Interview: Chantelle Karl, Public Relations Manager, East Coast, Yelp


Yelp, whose mission is “To connect people with great local businesses,” has been growing fast as of late. “Yelp has nearly doubled its U.S. audience, while incumbent CitySearch has remained flat,” reported TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld earlier this month. PRNewser spoke recently with Yelp Public Relations Manager, East, Chantelle Karl.

Karl handles Yelp PR for markets including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, D.C., Atlanta, Miami and Detroit. Additionally, she oversees communications for recently opened Canada and UK markets. We spoke with Karl about how social media fits into her work (“The first thing I do in the morning is log into Tweetdeck to monitor any chatter…”), how the PR team deals with sometimes controversial issues around its crowd sourced reviews (“…any company can always be doing a better job of education.”) and why the company chooses to keep all PR in-house (“The advantage is that we’re all focused singularly on Yelp…”). Click continued for the full interview.

How does social media fit into your work. Obviously this is different from most brands given Yelp’s line of business. Where have you found success? What works/what doesn’t?

Aside from the fact that I work for an online brand like Yelp, social media is actually a big part of my role; mainly because I had already incorporated many of these tools in my everyday life. The first thing I do in the morning is log into Tweetdeck to monitor any chatter on @Yelp or answer any questions. I then spend a good 30 minutes going through Google Reader to catch up on the morning’s topics and send out any relevant articles on trends, competitors, etc to the team. I also handle the Yelp Facebook page and contribute heavily to the Yelp Official Blog.

For me, social media success has definitely been learned through doing and I think it’s also completely dependent on how engaged you are or plan to be. I tell anyone who is interested in getting involved in such tools to think first about why you want to be there. Just like any other outlet from a traditional news source to a blog or social network, no effort is effective without circling back to an underlying goal. Additionally, starting the conversation early – ahead of announcements or launches – will build a community that will be more ready to listen or support you when the time comes.

How do you deal with challenges like the recent New York magazine story, “Yelp and Its Discontents, Why does a simple review site drive people so crazy?” for example?

This was a follow-up to a bigger piece that reporter Paul Smalera did on Yelp. I actually think it was a great story as it addresses a lot of tough questions that were researched and addressed quite positively by a 3rd party. Of course, any company can always be doing a better job of education and that remains one of our biggest focuses: how we can more effectively communicate with consumers and/or business owners on how to use the site. Specifically, in the past 6 months, we’ve focused on communicating more directly with business owners and revamped our site: Yelp for Business Owners, as well as appointed a Manager of Local Business Outreach that has already resulted in a lot of positive feedback.

You don’t have an agency, correct? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of companies going this route?

No, Yelp doesn’t work with an agency. All of our PR is kept in-house. I did have the privilege of working with agencies including Ogilvy and Bite Communications before I came to Yelp, so I definitely understand and appreciate the value an agency can bring to the table. However, for us, our team does everything from soup to nuts and currently it doesn’t make sense to invest in an outside resource. The advantage is that we’re all focused singularly on Yelp and arguably have a much stronger understanding on how news, issues, trends, etc. play into the bigger company picture and can respond quickly to any given situation.

How does mobile play into Yelp’s marketing and PR strategy?

Mobile is a huge focus for Yelp right now as you may have seen from the recently released v.3 of our iPhone app, as well as the introduction of Yelp for both Blackberry and Palm. People are increasingly spending their lives online but away from their computers; having a reliable utility like Yelp for your mobile handset has been integral to discovering great businesses on the go. While these tools have also been initially focused on the consumer, we also just released Sales and Offers Near You on the iPhone that is a great resource for business owners to drive traffic through their door. Not to mention key for Happy Hour!

Our mobile products have helped further deepen our engagement with our users. Over the weekend we often see mobile usage pick up significantly as desk side traffic drops off as people get out and about, and then the inverse happens during the week days. We’re lucky that the usefulness of the products themselves do much of the evangelizing for us, not that a little legwork didn’t go into it from our end, as well!

Can you talk a bit about Yelp’s efforts to date in “measuring” PR?

Sure. Our focus is absolutely on quality vs. quantity. If all we got is one piece, but it captures everything we set out to say, then that’s a win for us. Meetings and conversations are also a key focus for us. Additionally, we track social media chatter on Twitter and Facebook and love to hear the buzz from our users – both Yelpers and business owners. Feedback is via these outlets is incredibly important to us and is always shared with the appropriate team, as well.