Gabi Messinger holds a sign as she works on marketing materials for Yelp.

Gabi Messinger will know the economy is on the mend when she sees an uptick in Yelp reviews.

Messinger, Yelp’s vice president of community management, has been with the business review website more than 13 years. She oversees a team of about 100 community managers across the U.S. and Canada who work to support business owners in their communities. The team handles social media, weekly newsletters, marketing partnerships and plans events and perks for Yelp’s Elite Squad — the site’s most active and influential users.

Messinger was drawn to Yelp’s company culture from the get-go. “The people I met in the beginning and the people I work with today are authentic, down to earth, creative and smart,” she said. “They keep me challenged and inspired.” She feels fortunate to work at a company that recognizes the employees’ diverse religious and cultural observances.

According to Yelp, 36.8% of the company’s employee population identifies as part of an underrepresented minority group, and Messinger says “a fair amount” of her colleagues are Jewish.

“I do bring my Jewish self to work in that I make it a point to acknowledge when there is a Jewish holiday and often find myself educating my non-Jewish team members about our customs,” she said.

Messinger lives in Arcadia with her family and spoke to Jewish News about Yelp’s role during COVID and what comes next.

What are some things you wish people knew about Yelp?

We’ve become a pretty known brand, but one point that I would make is that we’re really positive, and more than just a restaurant review website and app. We’re all about supporting local businesses, and the majority of the reviews on the site are three stars and higher. We are a trusted resource with reviews in many industries from home and local services, automotive, parks, pet related businesses, hotels, salons, healthcare and more.

The people that are actually taking the time to post photos and write reviews are mostly positive in nature. All we want to do is really support these business owners, especially now during the pandemic.

How does Yelp support local businesses?

The community team hosts events in support of local business owners, and, pre-COVID, those were in person. Starting in March of last year, we pivoted really quickly and were one of the first companies to start hosting virtual events. We’ve had some really unique virtual events where we brought on business owners and entertainment.

We’ve found ways to support businesses where they can still, in a safe way, sell meal kits to people so that they can come on and learn to cook with a chef that’s local, or bake cookies with a local baker, or make drinks with a bartender, or do something crafty with their kids and their families with a local store that sells those crafts.

There’s so many ways that we’ve pivoted and kept the community engaged with our brand as well.

What are some social media trends you are seeing that local businesses should be aware of?

Purpose-driven campaigns are really big right now. Everyone just wants to help others coming out of the pandemic; acts of kindness are important. We’re finding that stories and videos are popular, as well as live-streaming on social media. And, for businesses or just brands looking to get out there, the key is brands that are authentic and transparent and uplifting — that have vibrant pictures, unique and memorable content of any kind.

One kind of campaign that my team is working on lately is a “meet the owner” campaign, where they’re really giving the back story of the business owner and how they came to build their business and what the community can do to support them.

Can you speak to the power of a Yelp review?

I would say that our Elites are very powerful. They have a badge by their name and people are seeing their reviews more often when they’re doing their research before they go spend their money. Yelp is so powerful because you can really do your research before you go support a business to make sure you’re going to one that is going to give you a positive experience.

How long does it take for people to become Yelpers?

It really depends on the person and the experience that they’re having. I’d say the majority of our users are just using Yelp as a resource. And then usually, it’s a really positive experience that makes them want to share that with their local community. So that’s when they create their free profile, and post their review or photo. It might be six months after they start using the site, or it might be years later — I hear the gamut.

How does one become an Elite reviewer?

You can nominate yourself or you can nominate someone else that you think is worthy. You need to have a real name and a real photo — which is something that we pride ourselves on because we are real people leaving real reviews. And then there’s a national committee that goes through and decides if they’re Elite-worthy based on the content of their reviews, and it is an annual program.

What do you do about people who abuse Yelp and use it to bash businesses?

I think that is the minority. But we do have fabulous tools available for business owners, where they can really engage folks that may be leaving a negative review, and share their side of the story, either publicly or privately with those users. The people that are using it as a resource can see both sides of the story if they do see a negative review. And not every experience is going to be a positive one, so we definitely see those on occasion.

How have you seen COVID’s impact on Yelp?

With the people staying safe at home, they haven’t been out and about and experiencing local businesses in the same way as pre-COVID. As a result, people have less content, fewer experiences to review. But we’re starting to see that increase again, which is really exciting. And, you know, hopefully that trend continues, because I know everybody is excited to get back to some kind of normalcy where we can be out and about, and perhaps hopefully soon revisit hosting in-person events of some sort.

What are some of the things that you foresee coming out of the COVID recession?

Yelp's economic data demonstrated the resilience of business owners across the US. In fact, Phoenix had nearly 4,500 businesses temporarily close and reopen between March and December of 2020 and I think now we are lucky that we’re in a time that we’re able to support businesses in the Valley, inside and outside with the latest mandates right now. I’ve started to see already how excited people are to go into businesses and to go face-to-face with more than one or two people. I foresee more of that to come in the future. JN