York, it even told me which subway to take since I was on foot.  That’s pretty cool.

2. Yelp is Trusted

66 million users per month and growing 80% per year.  Mm-hmm, people trust Yelp.

3. Yelp is Social

We are all familiar with “digital strategies” that businesses can employ to communicate with customers.  These include your website or emails you send out, even your tweets.  Anything you do that is basically one-way communication from the business to your current or potential customers.  “Social strategies” are when a business encourages interaction with itself and the customers and interaction among the customers.  This is becoming a much more powerful strategy to implement to help grow your business.

Yelp’s business model incorporates both digital strategies and social strategies.   Yelp is not only an on-line review website, there are also on-line and in-person social aspects to it that most people don’t realize.  Users (“Yelpers”) can set up their own profiles and tell the world what their favorite movie is or what their last meal on earth would be, they can have Yelp friends, or follow people on Yelp (becoming their Yelp fan), users can post events to Yelp, or topics in the Talk threads, they can give each other compliments, and send private messages.  In active communities, there are Yelp parties, and Community Manager Yelp Events (CMYEs), Yelpers can host their own “unofficial” Yelp events (UYEs).  And there is a tier of Yelpers known as Elite, but that is a whole different blog entry…

Stay tuned for Part II of this article, where we tell you exactly how to harness the power of Yelp to add value to your business!

About Melissa Arnett:
eConnect Email Blog Contributor, Elite Yelper, Master of Business, Music Enthusiast, pie-baker. Follow Melissa on Twitter @melissataustin