Sarah Peterson’s job is either enviable or terrifying, depending on whether you’re an extrovert or a shrinking violet. As community manager for Yelp in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Peterson works with thousands of local Yelpers, facilitating civil, spirited, honest discussion of local businesses and putting together events that make the site a conduit for… if you can believe it… actual physical human interaction.
“The key behind Yelp is that it is all about the community and real people and real reviews,” says Peterson. “So the idea is that instead of somebody anonymous writing you can click on that person’s profile, find out about them through the other places they have been, find out whether or not you guys even think the same way.”
Yelp’s Minneapolis/St. Paul edition launched late last summer, but has already built up enough of a following to give foodies a way to keep current on area trends and hotspots.
“Let’s say you see somebody like… well, a great guy who I really like, his name is Zachary S.,” says Peterson. “We tend to think along the same lines. He also lives over in Saint Paul though, so he is exploring different spots that maybe I wouldn’t find immediately — he stalked Cheeky Monkey before it even opened.”
The Yelp effect leads not only to cross-town discoveries that would otherwise be out of reach; it also leads to ongoing information-sharing relationships.
“So, then, we get to know each other online, send each other compliments, you vote on reviews, and then with each community we meet offline,” says Peterson. “That could be a get together when Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza opened up for example, or a trip to Cheeky Monkey, or the pub crawls, or knitting clubs. It’s just very community based. It’s cool.”
Peterson’s background includes teaching English abroad for a number of years and working in D.C. for CIPE, a non-governmental organization that promotes democracy for free market reform abroad. The sort of skills she picked up in those jobs are often called “soft skills”, which come in handy when she has to lead by example, add event listings that are a good fit for the group, and stoke the fires of conversation.
“It’s really all about growing the community here,” says Peterson. “Making sure everybody’s being a good Internet citizen online, that businesses aren’t spamming, or people aren’t spamming businesses, people are using Yelp the way that it should be — it’s not a dating site.”
For Peterson, Yelp is appealing as a bridge builder — not only between people, but between the Twin Cities and suburbs, as well.
“I think a lot of people on Yelp have really enjoyed the opportunity to expand their horizons,” she says. “People don’t necessarily float between the [Twin Cities], but I have found Yelp — and I know others have, too — so helpful and useful in motivating me to take five minutes and get over to St. Paul and explore it and understand it.”
Browse Yelp’s Minneapolis/St. Paul edition and sign up to contribute your own reviews.