Google Takes On Yelp Elites With Its New “Local Guides” Program

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Google is rolling out a “Local Guides” program in an update to Google Maps – a move that seemingly sees the company taking on “Yelp’s Elites” – that is, Yelp’s program where local users gain the status of tastemaker and get invited to special events and parties. Google introduced Local Guides last month by way of a Google+ post, which then pointed users to more details about how they could join the program and what kind of benefits they would receive.

The addition of Local Guides to the Google Maps app was noticed by the Android Police blog, which says the most recent version of the app now includes the new feature. However, previous comments on Google+ state that reviewers were already starting to receive updated profiles and badges in the Maps app on both iOS and Android in late January. (We’ve asked Google to clarify this. In any event, the addition seemed to fly under the radar last month.)

The Local Guides program, for those unfamiliar, is meant to help Google increase the number of high-quality business reviews on its site by encouraging top reviewers to post more often in exchange for a variety of benefits. Today, these include things like access to an email newsletter, the opportunity to join Hangouts with other reviewers, the ability host and attend special meetups, the ability to moderate Local Guides Google+ communities, access to other exclusive events, and more.

Local Guides also receive a special badge on their profile, and, at the highest level – 200 reviews or more – they may be featured on Google’s Google+, Facebook and Twitter. They’ll also receive an annual “thank you” gift of an unknown value, according to program’s website.

If those benefits sound familiar, that’s because they are. Yelp’s Elite Squad members also receive special badges, invites to parties, and various gifts. However, unlike Yelp, it appears that anyone who meets the requirements in terms of number of reviews will be given Google’s badge and moved up through the various levels as their output increases.

Google’s program appears to be more open, in general, than Yelp’s Elites, as anyone can easily log on to see a calendar of local meetups and join in if they choose. That does make membership seem a little bit less exclusive, however.

Prior to Local Guides, Google ran a related effort called “City Experts.” Those members are now being automatically transitioned to Local Guides instead, an earlier post noted.

For Google Maps end users, the rollout of the new program could see Google’s reviews becoming more useful than they were in the past, as often the reviews section is something consumers only hit up when they have a problem or complaint with a business. The motivation to log in to leave more positive or even neutral reviews can be low, which is something Google clearly hopes to change with Local Guides.