Interview: Lani Pauli, Yelp Community Marketing Manager

Lani Pauli of Yelp

Image: Lani Pauli (left) is the driving force behind the Yelp Brisbane community.

What’s your name & position at Yelp?

Lani Pauli, Community & Marketing Manager, Yelp Brisbane.

How long have you been at Yelp, and how did that happen?

I’ve been working for Yelp in Australia for just over a year and it honestly came out of the blue. I was working for a Brisbane digital and design agency as well as editing the Brisbane issue of The Fetch when I received an email from my now boss. She wanted to grab coffee and chat about Yelp launching in Brisbane and who I might think would be good for the Community Manager role.

Little did I know she already had plans afoot and in what seemed like a whirlwind two weeks I was the Community Manager for Yelp Brisbane. It’s quite possibly the best job I’ve ever had and lets me do what I love most: finding out people’s stories and exploring all the great things in Brisbane.

How do you think makes Yelp unique amongst the other Australian location services like Foursquare or Urbanspoon?

Everyone has their place in the “landscape” but we’re different in a few key ways.

First, Yelp is a local city guide that connects you to any local business, from mechanics to hairdressers and everything in between. Sure, it tends to lean toward shopping and restaurants more than, say, doctors and dentists but that’s because, or at least I hope, most people are dining out or shopping more than they are visiting medical centres in their day-to-day activities.

lani

Second, we have a strong online community of real people who catch-up offline. Not only do our engaged communities help keep content legitimate, but our users treat Yelp like a life blog, sharing their day-to-day interactions with businesses. We host events as casual as breakfast club (where we’ll meet up at a cafe and have breakfast once a month) or one we’re about to start, Novelty Sunday Night Food Club, to something as big as a “Yelper Party” open to anyone with a Yelp profile. (Brisbane will host our first on July 24th).

And third, we have an automated Review Filter that helps protect the integrity of the site both for consumers (who will be less likely to be led astray by bogus reviews) and business owners (who will spend less time worrying about whether their competitors are writing negative reviews about them). We’d rather people think of Yelp as a source for reliable information from passionate and opinionated consumers than a platform for every single rant and rave.

Ultimately, these things work hand in hand to assure our content is trustworthy. It’s our trusted, local content that truly sets us apart and makes Yelp the go-to resource for consumers when making a spending decision.

Want to know more about how Yelp is shaking up the Australian review scene?
Check out our feature on Yelp in Australia.

You’ve got colleagues in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth & Adelaide doing the same thing. Why did Yelp decide to do that? Was it part of a strategy to break up the entrenched location players in Australia?

Every market is unique, which is why each of my colleagues in the various markets you mentioned are as different as the cities themselves. Yelp is all about finding and sharing all things local, so it only makes sense that the Community Manager is a local him or herself.

That said, we do apply the same methodology we’ve used since the launch of very first community in 2005: we focus our efforts in one city at a time – a mile deep an inch wide as we say – to ensure Yelp is a truly valuable local resource. People wonder why we’re not everywhere already, but organic community growth is not something you can wave a wand over and expect magic-beanstalk-like results – it takes time, love and care for authentic local communities to root and grow. We take a slow and steady approach and scale with patience in order to allow Yelp to become a trusted resource in one community before moving into the next.

Is there ever pressure to find the new hotness in Brisbane? What makes the Brisbane scene unique?

Lani PauliAlways, especially as there’s a lot happening in Brisbane at the moment. Thankfully the Yelp Brisbane community is equally as excited to explore all the new openings and events in Brisbane as I am. So that takes the pressure off a little bit. I think the Brisbane scene is unique because, in some respects, we’re still finding our feet. There’s more room for businesses and individuals to test an idea or take a little risk. Look to the like of Two Trees Cafe or The Happy Cabin (early 20s and opening their first businesses), Rory Doyle with his Red Robin Supper Club or the cool cats from Lady Marmalade that have now opened Shady Palms in Stones Corner. I can remember visiting Stones Corner for discount outlet shopping. Who’d think it could become a destination spot to drink a salted caramel milkshake and eat a killer buttermilk chicken slider? Those examples only scratch the surface…

You organise or promote quite a few different events in Brisbane—restaurant trips, tours & secret events. Can you talk about those? Why do them?

I do, and they’re one of the best parts of my job. As I’ve mentioned, Yelpers are a group of social mavens, so it doesn’t make sense to keep them behind computer screens! The more we get together offline, the closer knit the community becomes, both online and off. Not only do we get to check out the best of what’s going on in Brisbane, but we get to do it with a group of like-minded people who are passionate about supporting local businesses.

Do you think the location-based app phenomenon has changed how people decide where to go?

I don’t know if it’s changed it so much as amplified it. The practice of asking the most “trusted” in a social circle where to go for a special dinner or your most expertly coiffed friend what hair salon she visits has been happening for a long time without the web. Add in social media and platforms such as Yelp and you take the same behaviour but have a resource that spans Australia and the rest of the world.

In the instance of Yelp, it’s a known trusted source to help people decide where to spend their money. People look to Yelp when they’re ready to spend money, whether they’re in a group deciding which sushi restaurant to visit or trying to find a hardware store nearby without resorting to a trek to Bunnings.

Yelp event in Brisbane

Do ‘professional’ (read: print) restaurant reviewers hate you guys? Or… do you ever get suspicious that they’re cribbing their list of places to visit from Yelp?

I honestly think there’s rhyme and reason for us all to exist – professional reviewers, Yelpers and bloggers or someone who reviews on Instagram. A national newspaper’s food reviewer writes from a different perspective and for a different purpose than a Yelper, and those resources can both be useful to consumers in different ways.

People go to Yelp to see the average consumer experience with a business. As someone always keen to better my writing skills, I’ll often read professional critics’ work as a way to better my craft, and I’m more than okay with them cribbing their list of places to go from Yelp – if they are it means I’m doing my job of building the best local guide for Brisbane!

How big of a difference do you think it makes for a cafe or restaurant to have a presence online? Does hospitality live and die by it, or has it not reached quite that level yet?

I think it’s reached a point now where people are talking about your brand, their experience and more – whether you’re there or not. And I get it, for a lot of small businesses it takes time to invest in participating. I would say to at least ensure consumers can find your correct business information online, be that on your website or your free Yelp business listing.

Customers sharing their experiences online can be an amazing opportunity for businesses to listen and perhaps become a better business as a result. Of course, the businesses that often do the best online are those that just rock out with their business offline whatever it might be. On Yelp, business owners can unlock a free business owners account that gives them access to a range of tools including creating a check-in offer, adding photos and a tonne more.

Finally, the internet collectively flipped its wig a little while ago at the Amy’s Baking Company story, where she accused the ‘haters on Reddit and Yelp’ of sabotaging her reputation. Have you had to deal with local businesses who feel they’ve been wronged by the internet?

If a business owner has unlocked their free business account on Yelp, they are able to publicly (or privately if they so choose) reply to any reviews, including those they feel may have any inaccuracies about their business. Anyone reading it is able to weigh both sides of the story and see that the business was actually on the ball and willing to listen. Not every single review is going to be positive – it’s impossible to please 100% of people 100% of the time. On Yelp we see people generally sharing all range of experiences, with about 80% of reviews being 3 stars or higher.


Be sure to follow Lani on Twitter, and while you’re at it, the Yelp Brisbane on Twitter for good measure.

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