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Community Manager Cara Lageson Connects Reviewers with Businesses at Local Networking Events

By Amanda Bates  |  Photo by Thomas Skernivitz

A few years ago Cara Lageson was just your average user on Yelp, the world’s most popular review site. She turned to the site, and the app, to find the best local businesses. Now, she is the face and the driving force behind Cleveland’s Yelp community.

Most people are familiar with Yelp as a hub for consumers to rate their experiences with everything from restaurants and hotels to legal services and pet clinics. However, Yelp is actually a two-way street, where companies can claim their pages and gain access to a free suite of business owner tools. Lageson, a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University and lifelong resident of Northeast Ohio, lists engaging with business owners as one of her favorite parts of being Cleveland’s community manager.

Lageson, who has a background in social media marketing, blogging, and public relations, was approached by Yelp in 2010 when the Cleveland community manager position was created. A self-proclaimed busy-body, she was up for the challenge of growing Yelp’s presence in the area.

“I was so excited about the opportunity to … get to work with local businesses and support the city I love,” Lageson says. “What attracted me to Yelp was that I respected and believed in the mission as something I could stand by and be proud of.

“At first, it was a lot of outreach on my part to business owners, utilizing the connections I’ve built over my lifetime in Northeast Ohio.” As the Yelp community continued to grow, she found more businesses reaching out to her, looking for ways to increase their visibility and interaction with customers through the site.

Hosting a Yelp Elite Event is one of the most effective ways for businesses to connect with potential customers, according to Lageson. Each month, she coordinates several events in which Cleveland’s most active Yelpers have the opportunity to check out an area business, free of charge. In October the Elite Squad enjoyed complimentary cocktail tastings, food and unlimited game play at the recently opened 16-Bit Bar+Arcade in Lakewood. In August Lageson threw the first-ever Cleveland Yelpy Awards to celebrate the best of Cleveland’s Yelp community at the Horsehoe Casino downtown.

These events encourage customers to connect with businesses they otherwise might have overlooked. “It’s all about showcasing the great local businesses that make Cleveland unique to the vibrant Yelp Elite Community. So, we get to be really flexible, making sure the host business gets to show off the way they want to,” Lageson says.

Drew Hardy, the manager at Chutney Rolls near University Circle, says that he saw many new faces at the Yelp Elite event the restaurant hosted in September. As a relatively new restaurant – it opened in August 2013 – Hardy says about 70 percent of his business comes from new customers. “We always like to ask people how they heard of us, and 40 to 50 percent of people say they came in because they saw us on Yelp,” Hardy says.

Events are not the only way businesses can increase their exposure through Yelp. The site and mobile application also offer a free suite of business owner tools, including the ability to add information and photos to their company’s page, respond publicly or privately to user reviews, and access analytics and badges for use on their own websites. Businesses can also set up special deals to users who check in at their location on Yelp; for instance a restaurant could offer a free appetizer for users to redeem on their next visit.

Cleveland businesses should be excited about Yelp because it’s their direct link to their customers.

Another part of Lageson’s busy routine is meeting with owners to discuss and answer questions about using these tools and best practices for businesses on Yelp.

“I get invited to many small business roundtables, visitors’ bureau meetings, etc. that also offer me the opportunity to interact with local businesses,” Lageson says. These meetings are in addition to the online Q&A sessions Yelp holds in order to support owners and address their concerns.

“Cleveland businesses should be excited about Yelp because it’s their direct link to their customers,” she says. According to a recent study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, small business owners have benefited from maintaining an active presence on Yelp, earning an average of $8,000 in annual revenue from the site.

“It’s about building those lasting relationships between locals and the faces behind the businesses that keep Cleveland going,” Lageson says. 

For more information: biz.yelp.com

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