In the last few months, I’ve had the great opportunity to meet many theatre owners across North America and talk about many subjects. Some of them are doing amazing and unique things. There will be many guest blogs over the winter with great ideas.
It wasn’t surprising how often social media came up in conversation, but it was a bit surprising to hear how many theatres felt a drastic impact from the reviews they were receiving on Yelp.
There are many great guides to using Yelp wisely across the internet. I recommend reading as many as you can and finding the tips that work best for your theatre. What’s gathered here isn’t unique, but it’s a collection of practices that some of the improv theatres across the country are having the best success with.
Anyone can create a listing for your venue. In fact, there may be many listings for your venue, each with different and possibly inaccurate information. It spreads confusion and fragments the conversation.
Yelp doesn’t want this any more than you do. If there is a listing for your space, request ownership of that listing so you can maintain it. If there are multiple listings, reach out to Yelp. They’re usually very happy to help you consolidate those listings. And if there’s no listing at all, by all means create one.
Once you have the account, it doesn’t require nearly as much attention as your Facebook or other online presences, but make sure the information is as complete as possible. Add a few pictures. Check back periodically to make sure it’s up to date.
And be honest about what you are. Don’t paint an unrealistic portrait of what people can expect from a visit. You’ll get much better response if people are getting what they expect.
Should you pay for a promoted listing? Every situation is different. It’s certainly worth looking into. Keep in mind that the businesses that usually pay for accounts are ones in heavily competitive industries where several businesses are all equally nearby. Improv isn’t there. At least not in most cities. There usually aren’t three improv theatres on the same block. As of this writing, I have never talked to a theatre who got more visitors or better ratings with a paid account. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find creative ways to do it. Just don’t expect it to be a miracle cure.
There’s a reason Yelp is still around, and many of its competitors are gone. Yelp is good at giving people accurate information. Yelp is smart. And it’s users are smart. Asking your friends and family to spam your account with glowing reviews is a quick way to get you account flagged or deleted, or certainly lose a few potential patrons who can smell a fake review. Even if you “get away with it”, the positive reviews from your friends and family won’t affect your score as much as you’d like it to. (More on that later)
This seems very counter-intuitive and frustrating, especially if you’re just starting to wrangle your account and counterbalance some bad reviews. It’s true that you’ll need to boost awareness of your presence on Yelp for people to leave reviews, but asking for positive reviews isn’t going to yield much net positive result.
How many times a week do you get asked to go to a website and fill out a survey? How often do you do it? Not often. If people have something to say, they’ll say it. If people aren’t self-motivated to leave a review, they aren’t going to want to take time out of their day to do so, and will more often be mildly annoyed at being pressured to do so. If they do leave a review, it’s probably going to be less enthusiastic than a review from someone who is genuinely motivated to leave one. And wouldn’t you rather have your top reviews be the most excited ones?
Pressuring people can turn people off and – at best – will result in a few filler reviews.
And here’s a familiar sentence. Even if you “get away with it”, the positive reviews from the people you ask won’t affect your score as much as you’d like it to. (Yup. More on that later)
Show the way
If you don’t ask people to leave reviews, how can you possibly start gathering reviews? Believe it or not, some people are eager to share their thoughts on Yelp. Some are very excited by your show. Some just love leaving reviews. Either way, they’re your best friend. They’re willing to do the work for you. They just need to know where to go.
Put a link to your Yelp page on your webpage. If you print a program or fliers, have the Yelp logo there. Treat it the same way you would Facebook. You don’t ask each audience member to like you on Facebook, but you make that information available for those who want to be there.
Having Yelp information at your venue and on your webpage shows that you are engaged in and respect The Yelp Community as a whole. People who are likely to write reviews are going to respond. They’re going to start building your Yelp page into something respectable.
Yelp is willing to help you out there. Yelp has it’s own Flickr page with all manner of logo that you can download and use for free.
