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You don’t know Yelp. How it really works, according to Yelp Charlotte herself

You’ve probably used Yelp at least once, even if it was just to find a phone number for a restaurant, to see when that bar closes or to find a menu. But how much do you really know about it?

You might think Yelp is all negative reviews by wannabe restaurant reviewers, that it’s all about food, and that it’s a wasteland of anonymous and fake reviews that just hurt business.

Nikki Wolfe tells a different story. We talked for more than 30 minutes earlier this week at Sunflour Baking Company in Elizabeth (yeah, she checked in on Yelp) and I learned a few new things about Yelp — and I bet you’ll learn something new, too. Starting with …

(1) Yeah, there’s a person behind Yelp Charlotte.

If you thought Yelp was just a big, face-less corporate website, meet the face.

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Wolfe has been a Yelp Community Manager for nearly three years, and she’s one of about 160 community managers around the world. Before that, she spent 12 years in TV news and tended bar on the side.

It’s a fun job, sure, but it’s also an overwhelming job. Just this week, Wolfe is getting ready for the Guinness World Record Attempt Boot Camp & Block Party this weekend, coordinating her weekly TV segment, hosting a Yelp event tonight and sponsoring three more events on Saturday.

“It’s my life,” she said. “I’m never unplugged. … It’s a lifestyle. And you’re on 24/7, whether you’re at Target sweaty in workout clothes or, you know … A lot of people use me like I am Yelp. … Like where you could type in and search something, they just, say, text it or message it to me. I’m like OK. I’ll be your person.”

“I don’t make a ton of money, I’m constantly overwhelmed, but I am truly in love with my job,” she said later in an email. “Yelp is my boyfriend. Charlotte is my mistress.”

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(2) It’s not all negative reviews. Actually, most are positive

This fact surprised me the most: Nearly 80 percent of the reviews on Yelp are positive, Wolfe said. Oh, and she has no power to remove/change reviews, and there’s software that attempts to weed out fake reviews (these are the ones you see in the “not recommended” section).

While business owners will sometimes get upset about negative reviews — like the chefs in this San Francisco Magazine article from 2014 — Wolfe said “nine times out of 10” local business owners call her and thank her for what she does. She points to businesses like Vic the Chiliman — a hot dog street vendor that’s one of the highest-rated businesses on Yelp here — as examples of businesses that grew because of Yelp.

“A lot of people always think Yelp, it’s just people bitching about this, bitching about that,” Wolfe said. “(Nearly) 80 percent of the reviews are actually positive. And I’ve never written a negative review. I may say a piece of constructive criticism … but mine’s like ‘Here’s your Life Hack 101 for what to do when you go there.'”

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(3) The inspiration for Yelp had nothing to do with restaurants and food isn’t even the most popular category.

Jeremy Stoppelman started Yelp with Russ Simmons in 2004 because he caught the flu and was looking for a doctor. Most people — me included — think of Yelp as a food-centric site, but Wolfe said that shopping is actually the most popular category on the site.

(4) “We’re not the bad guy.”

Wolfe said her main motivation is to support and help local businesses, not tear them down.

“I get really excited when I see ‘I found this place because of Yelp,'” she said. “See, we’re doing the good fight. The good good fight.”

Photos: Courtesy of Poprock Photography

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