Is Facebook the New Yelp?

I am many things but ‘foodie’ is not one of them. Which is why, I am rather particular when I do eat outside. Till a few years ago, Yelp was my to-go place for all kinds of restaurant reviews and recommendations. However, I am struggling to remember the last time I used Yelp for any kind of business recommendation, especially a restaurant.

Always fascinated by changing behavior, I asked my students where did they go for restaurant recommendations. Their consistent answer? Facebook! Thanks to them, I have now started looking at the social networking site for all kinds of recommendations, especially food. When I have a need to fulfill my Thai food urge, my first instinct is to search for a Thai place on Facebook. My 2nd instinct is to ask for recommendations on the social networking site. You will be surprised how many people love giving recommendations. All you have to do is ask.

Facebook has become THE place to ask for all kinds of recommendations. With more than 2+ billion people logging in daily, I see Facebook as the largest country in the world, sans a government and a flag. That’s 2+ billion connected people, making Facebook the 3rd most visited site in the world, after Google and YouTube. Statistics show that 2.23 billion people log into Facebook every month, making it, by far, the number 1 social channel in the world.

This has not come without effort. Facebook included learnings from Snap and incorporated it into fb messenger. It relaunched messenger as a separate app to be downloaded, empowering it with cool filters. Today, fb messenger is the number 1 messaging app, by number of app downloads. Fb messenger is also poised to be the number one chat feature for businesses, easily incorporated into existing fb business pages as well as business websites. More on that in another #mobilewatch column.

The statistic I find really cool? It is that 35% of Facebook’s existing audience is actually under 25, showing that Facebook appeals to both, the young and the not-so-young. The countries with the highest engagement? India, USA, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico in that order. And the best part? Close to 50% of FB users speak English with most of them accessing the platform on their smart phones. Perhaps it is kudos to the fabulous fb app and its ease of use that more than 88% of its users access it on their mobile phones. Another cool statistic? 95% of visits are made on smartphone and tablets, making it the preferred social channel-on-the-go.

Facebook has also done the impossible by offering appeal to both, B2B and B2C audiences. Think about it. Facebook currently has approximately 80 million small and medium business pages as well as 200 million users engaged as members of meaningful groups (e.g. Pantsuit Nation), involved in the issues that they hold close to heart.

Which is why, it is almost natural that Facebook is slowly but steadily replacing Yelp as the channel for all kinds of recommendations, especially restaurants. I asked my students, why ‘Facebook’. Their answer? The fb page of the business is usually updated a lot more than their website, the reviews are easy to see, and if you are on your mobile device (which is usually the case while looking to grab a quick bite), you can go to the local business page and dial the business from the page itself. Everything in one ecosystem. How Friction-free!

Now compare that with Yelp. Founded in 2004 by ex-PayPal employees, Yelp is an online guide that helps its users find places to eat, shop and even relax. Yelp is an online offering (website) as well as an app. It is based on a collection of reviews by registered Yelp users, lovingly referred to as ‘Yelpers’. Yelpers review and rate businesses based on a 5 star rating system. When it launched, it was THE place for all things food, especially those who traveled and ate out frequently.

I distinctly remember my Ogilvy team member using it to find a local Thai restaurant in the heart of downtown NYC, post a corporate responsibility day. We had just finished donating our time to a local pet shelter and were famished by the time we finished. She pulled out Yelp to look for ‘Thai places near me’. Voila — the app found us a little hole in the wall, barely two blocks from where we were. The place was crowded but the food was delicious. The surprise factor? We bumped into one of my favorite actors, James Gandolfini. He was down-to-earth, amazing, humble and very nice to someone who had just interrupting his lunch!

Today, the place to find ‘Thai’ or ‘Chinese’ or ‘Indian’ near me has become Google. It’s 2017 data shows that in the last two years, searches for local places without the qualifier “near me” have grown 150%, faster than comparable searches that do not include “near me.” The best part? One does not even have to go to Google. The evolution of Google Maps now offers me restaurants, coffee shops, stores and other restaurants near me, with an option to add a ‘detour’ once I have made a selection. And, it will also share in real time how busy the restaurant is, with the option of calling them on-the-go. Again, an example of a fantastic friction-free offering.

More and more, people are getting used to being in an ecosystem versus exiting out of the ecosystem to another platform. 2.2+ billion users on Facebook, for example, are expecting information to be delivered on the platform itself, whether it is for a restaurant, a movie or a last-minute local activity suggestion. It is crowd-sourced, it is a recommendation given by trusted friends or group members and if the business is smart enough to have a business page on Facebook, it can be accessed for updates, promotions or the ‘dish of the day’. Facebook reviews are also incorporated into the Google platform, ensuring that it helps with much needed Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The best part? People actually love leaving reviews on Facebook as they are almost always on the platform. In a Review Trackers survey, it actually beat both Yelp and Google in user preference.

Which brings me back to Yelp. The site revealed recently that it is struggling to attract and retain advertisers — it’s main source of revenue. Is Yelp a good offering? Yes. However, they did not realize that their competition could come from a social platform such as Facebook. I wonder if Yelp ever thought of Facebook or even Instagram as competition. Perhaps which is why, Yelp is going from being the place to check out restaurants to now, a place to find a plumber, a painter or even a bar! Yelp has to do some soul searching and ask whether it intends to become a place for plumbers, painters and salons.

Facebook, on the other hand, continues to be true to its mission of ‘Bringing the world closer together’. A community that one can reach out to for recommendations is one facet of it. Which is why, perhaps, Facebook is on a mission to have one billion actively involved members as part of meaningful groups on the platform.

Moral of the story? Competition can come from anywhere. How can a business be ready? By always keeping their eye on the consumer to better understand changing habits. Will some of us miss Yelp if it disappears tomorrow, after its very successful 2010 IPO? Maybe. The question however is, how many of us will miss it and for how long? The evolving consumer always has choices and businesses cannot afford to continue the way they were. That is so last year!

Join me every week, as we navigate these ever-changing waters to make sense of this ‘always-on’ consumer and the technologies that define their everyday. I will be bringing you insights from some of the sharpest global minds in the industry as well as in academia. And do join the conversation.

Until next week


A seasoned Advertising and Digital expert, Anika has worked across countries and continents and spoken at companies such as Google, Lenovo and universities such as NYU. She is currently Professor of Business at NYU’s Stern School of Business, teaching Digital, Social and Mobile Marketing. Follow Anika on twitter @anikadas and on Medium.

©AnikaSharma. No part of this article can be used without explicit permission. All rights reserved.

#mobilewatch #facebook #yelp #google #apps #digital #mobile




CX, digital, mobile marketing and Brand Leader with strong global understanding of strategy and the creative product. NYU Stern business professor. Tree hugger.

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Anika Sharma

Anika Sharma

CX, digital, mobile marketing and Brand Leader with strong global understanding of strategy and the creative product. NYU Stern business professor. Tree hugger.

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