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Yelp launches in NZ today.
During a pre-launch interview, vice-president of new markets Miriam Warren told NBR Online that Yelp.co.nz would go live with thousands of customer reviews of restaurants, cafes and various retailers already in place.
"It’s not very fun to go to a party with no booze or no food, so we've purchased a database of businesses and seeded the market with content.”
MORE: Read ex-Localist boss Blair Glubb's verdict on Yelp NZ's prospects, and more on the launch, in NBR's print edition tomorrow.
Certainly, there is a lot of content already in situ.
Ms Warren said Yelp has hired a local content manager, who is working from home, as staff in Australia and other territories the US site has expanded into over the past couple of years (Yelp won't name the person, saying the position has yet to be finalised).
For a solo operator, the Auckland-based community manager has certainly been busy, scaring up a small army of contributors.
Many restaurants and other establishments already have nine or 10 reviews.
Like all-comers, Yelp has faced controversy at times over fake reviews. So how did these ones appear immediately on Yelp NZ's first day?
Ms Warren said marketing contractors were used to help arrange the early content (if you know/can spot where Yelp bought its listings database, or have a bead on who it worked with for content, do spill by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. In Australia, Yelp partnered with Sensis - the Telstra division that operates the Aussie Yellow Pages. Here, review content on Yellow Local is so moribund and scare that wouldn't appear to be an option.
[UPDATE: This morning a Yelp rep added: "In each new market Yelp uses a local ‘scouting party’ to propagate the site with reviews based on their experiences. This means there is existing content for new users on day one. (Each review of this type is marked by a ‘scout badge’). From launch day on its up to the local community to add their own reviews. And yes they are all exclusive to Yelp."]
NBR penned a quick note about a cafe in Mt Eden, which immediately went live on Yelp.co.nz. Businesses can respond publicly or privately, after the fact.
Yelp launched in San Francisco in 2004, practically inventing the concept of the customer review - or at least popularising it for the internet age.
Auckland in 2013 is a very different beast, of course.
Many businesses are on Facebook, harvesting likes and customer comments, have listed with NZ Post's Yelp-like Localist (which recently started expanding beyond Auckland), or have taken advantage of Localist and Yellow's role as Google Ad Words resellers (a core business for both companies these days). And then there's a half dozen sources of customer reviews, from Google Places to the likes of Menu Mania that clog the top of any search as you struggle to quickly find the URL to a restaurant's own website.
NBR noticed during sign-up that Yelp has some heavy-duty Facebook integration (see screen grabs below).
Click to zoom.
And Ms Warren sees other ways the site will make up time after being so late to the NZ party. An "elite squad" of prolific contributors is being assembled, along the lines of Localist's "The 100".
A basic business listing is free, as with other guides. For now, it's free for businesses to add their blurbs and photos, too. (There is a focus on Auckland with the pre-canned listings launched today, but businesses from anywhere in NZ can register).
Unlike some sites (think Wheedle, or the Localist and Yellow Local at launch), Yelp is launching with iPhone and Android apps - and mobile tools for businesses - already in place.
The company's got a lot of expertise, and scale. NZ is the 21st country it's launched in, and along the way its harvested 36 million customer reviews. It went public last year [NYSE:YELP] and ha a $US1.66 billion as of market close Tuesday – not bad a company that lost $US19 million on $US138 million revenue last year (it was profitable on an ebitda basis).
And then there's the power of the Yelp name.
Ex-Localist boss Glubb is not sure of the latter. Glubb is a big Yelp fan, and often described Localist as a Yelp for NZ when discussing it with clients. He was often met with blank stares. It's just not a brand New Zealanders know, he told NBR.
The US company is going full force to change that.
I hope so competition is good, and customer reviews are useful at a time when most publications are hamstrung by advertorial, or hostage to he opinions of a single critic.
But as for me, for now I'm going to stick with asking my Twitter (and Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn) followers for recommendation - from people I know, and whose tastes I'm familiar with.