I can’t take credit for the Yelp Small Business Advisory Council but I can say that I was encouraging people at the company several years ago to meet with small businesses and solicit their feedback. It’s a logical idea and Yelp finally did it.
Cut to two years later and Yelp is heading into its third Advisory Council (application for interested SMBs here). The company got many suggestions from its Advisory Council, many of which have resulted in new features and services.
It’s probably the smartest single thing that Yelp did on the merchant side. It not only generates product suggestions it provides Yelp a perpetual focus group to test ideas. And it creates good will.
Google and others have done roadshows and periodic SMB surveys and focus groups. But as far as I’m aware nobody has put together a sustained advisory group like this. I would be wise for others to emulate the model.
Yelp and the New York Stock Exchange (on which Yelp is listed) also earlier announced a roadshow to help educate SMBs about online marketing. The NYSE is also providing some funding to local business owners as part of the tour:
The tour, which debuts in Tucson, AZ, on June 12, 2012, will provide small business owners across the U.S. with access to local resources to help finance their entrepreneurial dreams and increase their online marketing power by learning best practices for engaging with online review sites.
Yelp hopes to build awareness for the site and to gain some new SMB customers along the way. Yelp told me a couple of weeks ago that the site has 700,000 claimed business profiles. At the end of Q1 Yelp said it had 27,300 “active local business accounts.”