If you build up a healthy presence on Yelp, you’ll receive a sticker. You can’t order these stickers. They’re given to you when you’re theatre has been having a postive impact. It shows people that you take Yelp seriously.
This kind of passive promotion will bring you much more thoughtful responses.
Quality over Quantity
We’re finally on that “More on that later” part of the post. Yelp scores and searches are driven by the quality of reviews, not the quantity. A raw 5-star review from a user doesn’t count for much by itself.
Many times earlier in this post, I mentioned that certain reviews won’t have a strong effect on your overall score. Your mom probably doesn’t write a lot of Yelp reviews. That’s taken into account. Any review from a user that only has one or two results is is going to have a smaller overall impact on your page than someone with 100s of reviews. Their review will also be buried at the bottom of the list. The more active a Yelp user is, the more clout their review carries. One positive review from an “Elite” member on Yelp is going to do a lot more for your Yelp presence than 10 reviews from audience members who you’ve solicited.
Taking the math out of it, you want experienced Yelp users leaving reviews because they speak the same language as the people who will be reading those reviews. Your ultimate goal is to bring more people to your theatre and your best bet is if the reviews they are reading are written by their peers.
It’s not an instant magic bullet. There are no magic bullets. Patience will pay off.
Say “Yes And”
Inevitably, you will receive a bad review. They’re never fun. Just like before, there’s no magic bullet to sweep this under the rug, but there are ways to continue to build a positive environment. It’s the same way we build positive scenes. With “Yes And”.
There are some reviews that are about one step above a YouTube comment. If they’re truly offensive or off-base, you can report them for review from Yelp, but in general they’ll just naturally go away by themselves. Not “go away” completely, but get shuffled down the obscure bowels of your reviews.
But you will also get legitimate well thought out negative reviews. Ones that did not enjoy your show or your space. Sometimes these reviews are true. Maybe you had an off night. Sometimes they’re a little unfair or inaccurate.
It’s tempting to prove them wrong. To show them how much they’re off base. But what does that accomplish? You’re engaging in a fight on their turf. If there’s any validity to their review, arguing about it makes you look like the bad guy, and it can bring a lot of negative backlash. (Instead of a simple hyperlink here, I strongly encourage you to read up on the story of Amy’s Baking Company as an example of destroying a businesses reputation in Yelp).
Instead, publicly respond and acknowledge the complaint. If possible, offer to make it right. If suggestions are offered, you don’t have to abide by them, but at least acknowledge the suggestions and promise to consider them. And do consider them. They may have a valid suggestion.
It isn’t uncommon at all for a bad review to be edited and improved if a reviewer feels that they’ve been heard and respected. A 1-Star review can be turned into a 3-star review. Even if it doesn’t, other viewers will see that you’re open to ideas and looking to engage.
Don’t freak about 4.3 Stars
If you have three reviews and they’re all 5 stars, that’s great! If you have 90 reviews and they’re all 5 stars, that’s fake. No one believes that. It’s not realistic. Yelp users are just as aware as you that not everyone is happy all the time. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. You want a good score, but a perfect score feels artificial and you will lose people.
Respect the culture
The short version of all of this is that Yelp, like any other social platform has a culture. If you advertise in Japan, you respect the culture of the Japanese people. If you want to attract people on Yelp, you have to respect the culture of Yelpers. They will respond in kind.
- Don’t flood your profile with reviews from people who aren’t part of the Yelp culture
- Make your venue a frienly and welcoming place for Yelp users
- Treat all reviews with the same respect you’d expect
If you do these things, you’ll build a healthier relationship with Yelp and your reviews will more accurately reflect what you truly are.
And don’t forget that Yelp is just part of a complete balanced breakfast. Make it part of your overall social strategy. Also, make sure to check in now and again with other review sites. You don’t want to split your focus all over the place, but at least check in on those places now and again and say hello to the people who are having conversations there.
Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.