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Connecting local businesses with the Pittsburgh community: A Q&A with Rachel Carlson of Yelp!

When you think of the popular review website, Yelp!, what comes to mind? A place to check out where to eat out on Friday night, maybe a good forum for a scathing review on the service you received at a local store?  The site does serve both of those functions, but here in Pittsburgh, Rachel Carlson, Yelp!’s local community manager reaches beyond the backlit screen to show local and small businesses how to connect with their customers and thereby, the communities they operate in.
But that’s not where Carlson’s role as a community connector ends. You’ll find the 31-year-old working at different local coffee shops from week to week, hatching her latest plans for events that bring the online to real life; for instance, a blogger happy hour at Maggie’s Farm Rum. Another event she’s got in the works is with Arcade Comedy Theater on April 10 at which local actors will read actual Yelp! reviews.
These evenings amount to people from the Pittsburgh community interacting with entrepreneurs and business owners, igniting new relationships and helping our changing city remain a tightly knit population.
Pop City had a chance to chat with Carlson about why the work she does for Yelp!, a national website, is so vital to Pittsburgh.

How did you end up at Yelp!?
I saw the Yelp! job on Indeed and it asked if I was passionate about my city and I was like Yes! Are you out and about? I was like yes! They were just launching Pittsburgh, so it took about five months and four interviews and in May, 2011 I was offered the community manager position.

How has working at Yelp! Positively impacted you? How about the Pittsburgh community?
I love, love, love watching the Pittsburgh community work together. I don’t think you get that in every city where business owners work together to help a neighborhood be better.
Also, I think I have a more intimate knowledge of the city and the people who work so hard to make it fantastic. Learning about local business owners in Pittsburgh is so interesting to me, and kind of humbling. I couldn’t see myself opening a restaurant or boutique. I really respect the business owners in Pittsburgh for what they’re doing; to see something they have a passion for come to fruition.
When people think of Yelp! I think they think about finding crowd-sourced knowledge about local businesses—what else is there about Yelp! that people are missing?
I think that the one thing I would love to see grow in Pittsburgh are the things that are essential to daily life in Pittsburgh. I tell people I found my dentist on Yelp! I, embarrassingly, had not gone to a dentist in five years and there were five, five-star reviews of my dentist and I love him. I told another Yelper and now they’re going to him. There aren’t a lot of reviews about painters or plumbers. I’d love to see that grow too. I think those small  businesses are just as important as restaurants, salons, and boutiques.
How do you work with small local businesses to make Yelp! work for them?
My job is to help local businesses use Yelp! as a tool to make their business better. The tools I provide are completely free. I focus on telling business owners to claim the business page and have ownership of that, including putting a widget on their website so people can click through to review them on Yelp! If you see a Yelp! logo, you know you can go review them. I love being able to show them that they can see what their stats are on the back end and that it’s a great way to connect to the consumer good or bad by responding to reviews. Business owners have the power to connect on Yelp!.
Where does Yelp! PGH have room to grow? What is your vision for the future?
I think there is so much more to do and share about Yelp! in the city. It’s such an exciting time in Pittsburgh and I want Yelp! to be a part of that. At our events, I love gazing out over the crowd and I think to myself, I can’t believe that I did this, connecting these people with local businesses. There are so many more businesses that haven’t connected on Yelp! and so many great exciting, energized business owners that I want to showcase too.
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