Case study: Yelp

  • Find out how brand extensions are seeing online businesses moving offline, click here
  • Learn about Withoutabox IMDb’s online reach into the offline world, click here
  • Read our Q&A with chief commercial officer of Mind Candy (creator of Moshi Monsters), click here

Yelp began in San Francisco in 2004 as an online community where members could share experiences of businesses in their area. Consumers write reviews of all kinds of local providers, from dentists to mechanics.

About 53 million people a month visit Yelp’s sites, according to the company’s June 2011 figures. These sites now serve seven European countries, the US and Canada and more than 20 million reviews have been published.

But Yelp’s communities of users meet up and interact in the real world as well as online. According to UK and Ireland marketing director Kevin Lee, the concept was first proposed in 2005 when the company had not yet expanded beyond its Californian origins.

“We had users who were very active and engaged on the site and our first community manager said to our chief executive: ’We should get together and meet some of these people who are using the site.’ It seemed a crazy idea and our CEO was not thrilled about it. He said: ’Really? They’re weird, why do I want to meet them?’”

A software engineer by trade, CEO Jeremy Stoppelman’s reaction was perhaps typical of many online businesses whose customers might remain at arm’s length. But Yelp moved past this initial scepticism, finding that these active users – who not only frequent their local hotspots regularly but are also vocal in reviewing them – also tend to be very sociable in person.

Yelp now assembles groups of “elite” members for monthly events in each of the major cities in which it operates. What started as an informal gathering of strangers with wine and nibbles in a San Francisco boutique has since become a regular fixture in each of Yelp’s markets, engendering personal relationships that are then taken back to the online forum.

Lee adds: “All of our community managers, who organise these events all around the world, partner with independent local businesses. There are opportunities almost every month for these businesses to promote themselves to this core group of our consumer base per year.”

Elite members are further encouraged to interact with less regular users and generate greater participation on the site. Yelp also organises open events requiring only that those attending sign up for a free online account. This, argues Lee, is a means of bringing in new users to the brand, as well as providing a showcase for businesses.

A recent example took place at the British Music Experience, an interactive museum within The O2 music venue in London. About 300 Yelp members attended the event, where local food and drink brands such as the Meantime Brewery, Otto Pizza and ice cream shop Gelupo served visitors, receiving reviews on the Yelp site as a result.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here