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A behind-the-scenes look at the Yelp community team



Yelp community managers (CMs) and members of the Yelp Elite Squad work together across the United States to bring attention to the best small businesses in their area. Through events and social media, CMs and Elites build relationships with small business owners and use their behind-the-scenes experiences to show other customers what makes small businesses so special. 

But what does it really mean to be a Yelp Elite? Who, exactly, are community managers? And how can they help you? We talked to two Yelp employees, Gabi Messinger and Aimee Knebel-Dougherty, who got their starts as community managers to explain the value of Yelp’s local networks.

Who makes up the Yelp community?

Yelp has about 85 community managers on the ground throughout the U.S., in addition to 50+ part-time community ambassadors. Gabi, who now serves as the vice president of community management at Yelp, defines the role of community manager as the local face of the Yelp brand.

“Something that makes Yelp really unique compared to any other website or app out there is that we have folks on the ground, meeting face-to-face with community members and business owners, planning events, and facilitating these connections that are so special to every single community that we have a presence in,” Gabi said.

For example, you might see a community manager on the local news or social media talking about a new campaign, opportunities to partner with Yelp, or the best burger in the area. They also put together collections of great local businesses, which are sent to Yelp Elites in a weekly newsletter. 

The Yelp Elite Squad is the second tier of the local Yelp community—Yelp users who have been selected as top reviewers in their area and gain entry to exclusive events and other opportunities. 

“They’re kind of like local influencers, and all of them use their real name and a real photo,” Gabi said. “They’re folks who just want to support local businesses and make sure that people have a positive experience with the businesses they’re using, whether it be a restaurant, a doctor, a plumber, an automaton mechanic, a hotel… Elites are sharing everything that there is to know about their local community.”

Numbers change, but values remain the same

As Yelp grew over the years to become a household name, the community management team’s strategies for connecting people with the best local businesses evolved, too—but the brand’s values have endured. 

The number one priority for Yelpers has been, and continues to be, to connect people with great local businesses. “None of the core values of the Elite squad and why we’re all here has changed,” Aimee, now a senior regional community lead at Yelp, said. “I remember when I was a CM, and I had that bigger purpose-type moment when I met other Elites.” 

Aimee also noted that while most Elites initially meet through Yelp-sponsored events, many develop deep friendships that extend beyond the meet-ups. 

Some early campaigns have stuck around over the years—in one of Aimee’s favorites, Elites are given a “passport” that grants them access to a specific neighborhood’s businesses. 

“[We’d choose] a city that we thought deserves more attention,” Aimee said. “Elites got to make their way down the street over the course of two weeks and hit up all different kinds of businesses.” The team is still running versions of this type of event in 2022 to help locals find those hidden gems.

Motivations to post reviews

With over 244 million cumulative reviews on the app, it’s clear that people love sharing their thoughts on the businesses they visit. According to a survey by GatherUp, most reviewers are motivated to write because they had a great experience and want to boost that business online.

“I know from conversations with Elites over the years that their reviews tend to be positive in nature—they want to be a cheerleader for these local businesses,” Gabi said. The mutually beneficial relationship between reviewers and business owners creates connections within the community and encourages reviewers to stay engaged in the wellbeing of their local businesses. 

“Sometimes business owners actually thank them for the review, or maybe they go in for another visit in the future and they are recognized because of their review—that’s one of the major reasons that folks love being Elite because they see that it’s making a big difference and it’s helping their local community in so many different ways,” Gabi said.

How to get involved

If you’re a business interested in hosting a Yelp Elite event and would like to connect with your local CM, please submit an inquiry. Plus check out www.yelp.com/events to see local events happening in your area. 

Anyone can become a Yelp Elite—even business owners on Yelp. If you’re interested in becoming a Yelp Elite reviewer or know someone who would make a great member of the Elite squad, you can nominate them at www.yelp.com/elites.

Photos by Michael Durr; interviews by Emily Washcovick and editorial contributions from Jenna Spray


These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Gabi and Aimee, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.

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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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