Many park and recreation departments utilize social media to promote events in their parks such as movie nights, volunteer functions or community festivals. You’ll see photo albums on Facebook from playground grand openings or updates on Twitter about park maintenance or trail closings. Some parks departments have lamented their lack of social media presence due to insufficient staffing. But there is one social media platform that is almost entirely run by the public, and it’s a great way for you to listen to what people are saying about your parks. It’s called Yelp.
Launched in 2004, Yelp is the go-to resource for consumers who are looking for information on local businesses. From restaurants to auto mechanics, consumers trust the reviews on Yelp because they are written by other consumers. Businesses rely on Yelp reviews to build trust with their customers and to improve their quality of service. As a park and recreation professional, it should be part of your digital marketing and information program for the same reasons. Whether you know it or not, people are reviewing your parks on Yelp. Here’s how to build and improve your presence on Yelp, leverage the power of crowdsourcing to promote your parks, and build trust and rapport with your community.
Why Focus on Yelp?
When everyone else is talking about how to add more Pokémon to parks or tell a better Instagram story, you might be wondering why you should consider spending time on Yelp. It’s true that Yelp is the same age as Facebook, which is absolutely ancient in the world of social media, but it has 60 million registered users and more than 20 million reviews. While restaurants are a major part of the Yelp appeal, 75% of the reviews are for other types of businesses, including parks and recreation areas. Consumers turn to Yelp to make decisions about where to spend their money and their time.
How to Get Started on Yelp
If you’ve never spent much time on Yelp, the first step is to check to see if your park or recreation area is already listed on Yelp. Go to the website or download the app and search for your park name.
Once you find it, click the “Edit Business Info” link to make sure all the information is correct. You can also specify this "is your business” to login with your Yelp for Business account and manage the information for all of your parks. Don’t wait too long to set up a Yelp for Business account to claim ownership of these listings. It’s important to make sure you are able to maintain accurate information about your parks and respond to public reviews.
Complete your Parks’ Yelp Profiles
Once you’ve set up your Yelp for Business Account and identified all of your park listings, it’s time to create a profile for each of your parks. Treat each park like a unique business, and give readers insight as to what makes it special. Having a profile for each park that gives visitors all of the information they are looking for is a must. Be sure to complete your profiles with these essentials:
- Name and category: Make sure the name of your park is spelled correctly. This is how people will find your park in the search results. Double check the categories you’ve selected as well. If your park has a playground, make sure to add the Playground category to your listing.
- Detailed address and phone number: Include your street address, along with any important notes about landmarks or cross-streets. This is especially important for new residents who might not be familiar with streets, but will recognize familiar landmarks.
- Include the link to your website: If your parks department holds frequent events, allows residents to reserve picnic areas, or has specific rules and policies about park usage, it’s important to provide a link to the parks department website so visitors can learn more information.
- Quality photos: Tell a story with your photos. If you have lots of beautiful shade trees in your park, include photos of people lounging beneath them on an afternoon. Include photos of children playing on a playground, couples walking along a path or any feature that makes your park unique and inviting.
- Important info: Make sure to include any special requirements, accessibility information, hours of operation or other details that visitors need to know before traveling to your park.
Create a Strong Photo Gallery
Crowdsourced photos are an important part of the Yelp experience. They save you from having to invest time and resources into acquiring photography and they represent your parks from a wide range of perspectives.
However, if you have access to high quality photos, make sure you add them to your park profile pages to help your park stand out. If you don’t have professional photos, consider working with your local newspaper to source some photos of a recent event held at your park, or ask your local high school or college photography class to shoot a handful of engaging photos that capture the beauty of your site. If you have a GameTime playground, we may have photos of your park. Contact us and we can share them with you for your Yelp profile pages.
Read Every Customer Review
A positive review on Yelp can boost traffic to a business. Reviews are also the lifeblood of Yelp. Read every review of your park(s) and think of ways you can use them. If you have a particularly positive review, include it on your website, brochure, or press release and include the reviewer’s first name to reinforce social proof of your park’s impact on the community.
If you receive negative reviews, use these as an opportunity to make improvements, create a better customer experience and learn how to better serve the public. Reviews help close the feedback loop and make the park experience better for everyone.
Respond to Every Review
The most powerful aspect of Yelp is not the ability to post photos of your park or read what others are saying about it. It’s the ability to publicly respond to what people are saying about your efforts. While it’s easy to thank people for a positive review, it’s important to respond to the negative comments, as well.
First, always respond to criticism in a calm and respectful way. The point is to show that you care. Express your gratitude to the reviewer for taking the time to provide feedback. Explain how you will take steps to fix the problem or improve what they didn’t like. This is how you build trust with the community and demonstrate your commitment to creating a better park experience.
Review responses are something of an art form, and Yelp has put together some advice on how to master it here.
The Bottom Line
Parks and Recreation departments have more responsibilities than ever before, often with fewer resources and greater expectations. Social sites like Yelp are a great tool for helping small teams reach a large audience, because they crowdsource most of the work. The public provides updates, photos and reviews. All you have to do is make sure it’s accurate and respond to their feedback. By making a small investment of time, you can build an online community that is dedicated to your parks and to your cause. You’ll also have access to reviews and photos that you can share on other social channels, websites, emails and other marketing efforts to promote your parks. If you’re trying to do more with less, don’t worry. Yelp is here to help.