August 2012

According to The Weather Channel, Tropical Storm Isaac will make its landfall on the northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico sometime Tuesday.
With Hurricane Katrina still fresh in the minds of many in that region, particularly residents of New Orleans, preparedness is the name of the game for big storms such as Isaac. That’s why the city has set up a NOLA Ready website and Twitter account to get information out as it becomes available.

“If the storm does something incredibly crazy, we will react to that, but at this moment there is no plan to evacuate the City of #NOLA,” one tweet announced Monday, followed by this quote from Mayor Mitch Landrieu:

“If you plan to leave, you feel comfortable leaving and you have a place to go, don’t wait. Now would be a good time to go.”

New Orleans officials were, quite understandably, unavailable Monday (a call to City Hall resulted in a busy signal), but local communications professionals mostly said city and state social media efforts in the face of the emergency have been handled well.

What they’re doing right

“The updates are engaging, informative, and timely,” says Sara Estes Cohen, an emergency response and social media strategist in New Orleans. “The profiles also respond to questions and statements easily and quickly.”

Some of the direct responses to citizens have come from the mayor’s Twitter account, often with the intent of correcting misinformation. The NOLA Ready account has mostly been answering questions about closings and transit changes.

Estes Cohen particularly says the state’s Twitter account for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has stayed on top of things well.

“I’ve also noticed that most parishes have mentioned their social media accounts on the news this morning and have been encouraging viewers to sign up for notifications, to check websites, etc.,” she says.

Tripp Frohlichstein of MediaMasters Training says the social media accounts are doing a really nice job of sharing links to information.

“This is great for a large percentage of people in the area,” he says. “However, it must be remembered that there are large numbers of people that don’t have access to social media, or simply don’t use it. So it is important they also use traditional electronic media to keep people updated.”

Jeff Zehnder of New Orleans-based Zehnder Communications says the mayor’s office has done “a stellar job” coordinating communications with parish and state officials to get information out through social media. He adds that the availability of social channels makes it much easier to spread word of what’s happening now, compared with when Katrina hit in 2005.

Potential missteps

Though the city’s social media efforts are thorough, Frohlichstein says they could be a little more personal.

“Perhaps it is implied, but I think it would enhance the efforts of the local and state governments to note that everything they are doing is to keep people safe,” he says.

For example, Frohlichstein points to a tweet from the governor’s emergency preparedness office:

“Gov @BobbyJindal: Authorized activation of up to 4,000 LA Nat’l Guardsmen if necessary for #Isaac; 700 fulltime Guardsmen working today.”

It should maybe read more like this:

“Gov @BobbyJindal: Authorized activation of up to 4,000 LA Nat’l Guardsmen if necessary for #Isaac to make sure we keep people safe and protect their property; 700 fulltime Guardsmen working today.” (That does exceed Twitter’s 140-character limit, but the point Frohlichstein raises is one of tone.)

Communications strategist and former CBS News correspondent David Henderson, who blogged about Isaac on Sunday, says he sees the NOLA Ready site and the Twitter accounts as mostly self-serving.

“The [NOLA Ready] website is too wordy, too generic, and too politically correct by presenting all the press releases of the various politicians,” he says. “It seems more about the local politicians than an emergency service for residents.”

Same goes for the Twitter accounts, Henderson opines. Most New Orleans residents will be getting their news by radio.

“Internet penetration in the region is considerably below the national norm, and social media, including Twitter, is even less effective for reaching people in the area,” he says.

Another problem? The NOLA Ready has some information available only in PDF form, which is a sure way no one will read it, Henderson asserts.

Internal emergency comms

What about how businesses in the storm’s path are communicating with employees? SAS doesn’t have any offices directly in Isaac’s immediate path, but it’s seen its share of big storms with offices in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas.

“As long as it is a life-safety event, all communications are handled by our safety and security team,” says Becky Graebe, SAS’s internal communications manager. “There are communication tools in place for them to automatically post alerts to our intranet home page as a top-of-screen banner. The security team also has an Emergency Notification System that can be used to notify employees in that specific location.”

