How to Run a Food Truck 19: Promote Your Truck Through Yelp

After you learned how to be a better business owner in our last unit with lessons on topics like tracking your food truck’s metrics, preparing for health inspections, and being consistent, we bet you’re feeling pretty pumped up and ready to really advance your food truck to the next level. If so, you’ll be excited to hear about the focus of Unit 5—Marketing Strategies for Advanced FoodTruckrs.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be going over tons of specific marketing tactics and strategies you can use to promote your food truck to new customers and loyal fans alike. We’ll cover topics like social media and getting involved with your community (all with the needs of an experienced FoodTruckr like you in mind!), and when we’re finished, you’ll have the knowledge you need to effectively and efficiently grow your food truck business and bring more hungry mouths to your ordering window.

Today, we’re excited to kick off this unit with a topic that we’ve never discussed in-depth on FoodTruckr before—Yelp reviews! In today’s all-new lesson, we’ll go over everything from how to get people to review your truck to the best way to handle negative reviews by examining what you should and shouldn’t do on Yelp.  Let’s get started!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Yelp

As most of you probably know, Yelp is a popular site where people can post reviews of local businesses and search for restaurants, shops, and service providers in their communities. And though controversy over accusations of review filtering and manipulation has plagued the site over the years, it’s still hard to argue with Yelp’s cultural significance—and with the undeniable fact that it’s still one of the first places people go when they want to learn more about a local business.

With that in mind, we believe promoting your truck through Yelp is an important step for every food truck owner. We’ve put together our top five do’s and don’ts for Yelp below to help you learn how to navigate and leverage this social platform to your benefit.

DO #1: Do Claim Your Yelp Page

To begin interacting with customers on Yelp and to take advantage of the free (or paid) tools Yelp offers business owners, you’ll need to claim or set up your Yelp business page. If people have already started reviewing your truck, you can claim the existing listing. If no one has left a review for your truck, you’ll need to set up a new page. Either way, the process shouldn’t take you too long. You’ll enter some simple information such as your name, phone number, website, hours, and photos, and then you’ll get the opportunity to respond to reviews, track user views, create Yelp deals, and more. Yelp also offers additional paid features for business owners such as targeted ads, videos, and a call to action button.

We recommend starting out with the basic free tools and getting your page set up so that you can interact with customers and better promote your truck. Once you’ve claimed your business page, be sure to add as much information to your profile as you can—including photos of your truck and photos of some of your most popular menu items. Having more information on your Yelp page will help customers who aren’t familiar with your truck decide whether or not they want to give you a try. Then, once you’ve had your Yelp page up and running for awhile, you can consider adding on some of the paid features to bring more traction to your truck.

DON’T #1: Don’t Post Your Own Review

If you’re just setting up your Yelp page and it’s looking a little lonely with no reviews, you may feel tempted to sing your own praises. But you shouldn’t.

Let us repeat that—no matter how much you want to add a positive review to your page, and no matter how sneaky you might think you’re being by creating a new profile with a fake name, you should absolutely not post a review of your own truck. Under the worst circumstances (a creative alias), it’s just plain dishonest—and even under the best circumstances (you say in the review that you’re the owner and you JUST CAN’T WAIT to see Yelpers at your truck), it comes off as more than a little desperate. Posting a review of your own truck (whether through your own name or through a fake profile) can also pretty easily cause that review to get filtered, which looks suspicious for a Yelp page that’s just starting out.

We know, we know—it’s hard to wait, and your page looks so empty with no comments on it. Be patient, and follow the steps below to get more eyes of real customers on your page.

DO #2: Do Tell People You’re on Yelp

Once you’ve set up or claimed your Yelp page, it’s time to start promoting it to your fans. Ultimately, you want as many people as possible to check out your page, whether they’re there to leave a review or they’re simply reading what others had to say. However, you again don’t want to look too desperate for reviews—and you don’t want visitors to think that the reviews on your page are fakes.

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Here are a few effective ways to encourage people to visit your page and review your business (without turning off potential customers).

  • Post a sign near your ordering window telling people to “Find us on Yelp!”.
  • Add links to your Yelp page to your website, Facebook, and Twitter pages. Post occasionally inviting people to leave you a review, taking care to keep the message simple, positive, and to-the-point. Examples: “Tell us what you think on Yelp!” “Share your experiences at [Truck Name] with our team on Yelp!” “[Truck Name] is on Yelp, and we’d love to hear what you think!”
  • Tell your regulars and favorite customers how much you would appreciate it if they left you a review. Keep your request casual and friendly—chances are good that the people who love your truck most will be happy to spread the word (and happy to give you a smile in return for all the smiles you’ve given them)!
  • Include a link to your Yelp page or a “Check us out on Yelp!” logo with any materials you distribute to fans—including newsletters, emails, fliers, coupons, paper sacks and to-go containers, etc. You could even include a logo on the side of your truck!
  • Utilize reviews from other customers or select quotes from reviews in your marketing material, on your website, or in other places where customers will see them. A testimonial from a satisfied fan encourages new customers to try out your truck—and may also inspire them to go and leave their own Yelp review when they’re done.

