TheeBlog Q&A Sessions: Maria Argüello

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We love apps! Specially when they can help us find the best bars, restaurants and events in town. And this is exactly what YELP does! Yelp is a social networking, user review, and local search website that has changed the way restaurants and patrons interact. I invited my good friend and Community Manager for Yelp Miami, Maria Argüello for a brief Q&A session. I’ve known Maria for over a year and have witnessed how she has helped Yelp Miami establish as a community nerve center and become the mecca thousands of yelpers in Miami, and surrounding areas, turn to share reviews, events and anecdotes. Considering the tremendous growth and popularity of Yelp’s website & app (more than 53 million monthly unique visitors as of late 2010!) I thought it would be a great idea to invite her to chat and share a few facts about social media, blogs, Yelp and of course, Miami.

Hello Maria and thank you for taking the time to chat and answer a few questions! It’s always a pleasure to have inspiring and influential friends as guests.

I know most people in Miami know you so, could you please introduce yourself to those international peeps and tell us a bit about you and your background?
Hi, I’m Maria, I’m the founding and soon to be ex-Yelp Miami Community Manager, mostly though I’m a girl who loves trends, social media, marketing, HCI, design, interactive envelope pushing, online communities, and of course Miami. Someone recently described me as a digital culture anthropologist.

For the few people out there who might not be familiar with Yelp yet, could you please tell us about it?
Yelp is a website where over 53 million people a month, in 9 countries can find the best businesses and happenings. Whether you’re traveling or rediscovering your own hometown you’ll be connected with quality.

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Some facts…

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You are Yelp’s Miami Community Manager. What exactly does this mean? And just to brag… tell us some of the benefits.
It means I wear about 17 different hats from Weekly Yelp editor to event producer, publicist, marketing strategist, online engager, curator, but mostly it means that I help lead a community of passionate locals who care about finding the best Miami has to offer. As for the benefits it’s anything from attending an opening night performance with 30 yelpers at the Arsht to riding around in a Pisco Bus, and planning events at some of the most beautiful venues in the city. The best benefit is working with so many amazing and talented people and becoming friends with a cross-section of hardworking business owners, publicists, marketers, etc.

Let’s talk business. How do you think Yelp has impacted the hospitality, restaurant and bar scene?
Yelp has affected every industry which has customers because it’s changed the idea of customer service. It’s helped to lend a voice to the many and added an element of bringing word of mouth online. Yelp also provides great quality control, feedback, ideas, etc to business owners from those who care enough to invest their personal time in sharing their experiences.

Based on your experience, how could sites like Yelp, or any other social media or crowdsource vehicle benefit businesses?
I think whether you’re a soon-to-open business who creates a Yelp profile pre-opening to generate awareness or you’re a seasoned business owner connecting online and extending customer service and creating brand loyalists Yelp has given businesses an array of tools to join the digital conversation.

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Many people thought, and some still do, that social media, apps and even new crowdsource sites were a fad. But time, and millions of dollars have proven the opposite. Businesses have realized the potential of opening up to the average Joes and let them be part of the experience they offer instead of simply experiencing what they have to offer. Have you witnessed any successful or interesting stories you could share?
I think we’ve witnessed it on a large scale with bloggers sitting front row at New York Fashion Week but a local example would be Yelp Elite events and other social media meetups or tweetups where businesses are creating unique experiences for a customer with a unique online presence.

If you had the chance to improve this new connection between businesses like restaurants and potential patrons, what would you do different?
I’d teach business owners about all the free tools across different social media platforms.

Being that many people consider this a creative or design blog I have to ask… How important is an effective online presence when promoting a new or established business?
It’s a game changer. You have to take into consideration that some of these daily email sites like Thrillist and Urban Daddy go out to hundreds of thousands of people. Online presence is about branding, about carrying that unique experience from the actual business to a website but still connecting and enticing.

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I’ve been very fortunate to work with a few bars, restaurants and hotels as a brand consultant or designer, and I feel that sometimes owners are so worried about the quality of the food (not that I’m saying this is crucial!) and violations that they neglect the importance of a solid, unique and inviting ‘visual’ experience. Do you consider this visual aspect to be as important?
Are we talking in real life then Yes, very, if your food is amazing but your space is uninviting it will affect the experience.
Still, good food and good service can overcome a great deal.

Food trucks. What’s your take on this subject? Innovative, yes, but do you see solid roots or would they disappear once the fascination is gone?
It’s like all trends the innovators who are producing quality will survive

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What would be your to-do list of musts, restaurants, bars and venues for folks thinking of visiting Miami?
WOW! tough question, there are so many.
Most importantly I think Miami has so much to offer in the form of Latin cuisines and so if you come to Miami and don’t experience Peruvian, Argentine, Colombian, etc then you’re selling yourself short. Bars… we need more bars, simple, beautiful, stand-alone bars but the second floor of Sra Martinez is a favorite. Blue Piano is cute.

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I had the pleasure of meeting you at a local creative event last year, and since then you have been invited as a contributor for Miami’s own Ocean Drive Magazine. Those of us who grew up or live here, and even a few out-of-towners, know what a Miami icon this magazine is. How good/bad/weird has this experience been?
It’s surreal. As you mentioned we grew up with Ocean Drive being a glamorous, Miami icon so it was very flattering to be asked to contribute. It’s like being in school and receiving the notification you made Honor Roll or Dean’s list. It’s special. But even more special is that it’s given me the opportunity to work with a talented and hilarious group of people.

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View more videos at: http://www.nbcmiami.com.

You have been Yelp’s Miami Community manager for quite some time, and you have made millions of friends along the way. But all good things must come to an end someday. You are closing a chapter in your professional life and by the time this interview hits the web, you will no longer be Yelp’s Miami Community Manager. What’s next!?
A much needed vacation

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I know you like good design, art & everything creative so let’s get local… You know Miami pretty well. What do you think has been Miami’s biggest improvement or growth in the creative/artistic field?
Basel has been huge right? But overall I think a large generation of young locals is changing the city’s cultural landscape. We have so much homegrown talent and hopefully with some strong planning in the area of continuing and graduate education and the new museums and venues we can help cultivate and keep more of those creatives in the Sunshine State of mind.

What’s the best advice you ever got?
Keep it simple

Thank you again Maria, it has been a pleasure having you as a guest and I wish you all the best on all your future projects and adventures!

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2 comments
  1. Very interesting read. As a @Yelp user I am glad to see things from the other side of the fence. Thanx!

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