After the storm, earthquake, or other event is over, communicators post regular updates to the company’s Employee Voices blog and invite employees to offer support, she says.

Matt Wilson is a staff writer for


PR News Hotlist: 8 Tips to Boost Engagement on Facebook

By Bill Miltenberg, PR News

Whether a brand has 50,000 or 50 fans on their Facebook page, when that weekly “Weekly Facebook Page Update” e-mail lands in a PR pro’s or social media manager’s inbox, they want to see their engagement numbers consistently increase week over week.

To boost results, Tim Haran, who’ll be speaking at PR News’ Oct. 2 Social Media Measurement Conference in New York and who serves as senior manager of social media, USANA Health Sciences (which just wrapped a four-day 20th anniversary celebration event with thousands of independent distributors in Salt Lake City), says brands have to engage fans on a consistent basis, and not just when there’s and event or initiative to promote.

Priya Ramesh, director of social media for CRT/tanaka and also a speaker at PR News’ Oct. 2 conference, says that deep engagement on Facebook is about balancing rich content with push-pull tactics to keep the audience engaged. Here are Haran’s and Ramesh’s tips to supercharge your Facebook engagement numbers, starting today.

  1. Photos Are Key: Use images whenever possible. “Facebook is increasingly visual, and the more eye-popping your updates, the more apt people are to share them,” says Haran. “Our audience especially likes behind-the-scenes type photos that make them feel as if they are part of a special club.”
  2. Include a Call to Action: Come right out and tell readers to “please share” or “like this.” “It sounds silly, but people are more likely to follow through when you ask them to do something specific,” says Haran. “Informal polling through like vs. comment also has worked for us (i.e. a photo of two products: Click like if you are a fan of Product A. Leave a comment if you’re fonder of Product B.)”
  3. Schedule Posts: Take advantage of Facebook’s “scheduled posts” feature. Keep time zones in mind—if you are on the West Coast but have a pocket of fans in New York or even internationally, schedule an update to go live when those folks are waking up or walking into the office. This works for weekends and holidays as well. Just because you have the day off doesn’t mean your audience is taking a day off from Facebook, says Haran. Keep the momentum going.
  4. Keep Your Posts Short: “Our experience shows anything longer than three lines [will prompt readers to move] to the next item in the news feed before even thinking about liking, commenting or sharing it,” says Haran. Even better, keep the post to a few words and include a photo (400 pixels wide and about the same depth to fit nicely in a single column if visitors see it on your Timeline).
  5. Content Rules: You can strategically time your posts all you want, but if the content isn’t shareable or likable, it won’t get shared or liked, says Haran. With that in mind, be judicious about what you’re posting. Make each post count and give visitors a reason to like it, comment on it or share it.
  6. Timing: Facebook activity peaks at 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day—people are starting their days on Facebook and then come back home and engage on Facebook after dinner, says Ramesh. Retailers and brands that want to maximize engagement should keep Facebook peak times in mind and not consider it as a 9-5 kind of schedule.
  7. Content Format: Photos and now social videos are becoming the best Facebook content formats to get the most likes, comments and shares. “Recently, CRT/tanaka client Rioja Wines posted a licensed photo of Betty White holding a giant wine glass, which received the most ever engagement resulting from a wall post: 262 likes, 92 shares and 27 comments,” says Ramesh. Other good examples of brands using inspirational photos on Facebook are Life is Good, The North Face and Walgreens.
  8. Make It Relevant: Instead of talking solely about yourself, your products and services, brands must also find ways to make their updates more timely and relevant to events/activities at the local/national level that affect their friends and community on Facebook. “I have seen some good examples of brands leveraging the recent London Olympics into their daily updates making a connection between the games, the brand and their audience,” says Ramesh.


Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg; Tim Haran: @timharan; Priya Ramesh: @newpr

To learn more about engagement tactics and how to measure the success of your social media campaigns, register for PR News’ October 2 
Social Media Measurement Conference in New York City.


