While I don’t think this is a huge story yet, I am convinced that it’s a glimpse of what’s to come. Websites like Amazon and E-pinion were early outlets for people wishing to comment on consumer goods. More recently, sites like Google, Yelp, and a handful of lesser-knowns, are challenging old world success stories like Zagat for dominance in the business of reviews. It’s no surprise that we’re now seeing people use sites like Yelp to write reviews for schools as well. And while most reviews may be good, some are not so favorable. Schools take note – these anonymous reviews can hold a lot of weight with a lot of people. Managing your brand online, or at the very least, being aware of it, is of utmost importance to schools trying to outperform another in order to keep a positive reputation, and their admissions rolling.
Let’s examine Yelp to get an idea of numbers and possible impact. Yelp.com is a social networking, user review, and local search site. The site smartly combines loyal reviews and social networking in hopes of creating an online community that can, over time, become the go-to site for legitimate reviews of local businesses and events. As Yelp has grown, so has its “places of interest.” No longer are reviewers just talking about bad service, an undercooked meal or a fabulous haircut. Now they are talking about your doctor’s inappropriate bedside manner, the immediacy of hotel room service, and even admissions or sports at a particular school. As Yelp’s listings vary greatly in nature, so do its reviews. Schools need be mindful.
Yelp’s CFO, Herman Vlado recently mentioned, “Yelp grew from 39 million visitors to the site in November 2010 to 45 million visitors in January this year.” Now imagine how many of those reviews and visits target schools. The impact this could have on schools may be undetermined, yet it is clearly important.
And while Yelp may lead the pack right now, many sites are charging forward by recognizing this information wave. Most recently, Google introduced Hotpot, a ratings tool and recommendation engine that has been a hot topic since its introduction in November. Early reviews of Hotpot emphasize its attempt to tango with social sites like Facebook, Yelp and others, but given Google’s position in the market, it’s not clear how much they need the help of others. Hotpot has the potential to place user recommendations at the center of the internet, enhancing search results with relevant user feedback. And while Hotpot’s focus is local, the significant difference remains that reviews and information come only from people that are brought into your network — thus, it is just as importantly social. These sites are a new reality for schools, just like for any other business. Something worth paying attention to.