Over the weekend I watched Billion Dollar Bully, the Yelp documentary by Kaylie Milliken, for the first time.
I was a Yelp employee in 2008 (but couldn’t stomach the cold calling), an “Elite” from 2010-2014, and am still friends with some of the first upper-level employees, former community managers, and fellow Elite Squad members. There’s a lot of truth, but also a lot of misunderstandings in the film. It broke my heart to hear the stories of people who suffered from their treatment of the company, but I want to reflect on the good it has done, too.
Everyone has their own feelings about Yelp, especially business owners, but I can say that of my 492 reviews and 837 local photos, I write to share positive or constructive feedback to help small businesses grow- not to hurt them. I met some wonderful people at Elite events in SF and NYC, ate a lot of amazing food, and had tons of laughs. I learned about places I never would have been before, and was able to share my experience with the community.
I left San Francisco in 2011, a year before the company IPOed– so I can’t say how the culture changed after it went from a startup to a public company. Nevertheless, I still see a huge value in real people writing real reviews. What I don’t believe in is pressuring businesses owners to spend money that simply isn’t in their budget, not giving them the ability to remove their listing, or living in so much fear they feel the need to buy fake reviews from people who hardly know their business.
I definitely don’t think most Yelpers are out to get people- it’s usually the faceless reviewers with 0 friends (I have 850) who cause the trouble. It’s a shame some people ruined it for the rest of us.
So why do I still write on Yelp, you ask? Although I am no longer incentivized to write reviews as there’s no Yelp Elite community in Northern Michigan (plus my status was dropped my second year in New York City), I think it’s important to share my positive experiences, show potential customers what my own experience looked like, and to engage with new businesses. It always makes me smile when a business owner writes to thank me for my review, or recognizes me when I come back into their establishment.
Whether people still use Yelp to find a new restaurant here or not, I always am sure to take a photo of my meal, share my thoughts, and help others find my favorite hidden gems, too.