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A Q&A with Will Simons, Yelp community manager in Omaha

Yelp Community Manager Will Simons emailed us a while back and asked if we wanted to get coffee. We figured we should since Simons is curating the Omaha community on the popular online review site and app. He’s got a pretty cool job, creating top places lists, organizing burger crawls and meeting with the community. He shared with us what exactly a community manager does, how he deals with upset business owners when they get a bad review and his recommendations for the best places to visit in Omaha.

Name: Will Simons

Age: 32

Hometown: Omaha

Previously: Writer for (the now defunct) City Weekly, Omahype

When did you start at Yelp? October 

What do you do?

I do community building, host regular events and try to connect a lot of online Yelp users, offline. We’ve done everything from monthly burger meetups at Dinkers, Louie M’s Burger Lust and more. Anyone can come out to them.

Some Yelp events I organize myself, but sometimes the community comes together on their own in what we call a “Unofficial Yelp Event.”

How did you come across this and why did you want to work for Yelp?

I wasn’t even looking for a job at the time, but I came across an online listing, read the job description and thought how uncanny it was that I can do all these things. Yelp seemed like a cool company to work for and thought it was neat they were coming here. I was practically a community manager for Omahype and I didn’t even know it. It was a perfect fit for me.

How do interact you interact with business owners?

I’m a friendly face for Yelp in town. I answer any questions or concerns they might have and am more than happy to meet with them and talk about how they can use Yelp. One of the things I always tell them to do is respond to reviews—good, bad or in between.

Do you get business owners mad about a Yelp review?

It’s a big part of the job. They come with questions or concerns. And while I can’t alter or change a review, I can tell them how to improve from the bad review. If businesses are doing something right then the reviews reflect it. As we always say it’s real people doing real reviews. 

Not every business owner necessarily is Web savvy. How many owners know and use Yelp?

There are quite a few who are plugged in and then there’s some that don’t even have a Facebook page or website. Those who do know about it know how it drives traffic to their restaurant, though. 

How has Yelp changed the way we find restaurants?

I think people use the site to find the best local businesses. In the past it was kind of a shot in the dark, but now you can just pull out your phone and find all the information you want. Yelp always stresses that it’s real people writing real reviews. It’s crowdsourcing at its finest. There’s always going to be room for professional reviewers and newspaper foodies. If Sarah Baker Hansen (of the Omaha World-Herald) writes a review of a place, people go to that business and then a lot of them will contribute their own review on Yelp so it continues to write the story.

Everyone uses Yelp for restaurants, but are other businesses using it, too?

Surprisingly, shopping, retail and services are the most reviewed thing on Yelp, with almost more than a quarter of all the 52 million unique reviews. Restaurants are like 20 percent of reviews. But there’s plenty of other stuff out there you can review, too. I started reviewing local frisbee parks because I like and didn’t find great info on them. 

How do you pick a restaurant? 

I listen to the Elite Squad a lot since they go to a lot of places. But overall, I give every place a fair shake. I don’t want to play favorites.

What’s this Elite Squad?

It’s the most active users of Yelp. You can nominate yourself or another yelper at yelp.com/eliteuser and it goes to a council in San Francisco. If you’re selected you get a red badge on your profile. As community manager, I try to engage with them by throwing elite events. Exposing the most active users with great local businesses in a unique setting. They’re savvy, trendsetting people and a win for everybody. We never solicit reviews or anything. Total foodies. 

It’s almost a social club. A while back we noticed a huge influx of reviews from KC Elite Squad members who road tripped to Omaha to try out a bunch of places. 

What’s your neighborhood recommendation for out-of-towners? 

Depends on what they want to do. I lived in Dundee for almost my whole life and I love that area. If you want to grab a bite, French Bulldog is fantastic. Amsterdam for great fries. Pitch Pizzeria, too. There’s so many great places. eCreamery. Drinks at Pageturners to hole in the walls like Underwood Bar

Old Market is definitely a must see, too, if you want to see the touristy areas. South Omaha’s 24th Street really has a vibrant, awesome area with lots of great Mexican food places and great ice cream.  

What’s next?

The summer is going to be busy. I’ll be at the Omaha Beer Fest, RAWartists Omaha and continuing to run Yelp food crawls. 

How can people connect with you?

I’m on YelpTwitter and Facebook or email me at omaha [at] yelp.com. I also do a weekly newsletter with a different theme every week.  Or join me for a Community Manger Yelp Event. It’s all about community and meeting cool people face to face.

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