Yelp Elite Events: What’s the deal?

I spent last week in
New York: visiting our team and office in Flatiron, meeting with
partners and press, and attending the most recent Yelp Elite event there.  This particular event was a Mardi Gras themed affair with a few hundred yelpers at Bubble Lounge.
Friends and partners often ask me something to the effect of: “What is
the deal with these Yelp Events?”  So I figured I should give that
answer a shot here.

To start at the beginning: the Yelp Elite Squad is made up of the
best and brightest yelpers.  You’ll know an Elite yelper by the red or
gold “Elite” badge on their profile.  You can read about some of the requirements for Elite-dom here, or see my Elite badge as an example of what this looks like in action.

Elite yelpers get invited to occasional events like the one I
attended last week.  We started hosting these events back in 2005 to
meet our fellow yelpers in San Francisco — and we were pleasantly
surprised to discover two things: (1) meeting in person tended to keep
everyone more accountable and civil in their online communication than
we were used to seeing in other online-only forums and (2) the events
were fun because the well-written, local adventuring people who were
attracted to Yelp made great company.  So we kept hosting events like
this, started branching out from San Francisco, and we currently host
Elite Squads in 24 metros.

Since the point is simply to meet one another and talk in person,
an Elite Event can happen anywhere people want to go.  Past event
venues have included places like museums, restaurants, parks, beer
gardens, art galleries, bookstores and at least one aquarium.
Sometimes we provide food; oftentimes we’ll provide drinks ranging from
wine to slurpees.  Sometimes Yelp foots the bill directly for the
venue, food or drink; oftentimes we look for sponsors to help defray
those costs (e.g., Peroni Beer comped the beer I drank last week in New
York).  The venues themselves typically provide the space, some staff
and sometimes food or drink.  This arrangement is great
for yelpers because we can visit a new place and meet each other
affordably.  And it works well for the venues and sponsors because they
get exposure to a group of local adventurers who, if they like what
they see, may become future customers.

You might ask at this point: do yelpers write reviews based on just
that one, usually free, experience?  And does that give venues an
unfair advantage or disadvantage relative to other businesses?  Well,
in early 2007 we hosted an event that was rather chaotic, and host
venue Supperclub bore the brunt by receiving 21 rather critical reviews
based on experiences of the party that were probably not representative of
their business overall (Supperclub now has 648 total reviews).  Shortly
thereafter (in 2007), we started listing events separately from the
business so that yelpers could give us their feedback on the party…
but without reviewing a host venue until they return for a separate,
more typical, customer experience.  So for last week’s Elite Event in
Chicago, you can see these reviews for the event separately from these reviews for the venue.  About a month after each event, we then remove the event from search results so that consumers don’t get confused when they go looking for the venue listing.

One of my fabulous teammates is hosting an Elite Event this evening
at an art gallery in Orange County.  I unfortunately can’t make it
tonight, but I’m looking forward to getting out to another one soon.
It’s always a pleasure to meet a kindred spirit who loves exploring
his/her city and sharing those experiences as much as I do.