DON’T #2: Don’t Bribe People for Reviews

Although we think it’s important for food truck owners to encourage Yelp reviews (and to even occasionally request them if the opportunity is right), you should never bribe someone to write something positive about your truck. First of all, if customers see that you’re giving people incentives to review your truck (even if it’s something as seemingly harmless as a contest where people can enter by writing a review), your page and all the reviews on it will lose a lot of credibility. People who see your Yelp page will wonder which reviews were actually honest, good reviews—and which reviews were only written for the opportunity to snag a free meal.

Second, Yelp’s filtering system is much more likely to flag solicited reviews than those that are written voluntarily by real fans. Though Yelp has never disclosed their algorithm for filtering reviews, they do explain that solicited reviews have a greater chance of getting filtered because they are bad for your truck, bad for fans, and bad for Yelp. That doesn’t mean that all solicited reviews will necessarily end up on the filtered page—but it does mean that you could be wasting a lot of time and risking your truck’s credibility on the percentage of solicited reviews that will end up there. It’s much easier and more effective to simply focus on honest and straightforward ways of getting fans to tell you what they think about your truck.

DO #3: Do Consider Running a Yelp Deal

Another great way to bring traffic to your Yelp page and to encourage people to write reviews is to run a Yelp Deal. Yelp Deals function just like discounts from other popular sites like Groupon and Living Social. Basically, you set up a deal that allows people to get some type of discount at your truck, such as $20 worth of food for $10 or $40 worth of food for $16. You get to choose how much of a discount you want to give, and you effectively are making money on the future food you’ll sell upfront (just as you would if you sold a gift certificate). Yelp keeps a percentage of the purchase and in turn promotes your truck to a wider audience.

The major draw of running a Yelp Deal is that because the people who purchase them are likely already active Yelp users, they’ll be more likely to leave a review on your page than someone who purchased a similar deal through a site like Groupon or Living Social would be. You’ll also catch the interest of people who are browsing Yelp for good deals who might not otherwise ever click on your truck’s page, thereby increasing your potential customer base and also promoting your page to new audiences.

DON’T #3: Don’t Overestimate How Much You Can Handle

Yelp Deals are a great way to bring new people to your truck and to encourage active reviews on your Yelp page, but it’s also important to make sure you can handle the volume and profit loss that comes along with running this type of discount. Daily deal sites have caused notorious problems for some small business owners—so you need to do your research thoroughly and really look at the numbers to figure out whether or not it’s the right choice for you. One of the benefits of Yelp Deals is that you can pull your deal from the site at any time, which may make it easier to manage the volume of discounts you’re selling.

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Though whether or not you should run a Yelp Deal really depends on the state of your individual business, in general, we think they are most effective for established trucks who know they can handle the increased business and temporarily lower profit margins in return for the exposure. If your truck is struggling to find enough new fans as it is, you need to think very carefully about whether or not you can afford to lose any of the profit before running this type of discount.

DO #4: Do Try to Keep Positive Reviews from Getting Filtered

As we mentioned above, Yelp’s automated filtering system flags reviews that may not be legitimate. These reviews are still viewable if a user clicks on a link that says “reviews that are not currently recommended,” but the reviews do not show up on your main Yelp page and are not factored into your overall star rating. And while the filter does a pretty good job of capturing reviews that may not be totally legitimate (such as solicited reviews), it can also sometimes catch a review from a totally honest and genuine customer.

Here’s why: Again, though Yelp has not disclosed the details of their filtering algorithm, they do say that the software recommends reviews based on “quality, reliability and the reviewer’s activity on Yelp.” The first two factors are pretty subjective and likely have to do with the substance of what is actually written in the review—but the third measure is much more tangible and easy to correct.

If you have positive reviews stuck in your page’s filter that you suspect are from real customers, message them and let them know their reviews are caught in the filter. First of all, be sure to thank them for their review—and then ask them if they would mind updating the review or their profile in an effort to make it to the main page. Yelp users can make their profiles look more legitimate through methods like adding a profile photo, reviewing other local businesses, and checking in at other places around town. You can also follow Yelpers who have reviews stuck in your filter. Yelp users with brand new profiles are more likely to look like fake accounts, so following them can help their profiles look more legitimate.

DON’T #4: Don’t Harass Your Customers

We think it’s okay to message your Yelp fans and ask for their help in moving their reviews from the filter—after all, they reviewed your page in the first place because they wanted their reviews to be seen (and hopefully, because they also wanted to support your business!). However, you need to be sure that you’re not harassing your customers. Assuming they left a positive review, they’re doing you a pretty big favor by saying such nice things about your truck, and you shouldn’t take advantage of that.

