Nightlife Pro Tips: Effectively Managing Your Online Reviews

Image: Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub

Owners and operators are told all the time that in order to succeed, particularly with Millennials, they need to have a strong presence on Facebook, InstagramTwitter, and other social media channels. But what about Yelp? Are review sites not also a form of social media? Perhaps more importantly, are you doing all you can to cultivate 4- and 5-star reviews? To put it bluntly, probably not. It's unfortunate but many nightclubs, possibly the majority, carry only 2.5- and 3.5-star reviews on Yelp. This goes for even some of the most renowned and awarded nightclubs in the country. Whether this is a guest experience-related issue, an operations problem, an issue centered around general admission guests feeling mistreated in comparison to VIP guests, a failure to understand the importance of online reviews, or a combination of some or all of the above, it needs to be addressed. 

Darnell Holloway, Director of Local Business Outreach for Yelp, seeks to dispel the misconceptions surrounding Yelp and help business owners use the site efficiently. To do this, he addresses the mistaken beliefs some hold about the review site head on. He also shares information critical to an enjoyable user experience through what he refers to as Yelp 101. We’ll start there.

Yelp 101

“Yelp exists to connect people with great local businesses,” says Darnell, and it would seem this statement is accurate. Looking at Q4 of 2013, the Yelp mobile app was used on approximately 10.6 million unique mobile devices. During that same period of time, 59% of Yelp searches were conducted via mobile devices. This supports Darnell’s mission statement – people are out for the night, conducting searches on their phones to decide where they’ll spend their time and money. Yelp users are reading the information on Yelp provided by reviewers, the site and business owners and making what they hope are the best, most informed choices.

To help Yelp users make the best decisions, there are several things business owners can do. First, they should own their listing, something that has been said on this website and at Nightclub & Bar Shows time and time again. Once owned, it can be optimized, free of charge. Darnell suggests adding photos since it is truly another form of social media and it’s clear that people want to see pictures. Even a business with countless positive reviews and several 5-star ratings will be passed on by users if they aren’t posting quality pictures of their food and beverage items, venue, staff and, with their permission, loyal guests. Business owners should also make certain that the basic information associated with their profile is accurate: hours of operation, location, type of venue, these all need to be correct. There’s also space to describe the business. Once the listing has been owned and optimized, owners and operators should incentivize their listing. Create Yelp deals, Yelp gift certificates and encourage check-ins by Yelp users by offering exclusive deals to those who check into the business.

Yelp offers several tools – also free to use – to help business owners check on how their listing is performing. Optimizing doesn’t mean much if the results can’t be tracked, after all. Biz.Yelp.Com is where owners should go to add content to their listing, respond to reviews (more on that in just a bit), track leads and add content. It’s also where additional content can be easily added to listings. Yelp has worked hard to make it very easy for even the least tech savvy users to own, optimize and use their listing efficiently.


There are misconceptions that swirl around Yelp, often fueling the decision for some business owners to reject the site outright. One such misconception is that Yelp reviewers are all anonymous. “Not the case,” says Darnell plainly. According to him, Yelp employs community directors like Drew Applebaum, the community director for Las Vegas. These people host events and meet many reviewers face to face; their job is to go out and connect with reviewers. Yelp, like any social media platform, uses profiles. Yelp user profiles contain personal information, recent reviews a user has posted, review distribution and pictures. The site also encourages reviewers to share photos of themselves. In fact, Yelp recognizes their most prolific reviewers through their Elite Squad program which is anything but anonymous: business owners can click on a reviewer and see who they are.

Another misconception is that users are more likely to share negative experiences. Darnell says that almost 80% of Yelp reviews are 3 stars (out of a possible 5) or higher. What Yelp has discovered is that the social media landscape has evolved and people just want to talk about their daily experiences, good or bad. Yelp reviewers aren’t just reading negative reviews. Rather, they’re looking for something specific when reading reviews and often focusing on the positive. In Darnell’s opinion, it’s business owners that are more likely to focus on bad reviews, which makes perfect sense. Owners, operators, managers, servers, bartenders…nobody enters the industry to deliver a bad guest experience and negative reviews are understandably unsettling to business owners.

A more sinister bit of belief about Yelp is that advertisers are able to manipulate their reviews. There is an opinion held by some that a Yelp algorithm influences the recommended reviews for businesses that advertise on the site, showing users only the positive posts. However, according to a Harvard Business School investigation conducted by professor Michael Luca, this myth is busted. Professor Luca, in his study of Yelp entited “Fake it Till You Make It: Reputation, Competition, and Yelp Review Fraud,” ran tests on a dataset of over 316,000 reviews for 3,625 restaurants to see if those businesses that advertised on Yelp received preferential influence for recommended reviews. “The filtering algorithm does not treat advertisers’ reviews in a manner different to non-advertisers’ reviews,” concluded Luca. Early on, Yelp realized that not every review is created equal and developed software to analyze every review that gets posted. The software examines the quality and reliability of the review and also takes into account a particular user’s activity. A review will not be recommended if the reviewer doesn’t have much profile information filled out, they’re considered a “drive-by” user (someone who came to the site just once to post a good or bad review, or the algorithm finds that the review is biased or fake.

So You Got a Bad Review

Nobody is perfect. Nobody can please everybody all of the time. Bad reviews are going to happen and that fact needs to be accepted. While it may be tempting to unleash a torrent of venom aimed at reviewers who post something negative about their experience, some of the best advice for dealing with this type of situation comes from Chris Campbell, founder and CEO of Braddah’s Island Style: “Don’t reply to negative feedback at 4:00 in the morning. Give yourself a day to think about it.” Darnell recommends using the approach that makes the most sense for a specific brand when responding to bad reviews. Those businesses that can pull of using humor, snark or irony should do so. There are brands that publish only their 1- and 2-star reviews on their social media, menus, chalkboards, table talkers, even their television screens and make it work for them. One brand runs a campaign the call “People Hate Us On Yelp!” Another is over-the-top “cheesy” and seeks to be a 1-star venue on purpose, using the bad reviews they receive as a gimmick.

The direct approach also works. Being apologetic for a bad guest experience and being sincere about making it right work well for most businesses: “We’re sorry you had this experience and want to make it right. We welcome you to come back so that we may do so.” Responses can be private or made public and Darnell is of the opinion, as are many business owners who have embraced Yelp and made it work for them, that public responses are a great PR tool. Responding publicly shows Yelp users that a business is engaged with the community and it also gives owners a chance to correct any misinformation in a bad review. Obviously, diplomacy is the best practice for any response.

It’s important to bear in mind that positive reviews also deserve personal attention. To make the most of a Yelp listing, business owners should respond actively and regularly to both positive and negative reviews. Because Yelp encourages its users to share their information on their profiles, it’s common that owners get to know guests who review their venue. Something as simple as, “We’ve noticed you haven’t been in for a while. Please come back and enjoy [personalized promotion],” can go a long way. An additional benefit is that responding to reviews means more content online and that, in turn, means elevation in search and more traffic.

Don’t be afraid of Yelp – make it work for you.

You'll have the opportunity to learn more about making social media work for you from top industry experts at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show. Use code SAVE30BARNEWS to receive $30 off of the conference pass of your choosing when you register!

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