August 23, 2012

7 Ways to Use Yelp to Improve Your Local Business

Published August 15, 2012Printer-Friendly

social media how toAre you wondering how to best use Yelp for your business?

If you run a local business like a restaurant, Yelp should be an essential cornerstone of your online presence.

Launched back in 2004, Yelp continues to be the go-to resource for millions of visitors looking for information about local businesses.

Is your business doing all that it can to attract new customers from the ever-growing audience on Yelp?

yelp logoThe Yelp brand—your customers trust it, so your business should embrace it!

Whether you’ve been active on Yelp in the past or you’re starting a new business, this article will bring you up to speed on the Yelp of today and offer seven ways your business can improve its presence on Yelp.

Why Focus on Yelp?

You might be thinking, “Shouldn’t I focus my efforts on learning the latest tips about Pinterest and other cutting-edge social platforms? Isn’t Yelp old news?”

With over 60 million registered users and over 20 million reviews posted on the site, it’s fair to say Yelp is still the dominant force when it comes to social review sites.

Restaurateurs know the value of increasing their star rating on Yelp. But other businesses make up 75% of the listings, showing that customers turn to the site to make decisions for all sorts of local businesses.

How to Get Started on Yelp

Before we get into how to step up your game on Yelp, let’s cover a few basics.

If your business is relatively new, the first thing you’ll want to do is see if it has already been listed on Yelp. Chances are it has.

So go ahead and search for your business’s name. Once you find it, click the link that says “Work here? Unlock this Business Page.”

yelp unlockDoes your business page have this message? If so, you should “unlock” it and start engaging.

Don’t go too long without claiming ownership of your business on Yelp. Otherwise, it could be subject to others adding inaccurate information, resulting in an unflattering presentation of your business!

For more information on creating your business account on Yelp, be sure to visit the Yelp for Business Owners section of the site.

Here’s how to take your Yelp presence to the next level.

#1: Immerse yourself in Yelp—read the profiles of your competitors

Before you start fiddling with your own Yelp profile, I highly recommend you first get a lay of the land.

Search Yelp for your direct local competitors and click through to their profiles. Take a close look at those with 4+ star ratings and those with 3 and below.

Try to distinguish the differences between those who are thriving on Yelp and those who are not. Do their photos set them apart? Does their website link lead to an impressive site or one that turns traffic away?

Can you start to see patterns in the types of things mentioned in their reviews? Try to pin down what your local market values highly and what prompts them to leave a poor review.

Learn from all of your snooping around and leverage your competitive research to ensure your own success on Yelp.

#2: Start with the essentials: Complete your business’s Yelp profile

The first step to getting your Yelp presence on track is to ensure you’ve got the essentials nailed down. Having a fully featured profile that gives visitors all of the info they seek is a must.

Be sure to complete these essential pieces of your Yelp profile:

yelp profileAll of the elements that make up a well-rounded business page on Yelp.

1. Name and category: You’d be surprised how many businesses leave a typo in their name or miscategorize their listing. Double-check this. It’s the most important piece of your listing!

2. Detailed address and phone number: Include your street address, along with any important notes about landmarks or cross-streets. Recently changed address? Update your contact info right away.

3. Include the link to your website and menu: This is crucial for converting more visitors into customers. If a Yelper clicks over to your website and likes what they see, they’re much more likely to become your customer. Restaurants: Make sure your website has an online menu. That can be linked here as well.

4. Quality photos: Nothing hurts your Yelp profile more than a blank photo area. Populate this with quality photos. More on this in a moment.

5. reservations: Does your restaurant take reservations viaOpenTable? You can connect this here.

6. Important info: Be sure to accurately fill out all of the info here, like your hours, price range, parking info, outdoor seating, etc. This info can make or break a customer’s decision to choose your business over the competition.

7. About your business: Although this tab is somewhat hidden behind the Reviews section, it’s important that you fill this out thoroughly. This extra info could be the tipping point that convinces customers you’re what they’re looking for.