With that in mind, we think it’s best to set a hard rule as to how many times you’ll contact customers asking them to update their profiles or reviews. One request is most appropriate, and you shouldn’t go beyond two—if they haven’t updated their profiles by that point, then they probably aren’t interested in doing so. And of course, if you do notice that they have updated their profile/review (or if their review finally makes it out of the filter), be sure to send a “thank you” message! Your customers’ positive reviews can make a world of difference anytime a Yelp user who hasn’t been to your truck comes and checks out your page, and they deserve your appreciation.

DO #5: Do Respond to Reviews

Similarly, it’s also important to make sure you respond to reviews that customers leave on your Yelp page. When customers take the time to go to Yelp and write something about your truck, they deserve a response—whether their reviews were good or bad. Plan a bit of time into your regular social media response time to reply to any messages and reviews you get through Yelp.

The positive reviews are easy to respond to—give them a hearty thanks, tell them how glad you are they enjoyed their experience, and let them know you can’t wait to see them again next time. Responding to negative reviews takes a little more finesse. Read on to learn the key to handling them with grace.

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DON’T #5: Don’t Defend Yourself Too Much

Every food truck owner will get some unhappy customers at some point in time—but handling their dissatisfaction becomes a whole lot more challenging when they’ve taken to Yelp and are badmouthing your truck in a public forum. You have to handle these complaints carefully or else you risk alienating current and future fans in addition to the unhappy customer who’s voicing his or her complaint.

Addressing negative Yelp reviews is made even more challenging by the fact that some of them are likely to be very valid complaints, while others may be a reflection of customers with impossible standards. There’s a definite subsection of Yelp users who are notorious for their criticism and unrealistic expectations, such as the Yelper who complains that the sound of other cars passing on the street ruined the ambience of eating at your truck or the Yelper who complains that the pink in his steak was “cotton candy pink” instead of “carnation pink.”

Regardless of how valid you feel the customer’s complaints are, we recommend following a modified version of FoodTruckr’s LEARN model in these instances. After you’ve read (i.e., listened to) the customer’s complaint, you should empathize (“I can see why you were unhappy with your experience”), apologize (“I’m so sorry this happened”), and then resolve or nurture the situation (“I’d like to make it up to you by offering a replacement meal the next time you come in”). Note: In this modified approach to LEARN, the resolution and nurturing steps are the same because the customer has already left your truck and you’re encouraging him or her to return so that you can fix the situation.

However, you need to also remember that you can’t please everyone—and that there are some customers who don’t really want to be helped. Respond to negative comments politely, but don’t give unhappy customers more than one or two responses (unless there’s an extreme circumstance that calls for it). You might be upset that a reviewer keeps attacking you, but you have to accept that there’s little you can do to bring this person around to your side—and getting too defensive only makes you look bad (and unprofessional) to more reasonable customers who may be checking out negative reviews to see how you handle criticism and complaints.

Furthermore, as we mentioned in our lesson on the LEARN model, you should not continue helping real-life customers who are demeaning, abusive, or offensive to you or your employees, and the same goes for responding to people on Yelp. Responding to these types of customers only encourages their behavior and serves to rope you into a loop of negative feedback that you could just as easily avoid without consequences. Trust us—rational fans who read through your reviews will understand why you didn’t respond to comments from an off Yelper or two who filled their reviews with personal attacks.

Get Fans Involved in Your Online Presence

Yelp is an especially useful platform for food truck owners who want to target new customers in their areas—and for food truck owners who want the opportunity to see what their current fans really think of them. In addition to monitoring your Yelp page and doing your best to encourage reviews and positive feedback, we also recommend paying attention to what people are saying and making changes based on your reviews. You’ll have to spend some time reading to learn how to distill the constructive feedback from any disgruntled comments you may receive, but doing so can really help you to strengthen your business and to show your true fans that you’re listening.

In next week’s lesson, we’ll continue helping you connect with your fans online by showing you some new strategies and tools you can use to manage your Facebook and Twitter pages more effectively. Stay tuned for this important new installment in the “How to Run a Food Truck” series!

Until then, we’d love to hear about your experiences thus far with Yelp. Have you found any other ways to improve your overall star rating? What kinds of experiences have you had when you’ve responded to comments from your customers? Share your Yelp stories with our team and with other food truck owners on our Facebook page!

image by Mark Morgan

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About the Author

FoodTruckr is the #1 online destination for current and aspiring food truck owners looking to succeed in the mobile food industry. Self described “food truck devotees,” the FoodTruckr team enjoys reading about successful entrepreneurs, salivating over photos of burritos on Twitter, and long walks through food truck parks. Chat with FoodTruckr on Facebook or check out the FoodTruckr School podcast for more awesome tips to level up your business.

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