Yelp.com (NYSE: YELP) is a customer review website founded in San Francisco in 2004. It focuses on drawing local people together so that it connects people with local business. To the present day, ‘Yelp communities have taken root in major metros across the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Australia’ (Yelp.com, 2013) and many other countries. As a typical product of web 2.0 (Connolly, 2010), Yelp has excellent interactive characters which allow users to seek information for all kinds of local services, and at the same time to post their own reviews about a specific service after experiencing it. Yelp.com now can be accessed via iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and more systems on mobile devices, and has a monthly average of 117 million unique visitors in Quarter 3 2013 (Yelp.com, 2013). In this essay, Yelp.com will be used as a case study and will be analysed using two main branches of limited effect theory; uses and gratifications theory and two-step flow theory. Personal experiences of the author, as a Yelper, will also be found in this essay to illustrate the theory.
Differing from the hypodermic needle model or other early opinions which define the audience as a passive group who only consume what media transmit to them directly (Williams, 2003:168-178), limited effects paradigm shows the active side of audiences. It argues that the audience are not people who are the ‘passive, isolated and impressionable entities of mass society’ (Williams, 2003:?), on the contrary, the audience can be seen as individuals who reinforce their existing believes by media contents (Williams, 2003:168-178) . The limited effects theory shows the turning point at media researchers’ focus from products to audience and their attempts is to find
‘what people do with the media, what uses they make of, what the media now give them, what satisfactions they enjoy and, indeed, what part the media play in their personal lives’.(Long and Wall, 2009:244)
Firstly, this essay will analyse Yelp using uses and gratifications theory as one of the main theories of limited effect paradigm. Uses and gratifications theory can be seen as a ‘functionalist’ theory of society because it
Contends that audiences approach texts out of a purposeful desire to satisfy or “gratify” necessary persona and social needs or, indeed, to “use” media for a variety of purposeful and rational ends within a comprehensible and explicable model of social activity (Long and Wall, 2009:244)
The use and gratification theory is based on ‘the perceived satisfactions, needs, wishes or motives’ (McQuail, 2005:423) of the audience. According to McQuail, the key theorist of use and gratification theory, there are four categories of audience: surveillance, personal identity, personal relationships and diversion.(Long and Wall, 2009:244-245) In the case of Yelp.com, all four types of audience can be found, and they will be analysed in the following paragraphs.