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On 10:31 AM by Rachel Preston Prinz in
last week's Yelptropolis event celebrated 30 plus makers, software companies, and restaurants
Elites happily selfie-ing with the Chef at Pasion Latin Fusion ABQ
One of the most awesome things about being a Yelp Elite is getting to participate in the launching and finessing of exciting new business ventures in my community. We've gotten exclusive sneak peaks of stores, festivals, art shows, restaurants, coffee shops, clubs, bars, and even entertainment venues...

The Elite members in Albuquerque have had lots of opportunities to learn from businesses done right... and wrong... over the past few years. I thought I might share a few things I have learned so that you can use these under-the-radar services that Yelp provides to help launch your own brick and mortar stores, non-profits, brands, and restaurants.

First, what Elites are... A Yelp Elite is someone who regularly reviews places that are "hot" in a town. They are usually in the know about the people and places coming onto the scene. They are, most often, what business thought leaders would term "early adopters". Elites, while they can be of any make or model in appearance and status, are often skilled photographers, foodies, would-be sommeliers, fashionistas, networkers, or they just have a great palate and they can storytell in their reviews in some way that makes their work stand out. Their reviews rise to the top of the list by design, because what they have to say is dependable. They are tastemakers. And taste confirmers. So if you think you have a great recipe for your new business (literally or figuratively), they can actually let you know if people will agree with you.

Tasting plate and liquor tasting flight at The Crown Room
In Albuquerque, our Yelp Community Manager Howie Kaibel works with local businesses to set up regular free events to launch, revisit, or just support local businesses. When they are large events with open invitations to the public, like a public art tour, or a group meetup for a private behind-the-scenes tour and tasting at the local farmers market, they are called Community Manager Yelp Events. Usually these events are very low key and have a minimum investment of time and energy for you.

The next level of Yelp event, and the one I have seen launch many a business here into the ether, is called an Elite event. These private parties are a bit more discerning, and require more time and energy, but they are great investments. For these smaller parties, the invite goes out to all elites who RSVP if they are interested, and several are selected to attend the event. How they are selected changes, but the result is always the same: you get to test drive your concept on people who will give you honest feedback, and whose reviews will be seen first and whose photos you might want highly placed in your Yelp business profile. Hosting a Yelp elite event can literally launch your business by helping you to put your best foot forward.

One of the keys to using Yelp events well is to refine your concept and present exactly what guests will experience when they come to your place. Host the same events anyone can enjoy - the same tour, the same buffet, the same things from the menu, the same level of service...and be prepared for feedback. Yelp Elites take pride in being good at what they do, and if you have holes in your plan, they can and will feel responsible to let you and the potential visitors to your location know. They will also almost always give you a second look after the group event and they adjust any review comments accordingly as you refine your message, presentation, or service. Elites maintain relationships with the places they love. And they give second chances. That's what makes the program so interesting to me - it's a mutual investment in your success that both parties make.

Elite revisits and Yelp events also help protect Yelp users from being manipulated by (less than real) good reviews. Because you have people going back and checking and updating reviews, if a place has good reviews that aren't an accurate reflection of what's happening, those reviews will get filtered out by more considered and recent reviews. It helps keep review abuse in check, which Yelp already does but this adds another layer of checks and balances that allows you to know that the place you want to go that has four stars... deserves it.

Downtown Art Tour

A typical elite event will bring 20 or so select people to you for a two hour adventure of learning and trying what it is that you do. We have enjoyed family style dinners or a buffet of tapas to taste; a mixology class of how to make fun drinks with new liquors; private behind the scenes tours and tastings at festivals; learned to roast coffee at a new shop; visited wineries; we have even gone to paint-by-wine classes! Another kind of Elite event may offer each person 2 free tickets to see a show. I've seen one amazing concert and another outstanding dance performance this way in recent weeks. Not only did an old theater I swore I'd never go to again get me back, they got a fan. In myself and Yelp, who hosted a community event there to bring even more people in to see the transformation. And the local "kids dance theater" made me see that they ALSO host cutting edge contemporary dance.

Chocolate making and tasting event at Joliese Chocolates ABQ

Talking with our own community manager recently, he offered that oftentimes businesses are focused on reviews and intimidated by reviewers. I can totally get that - who enjoys knowing you are being judged? In my experience, while some reviewers aspire to be critical and to become known for their tastemaking, many if not most of the Yelp Elites, at least here in Albuquerque, are chosen specifically because they are NOT pretentious or judgmental. The Elites I know represent every demographic and every style of being. Some, like me, write short reviews and take lots of photos. Others write long reviews and analyze every aspect of the space and presentation. As Howie puts it, "(Elites) are valued because their reviews focus not only on the What, but the Why. If they loved it, they'll explain Why and if they didn't, they'll offer constructive, important feedback for the business to learn from." That's important. While 80% of the reviews on the site are positive (3+ stars), the Elites especially can help you to grab that next star by helping you to know what aspects of your work need finessing. It's like your own personal product testing service!

Being Yelp-connected also comes with bonuses. Many of the Elite squad members are connected to each other outside of the events, and we watch what other Elites are doing and we follow their lead. If my Elite friends say a place is awesome, I am 90% more likely to get there (and soon!) over reading a random person's review. Elites also tend to add tips, clarify inconsistent information on your profile, gather our own circles for an outing, and... more often than not, since we tend to be social... we also spread the word online and in person about your products and services.

Delicious bites and beer tasting at Torinos at Home

I really feel that the programs Yelp offers, like the Elite events, are tools that businesses can easily utilize to help themselves to shine. I know that I've tried lots of new places because of the reviews. It seems like starting off with good reviews from people who know, care, and will share their experiences with others is a sound business investment to me! Really, the opportunities for utilizing this awesome community service that Yelp provides are limited only to your imagination and the cost of the investment in "a few bottles of wine and a test drive..." as one owner put it to me recently.

If you'd like to find your community manager, just google "Yelp Community (your town)" and you'll find a way to connect with your local representative so you can launch your brand... and succeed!

Yelp coffee roasting talk at Villa Mirriam