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One to Watch: Mariah Cherem on Getting Around Detroit

Mariah Cherem may be Detroit's official aficionada.

Think of her as the city's head cheerleader. Cherem is the community manager for Detroit Yelp, a Web site that connects its users (typically young and post-college, with a curious streak) with local businesses. Her job for the past year is to grow the site, getting as many people as possible to write reviews of restaurants, shops, salons, dog groomers, mechanics and roller rinks -- anything with a physical address.

And if there is one thing Detroit needs more of…it is cheerleaders.

We also need lots of ways to find one another. Winter is long here, people. I already feel like a mole that is scared of the sun and strangers, and it's only January. I'm in favor of any Web site that gets people talking about Detroit, the region and what makes us shine.

“The positive side of harder times is more collaboration and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone,” Cherem said.

For background: Yelp is the definition of the Web 2.0 phenomenon where people contribute their own facts and opinions about local businesses via the Internet (i.e. blogs, Wikipedia and the like). The site was founded in San Francisco in July 2004. Since then, Yelp communities have taken root in major metros across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Yelp had an audience of more than 26 million unique visitors in November 2009, the most recent data available. According to its site, “Yelpers have written more than 8 million local reviews, making Yelp the leading U.S. local guide for real word of mouth on everything from boutiques and mechanics to restaurants and dentists.” Restaurants are a favorite topic, but there are other reviews worth noting.

Cherem joined Yelp in November 2008. Her undergrad from the University of Michigan is in creative writing and she has a Master's in Arts Management from Eastern Michigan University. Cherem has been in publicity for a book publisher, and events and communications coordinator for a museum.

Her job at Yelp changes every day. She might go check out a new club, stop for a soda at a coffeehouse a fellow Yelper recommended or chat with a business owner. She is in charge of marketing, event planning, outreach to small companies, nonprofits and anyone else who wants to use Yelp to their advantage.

“I get to show small business owners our free suite of tools that give them a leg up and help them connect to their customers and help people find local businesses that they feel passionate about,” Cherem said. “That's so important, particularly in Michigan, particularly right now.”

For example, she got six salons to give Yelp members discounts during November, which is typically a slow month for those types of businesses. Locations ranged from Curl Up & Dye in Detroit to spots in Ann Arbor and Dearborn. This grass-roots marketing proved so powerful that Curl Up & Dye was heavily booked throughout an otherwise slower period.

“This stuff is free. You can use it,” Cherem said. “The more people contribute, the better the site is.”

In fact, more than 200,000 special offers and announcements have been uploaded for free by businesses via Yelp for Business Owners. This feature helps consumers find businesses both via the website, but also on the go with Yelp's wildly popular mobile applications: Yelp for iPhone and Android.

In one of her first official yelp events, she gathered Yelpers together for a game night at Mudgie's deli, a favorite hot spot that she herself heard about on Yelp. Even a local girl can learn something new once in a while, she says. It's also a way for Yelp users to meet one another – many become fans of one another's reviews, so it is great to bring them together in person – in Detroit, especially. Other events have brought people together to throw a few balls at the Garden Bowl or delve into the history and art of the city's gorgeous Scarab Club.

“You live in an area long enough and you think you know all the best places. But I've discovered some new places that I'm now in love with,” Cherem said.

In additon to finding Cherem online at Yelp [http://mariahc.yelp.com], you can meet her at two local events. She is a panel member at Open City's shindig at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Cliff Bell's. The topic is “Growing a Stronger Local Economy.” Cherem and others will tackle the area's “creative efforts breeding collaboration and cross-promotion between small businesses, and network with Detroit entrepreneurs.”

She also is hosting Detroit Yelp's one-year yelpiversary. And you can go – as long as you sign up to use Yelp, RSVP, and start writing, damnit. The party is from 9-11 p.m. Saturday at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit. The event, which is focused on highlighting home-grown creativity, features local bands like The Blueflowers and Scarlet Oaks. Area artists will show off their stuff and there will be free eats from Mudgie's and Toast Birmingham.

Don't know much about them? Go to Yelp already!

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