#3: Create a strong photo gallery

Most businesses on Yelp only have a couple of poorly shot photos, usually uploaded by visitors. Some businesses don’t even have one photo posted. This is a huge opportunity for your business to stand out!

yelp photosLots of photos help tell the whole story about your business.

Hire a professional photographer to shoot a handful of engaging photos that inform visitors about what they’re in for when they visit you. Show off your décor, your food (or products) and the overall customer experience.

Important tip: Include a photo or two of the front of your business, or what your customers will see as they drive by and approach. This makes it tremendously easier for new customers to find you and walk in.

#4: Recognize the value of your customer reviews

We all know that positive reviews on Yelp add a tremendous amount of social proof for your business, not to mention increase your all-important star rating. But customer reviews actually hold much more value than that.

yelp reviewsReviews are the lifeblood of Yelp. Are you taking full advantage of them?

Positive reviews can be leveraged outside of Yelp. You can grab some of the best quotes and feature them on your website, citing the reviewer’s first name. This reinforces the social proof when visitors take that extra step to check out your website.

Believe it or not, negative reviews present a valuable opportunity for you as well. Whether you agree with the critique or not, negative reviews bring up points of concern about your business that you may have overlooked. Use this constructive criticism to improve your customers’ experience.

#5: Respond to reviews

I’m surprised more people don’t take advantage of this incredibly valuable tool Yelp has provided business owners. You, as the business owner, can publicly respond to any review placed on your business profile.

Now, before you start firing away at every bad review that comes your way, stop and consider a more strategic approach.

If you choose to respond to a comment, do it calmly and respectfully. The key here is to show that you care. Thank the reviewer for their feedback, and point out things they may not have been aware of, or explain how you plan to fix or improve whatever it is they were complaining about.

respond to yelp reviewYou, the business owner, can use this link to offer your response to reviews on your business page.

Respond to positive reviews as well! Thank them for coming in and for their kind words. Use this as an opportunity to highlight the hard work you’re putting toward a great customer experience.

The bottom line is, your visibility as the owner within the Reviews section will do a lot to set you apart from your competition—mainly because nobody else is doing it!

Yelp provides advice and info for business owners regarding responding to reviews here.

#6: Track and use metrics in your Yelp dashboard

Now it’s time to really dig in and take your Yelp presence up a notch.

Business owners on Yelp gain access to detailed behind-the-scenes metrics about their business’s performance on Yelp. These metrics were overhauled and improved in March 2012, so if you haven’t logged in recently, you should definitely take a look.

yelp metricsBusiness owners get an in-depth view of the performance metrics of their business page on Yelp.

Here you can gather key insights about your Yelp presence. You can track the amount of traffic your Yelp profile receives and also see how many times your business showed up in search results on Yelp.

Tracking “User Actions” gives you an even closer look at how visitors are engaging with your business on Yelp. Actions include things like clicks to your website, mobile check-ins, photos uploaded, etc.

You can use the info gathered here to inform your decisions on things like “When is the best day of the week to run a special?” or “How important is having a mobile website for my visitors?”

#7: Take advantage of Yelp’s additional resources

You can find quite a bit of helpful resources on the official Yelp for Business Owners section as well as the Business Owner’s Blog, where you can stay on top of the latest tools as they become available.

You might consider advertising your business on Yelp. While I firmly believe you can find great success on Yelp using the free techniques described above, purchasing advertising placements on Yelp brings a few interesting benefits, like:

  • Removal of competitors’ ads on your business page
  • Enhanced photo slideshow
  • Video on your profile

Another idea is to run a Yelp Deal, which allows you to offer coupons to your Yelp audience. Although Yelp keeps 30% of the discounted price, Yelp Deals make your listing more attractive to visitors, and could prove to have a solid return on investment, especially when you use your Yelp metrics to guide the timing of your Yelp Deals.

What do you think? Has your business found success from its presence on Yelp? Let us know in the comments section below!

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About the Author, Brian Casel

Brian Casel is the founder of Restaurant Engine, a web design solution for Restaurants with integrated social media and mobile site design. Ask about our Partner Programs. Other posts by  »



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