Google appears to be trying to create its own version of Yelp’s Elite Squad, a community of trusted high-volume review generators. A solicitation appeared in Google+ asking people to become “City Experts.”
Here’s the text of the Google message:
Do you love to review places around your city and share your opinion with others? Our new Google City Experts program gives top reviewers (users with at least 50 high quality reviews, and at least 5 reviews in the current month) special perks like event invitations, custom swag, special access to contests and more.
Users opt-in with their Google+ accounts.
To qualify as a City Expert you have to be among “the most active users on Google Maps who write reviews and upload photos of local places” (50 reviews, 5 reviews per month). Perks or rewards include the following:
- Access to fun, exclusive events in their local areas
- Free custom swag
- Special online recognition
The following cities are currently available: Austin, Birmingham (UK), Bristol (UK), Chicago, Edinburgh, London, New York, Portland (OR), Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham, San Francisco and Sydney. Google says on its City Experts page that it hope to add more places soon.
Anecdotal evidence suggests Google is struggling to get local reviews and the company is trying a number of things. My reading is that Google is also ambivalent about the future of Zagat, notwithstanding its recent relaunch of Zagat.com and related mobile apps.
Yelp’s early use of community building and offline events was a key factor in its success in San Francisco and then later cities. The Yelp Elite Squad consists of people that Yelp considers “role models” in terms of content creation and conduct on the site. It’s essentially an incentive and loyalty program. Elite Squad members are also more trusted by Yelp than “ordinary reviewers.”
I suspect Google will test the concept, see how many qualified people respond and how successful the program is in generating quality reviews.