Assessing Yelp’s New Messaging Functionality

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yelp-logoYelp recently rolled out a new feature that allows consumers to send and receive instant messages and interact with local businesses that have claimed their business page and activated the functionality.

While this isn’t a groundbreaking feature (Facebook started private messaging for business pages in 2011) it does put “social customer service” front-and-center on the reviews site. In the past, Yelp reviews have been something of a one-sided conversation, with the consumer in control, but this new messaging system creates more of a back-and-forth.

Character Limit
All throughout Yelp we run into 5000-character limits, both on the business side and the consumer side — from business descriptions to consumer review limits. With private messages, however, it looks like you can send as long of a message as you want. I tested a message with over 10,000 characters and it worked fine.

This begs the question: if a consumer has an unpleasant experience and wishes to discuss it behind closed doors (rather than in a negative public review), will they now do it with this new feature? Part of the impetus in implementing this new system may to discourage negative reviews, in general, in order to change the perception of the site as a place where business owners can get bashed by the public.

On & Accountable 
The new messaging feature is automatically turned “on.” So if a business has claimed its page, this feature is now live. Yelp has made it very easy to toggle “on” and “off,” so if a merchant isn’t ready to start answering messages in private, they can easily turn it off.

On top of the new service being turned “on” automatically it also tracks how long you take to respond to a message. When a consumer clicks on the option to send a message it will notify them of the time it will likely take for the business to respond.

Recent studies have shown that 42% of consumers expect a response on social media within 1 hour, so this feature could potentially be helpful or hurtful to business owners, depending on how effectively they stay on top of the messages. Not only will they be held accountable to answering customers on yet another medium, the speed with which they reply will be another barometer that consumers use to figure out how well the business does at social customer service.

So if a business can take the time to respond, then it should be turned “on.”  If it can’t, it should be turned “off.”

Real-Time Messaging
Baked into the messaging feature is a very convenient way to communicate with the consumer from the business side.

When the consumer sends a message, an email notification is sent to the email account that is tied to the business page with the original message included. If the business owner happens to be aware of the email notification hitting their phone or desktop, they can respond directly to the consumer by replying to the original email.

This makes having a conversation in real-time extremely easy, as the business owner does not have to be logged onto either the mobile or desktop application.

What’s Next?
This is the first major feature update that we’ve seen from Yelp in a while. Also soon to be released is a new feature with the functionality to allow consumers to upload videos — not just photos of business products. Yelp has also made moves into the reservation space with the purchase of SeatMe last year. It appears that Yelp wants to build out its reviews to become more of a robust social media site that offers an all-inclusive environment for both users and businesses.

-1Mikel Zaremba (@mikelzaremba) publishes a blog about local search and internet marketing for restaurants and other local businesses. He has worked with small local businesses and direct marketing for over 10 years. He also is an avid photographer that has photographed top rated restaurants and cocktail lounges in and around California.