The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Interview: London Local, Alex Shebar of Yelp — May 16, 2013

Interview: London Local, Alex Shebar of Yelp

This week Eliza interviews self-proclaimed king of all trades and Yelp’s Senior London Community Manager, Alex Shebar. Follow Alex on Twitter via @alexshebar.

Alex Shebar
Alex Shebar

You’re currently working as Yelp’s Senior London Community Manager. What part of your job requires the most creativity?

You’re going to scoff at me when I say this but it’s keeping London from not being boring. What? London? Boring? Never? Yes! It can be, when you go to the same restaurant or the same bar or the same event week in and week out. There’s so much to do in this city that a lot of times, people start to take it for granted. They begin to go to where they already know over and over. I throw a ton of events that show off amazing hidden gems, new food, crafted cocktails and things people have never seen before. I’m showing off new spots to my entire community, even to those who have lived here all their life. Finding ways to get people out of a rut and routine, that’s what requires more creativity.

Also, it takes some serious creativity on how not to get fat eating and drinking with the yelpers all the time. I’m not sure I’ve figured that part of the job out yet.

As a U.S. transplant and former Yelp Cincinnati CM, what surprised you the most about the event scene in London?

London is insane when it comes to events, and I mean that with love. You can literally be out every night of the week and not see the same thing twice. Hell, you can be out every night of the year and still not see the same thing twice. Also, I’m always shocked how early places close here compared with the US. Most bars shut up shop about 11pm/midnight. In the states, that’s when you’re just getting started, here it’s when they’re sending you to bed.

Having worked with multiple Yelp communities, what do think is the secret to creating a great offline community?

Honestly, the secret to a great offline community isn’t anything people don’t normally do in their daily life. Find fun people and put together fun things they want to do.

People may say they’re too tired to go out or it’s hard to meet new people, but if you can give them an event or a reason that sounds like something they just can’t miss, they’ll step out of their comfort zone, move away from the computer and actually be part of the community in real life. It’s all about authenticity and creativity.

Do you perceive a difference between the attitude towards online community in the U.S. versus the U.K?

When I moved to London, everyone I knew went, “Oh, everything is going to be so different.” Honestly, not so much. It’s like that scene in Pulp Fiction where it’s the little differences that get you (like Where’s Waldo being called Where’s Wally here. What?) But overall, no, a community of people who are interested in great local spots are the same from country to country. In England, people may be a little more hesitant to come out to events without knowing other people there first, but even that is small.

Word on the street is that Yelp found you through Twitter. Would you share the story behind that?

True! I was doing a major year-long project called Watch This where we were screening the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies in a year, two movies a week. The project basically started in the living room and basements of friends’ houses where we would watch the films and invite anyone to join. It grew larger and then businesses started coming to me asking if they could show them. Eventually we were doing screenings for hundreds of people. At the same time, Yelp was looking for it’s first community manager in Cincinnati, Ohio.

They found me on Twitter, we got talking, they encouraged me to apply. That’s how it all began. So don’t ever let people tell you Twitter is a waste of time. Have them come talk to me.

Your career started off in writing and communication. What advice would you give to aspiring members of the tech community who struggle with writing?

Good question. It would have to be the same advice I was given when I was a journalist writing about complicated issues. Start by thinking about how you’d explain it to a child. Write that out. At this point, you’ll have the basics of whatever you’re talking about. Now you can spruce it up and make it sound a little better and submit something worth reading. Really though, people struggle the most with writing at the beginning because they don’t know where to start. Start there.

If you could only watch one film for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Tough question! Probably O’ Brother Where Art Thou. I still can’t say why I love that film so much (besides the great story and fantastic music) but it’s just damn good.

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About our contributor // Eliza Dropkin is a lover of live music, good food, and beautiful places. Connect with her on Twitter via @elizadropkin.

Interview: SF local, Ligaya Tichy — January 27, 2013

Interview: SF local, Ligaya Tichy

To celebrate Community Manager Appreciation Day, we chat to one of community’s original heroes, Ligaya Tichy, about what she’s been up to and what she’s got planned.


You call yourself a ‘Community Architect’ – what does this mean?

I help companies build a passionate, loyal user base. Generally, community folks obsess about experience of a product or service from a participant’s perspective. What is the value in participating for the individual, how does it move the needle for the company? What is the relationship and interaction between them, and from user-to-user? The Community Architect defines this strategy through product features, offline interaction, and in communication via email or social media.

You’re an advisor to startups like ThreadFlip and Skillshare – do you think companies are starting to realise how important community is to business?

Within the startup world, “Community Management” has become a buzzword in the last few years, no doubt thanks to Yelp. But there is much confusion about where it fits amongst marketing and support. I think about it in terms of function; marketing is externally-focused and geared towards acquisition; community focuses on internal user engagement and loyalty, growth is a bi-product.

The foundations of community: engagement, advocacy, ambassadorship, and loyalty, are not new themes in the worlds of marketing and advertising. Startups have appropriated these principles and given new nomenclature, but the essence is the same. They work across industries, whatever the names, because they speak to universal human drives and motivations.

Do all businesses need community? Well, would your love for Coca Cola be enriched by drinking one amongst the company of others who dig it? Some companies seem to make more sense than others.

yelpLigaya Yelping with crew back in 2008

You’ve worked in senior community roles for Airbnb and Yelp – how do you think the role’s evolved over the past five years?

The value of community differs greatly depending on the business – there is no universal formula – and I think companies are starting to see that you can’t just replicate programs and expect to have the same success.

A lot of companies hire recent grads to handle community – do you think there’s much career progression for senior CMs?

Like many careers, one starts on the front lines, moves to a leadership role within the organization, then tackles the higher level strategy, or starts a new project.

If someone is relatively green but passionate about a product and thinks deeply about how to make the experience better, that’s far more valuable than an experienced person who isn’t invested.

airbnb-londonLigaya worked as the Global Head of Community for Airbnb

Community Management Appreciation Day is on Monday Jan 28 – why do you think this day is important and what activities do you have planned?

CMAD is important in raising awareness about the mission and challenges of community folk, and gives us the opportunity to connect and swap stories!

There are many activities planned in the Bay Area such as Community Hacks and Strategy TNT. This year I’m kicking off a series of quarterly workshops for community builders called Together Labs. Through small group exercises people explore community beyond the context of their own companies.

What events and communities do you recommend in the Bay Area?

That depends on what you’re into, but of course The Fetch is a great resource to find out what’s happening in the startup scene and The Bold Italic features the fun and fresh in the city. I belong to the ForageSF community and really enjoy the happenings of SFFT, and of course Yelp is in my heart. Mortified and Tourettes Without Regrets are immensely entertaining events for the silly. Happy exploring!

Check out Ligaya’s TEDxSoMa talk: Rethinking Startup Communities here.

For a great round-up of upcoming community events and news from Together Labs plus other related goodness, subscribe our free email digests via The Fetch.

About our Curator // Kate Kendall is the founder and CEO of The Fetch, a community where professionals can discover and share what’s happening in their city. Before this, Kate led product, content and digital at magazine companies, handled outreach for new startups and organised too many communities and events to mention. Follow her on Twitter at @katekendall. 

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