Yelp just announced that it was giving restaurant owners the opportunity to “incentivize repeat checkins and reward patrons with three different offer types: percent off, free or fixed price offers.” (emphasis added)
It’s the “repeat” part I have a problem with: Yelp is blowing a prime opportunity by putting the emphasis on repeat check-ins rather than first-time check-ins.
I’m guessing that most Yelp mobile users are somewhere away from their home base: either in another part of town or out of town all together. If they are using the mobile service as a way to find a local restaurant, an offer of 10% off, a free soda or prix fixe dinner may well sway them towards one of two or three equally acceptable (albeit unknown) options.
They’re unlikely to use the mobile app to check-in to a restaurant they frequent because there’s no reason for them to be on the mobile app: they already know where the restaurant is and aren't likely to use the mobile app to look up new reviews. If the restaurant pushes the offer (via in-store signage or something on the menu) repeat customers might take advantage of it and check-in, but that sort of activity does nothing to help sell-in Yelp’s main advantage, which is as a restaurant review site. (A free restaurant review site, at that, which showcases the tastes of twenty-somethings versus the paid Zagat sites whose audience skews older.)
Allowing restaurants to lure in first time users would not only solidify Yelp’s reputation, but would also possibly give more gravitas to the check-ins if they are pushed out to other social media sites: a user has no incentive to say something positive about a restaurant they are eating at for the first time, particularly once they’ve received their free root beer.
The missed opportunity here is yet another example of brands jumping on the bright shiny object bandwagon and letting the cart drive the horse rather than thinking about what their ultimate value proposition is to the consumer and how to use social media tools to support that proposition.