The first big thing to grasp as a local business is the Review Revolution brought to us by Yelp in 2004. Imagine it’s 1994, ten years prior to Yelp’s founding, and you have a local Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, California. One day you are lucky enough to be visited by the review critic for the Los Angeles Times. You recognize her from her picture in the LA Times, and you realize that she can make or break — your new Italian eatery. You do your best to not let her know you recognize who she is, and you do your utmost to ensure that she has a positive experience at your restaurant. One week later your hopes and prayers are answered: a positive restaurant review in the local newspaper. Business booms.
Alternatively, if she had written a critical review of your restaurant, the business would not have boomed. It would have busted. The review critic, in short, had an immense amount of power over local restaurants. However, if a) you were a small restaurant you had minimal chance of ever getting reviewed, and b) if you were a divorce attorney, plumber, massage therapist, CPA or many other types of local businesses, there were essentially no reviewers available. Your main marketing channel was not reviews but customer word of mouth.
Enter the Review Revolution. In October 2004, Yelp (http:www.yelp.com) was founded. Consumers of all types could now review not just local restaurants but local plumbers, dentists, massage therapists and thousands of other types of local businesses. The Review Revolution was like any other mass revolution: the masses burst open the doors of the castle, executed the ruling class, and turned over the table and chairs. It was a bit bloody. It was a bit noisy. And it was a bit unpleasant. If, for example, you were the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic, your absolute power over restaurants was broken. Professional critics, from restaurant reviewers to product reviewers to book reviewers, look on the review revolution with disgust.
The Review Revolution brought democracy to local reviews. Now anyone could review anything. No control: democracy arrived to reviews.
But here’s the rub. Like the French Revolution, the Review Revolution brought the masses into the ecosystem. It has not been very organized or coherent; online reviews run the gamut from informative to ridiculous. Whereas the big reviewers of the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and New York Times were educated and civilized (though they could be brutal in their reviews), the new review class can be rough and tumble. Anyone — and I do mean anyone — can write a review: good, bad, or ugly. To be frank, we are still living in this unsettled Review Revolution, and like the French Revolution, there is no going back: the old system is dead.