Blog: Mariah Cherem



Mariah Cherem serves as the Metro Detroit community manager for Yelp.com – a website that connects people with great local businesses, anything from restaurants, bars and spas to dentists, the best place to catch some blues, even the Detroit Derby Girls.

As a lifelong Michigander, Mariah has always found herself gravitating towards the southeastern portion of the state. After growing up west of Ann Arbor, she jumped into creative writing and literature at the University of Michigan's Residential College. While living in Hamtramck after college, she realized that most of her writing was in support of friends' creative ventures, which piqued her interest in arts outreach and marketing beyond just writing press releases and flyers for rock shows.

After returning from a visit to a friend abroad and witnessing the demise of Ann Arbor's Tech Center, she began to consider how places articulated their values via public policy, and how policy impacted the abilities of artists to live and work. Such big questions didn't have easy answers, so she embarked on an MA in Arts Administration at Eastern Michigan University with a specific curiosity about live-work communities.

Post-degree, she landed at Kresge Art Museum at Michigan State University, where she served as the institution's communications and events coordinator. Later, a fortuitous online connection in the fall of 2008 resulted in a job offer from Yelp. As soon as the recruiter told her they were looking for someone who "was as comfortable in a museum as a dive bar," she knew this was the gig for her and she's served as Yelp's Metro Detroit community manager ever since.

Mariah has spent the last year planning events and nurturing the local Yelp community – online and off – finding new favorite haunts, following taco trucks (with the guidance of "yelpers"), helping business owners take advantage of free tools to promote their ventures, and meeting all sorts of fascinating people in the process.

Mariah Cherem - Most Recent Posts:

Post 3: A Sticker on a Light Pole

In early 2001, I was finishing up at the University of Michigan's Residential College. I began daydreaming about where I would go and what I would do.  I thought publishing might be the route for me, and there were a few specific publishing houses in San Francisco that interested me. I sent a few emails, set up a few informational interviews, and took off for San Francisco to stay with friends and dip my toes into the job pool.

I had been to San Francisco a few times, but now I was looking through a different lens.  Each time I visited a place, I wondered if I could see myself adopting it as a regular hangout. Every time I heard people griping about high rent, I also took note.

I had some great meetings with folks at publishing houses. It looked like I may have landed a paid internship – a good step, if not a full job. West Coast options were seeming a little more realistic.

Something happened, though, which caught me off-guard. Walking into two different shops – one a vintage place, another a record store – I heard music made by people who I'd seen quite a few times at bars in Detroit. Miles and miles away, people were proudly playing records of bands that I could see just a quick drive away. I got a little excited, a little territorial (how did they know about this!?), but mostly, homesick.

I had spent the last two years of my time at U of M spending maybe as many nights in Detroit as in Ann Arbor -- meeting tons of people, downing Stroh's, and somehow finding myself in a band, playing a few shows. I'm not saying my band was any good – it was just supposed to be fun.  And it was.  We'd get yet one more excuse to hang out with a bunch of people and see some of them play, too. At that point it felt like you'd always see the same folks at rock and roll shows because really, it was one larger cadre of people who would either be there to see a show or playing on stage. It was fun, but what was it worth to me?  I was going to start all over on the coast.  Or was I?

I wasn't sure just what I wanted to do. At the end of my visit to San Francisco, I hopped into my shuttle to the San Francisco airport.  We stopped at a light. I looked to my right and there was a sticker on that light post… with a logo for a bar/music venue in Detroit: the Gold Dollar. It baffles me a little now, because I don't even recall the Gold Dollar having stickers. Maybe some band on tour made it themselves? I have no idea. But it got me thinking.

I kept thinking of home. The sense of place I had -- being able to watch and be a small part of what I felt was some of my favorite music being made anywhere at that point.  That sense of well – community -- forged by raw creativity (and yeah, some Vernors and whiskey). I felt like I knew in Detroit and all around Southeastern Michigan people that were taking projects, bands, art shows, small businesses – and making things happen. That was something I just couldn't leave.  There was too much positive momentum.  

Some might say I was being naïve, and also that that was a pretty specific time in local music.  Both are true to an extent.  But it's also true that I haven't regretted that decision. I've been fortunate to live for the last eight years amidst people who constantly inspire me – and music is still a part of that.

As Jeremy Peters pointed out in his recent Concentrate blog, music (among other forms of art) is a critical, but often overlooked part of our region and state's identity.  I don't think we realize how incredible of an asset this really is.  Live music, particularly, is a shared experience.  In my own life these shared experiences often breed a sense of community, and, sometimes, of place. Music, art, and its related sense of belonging -- being inspired by those around me – makes me proud to call this area home.  I have to believe I'm not the only one for whom this is important.

I understand -- rock shows in dive bars aren't everyone's thing. However – think about something that has inspired you locally – from a great festival to children's theatre. Due to Michigan's financial woes, some of the organizations behind efforts like these are more reliant on private donations than ever before.

If you can't give money, can you give time? Talent? Expertise? Don’t think of contributing in those ways as simple altruism. Though you're giving back, it's also an easy way for you to meet some amazing people and nurture and grow your own relationships and creative community.


Post 2 - Why I Believe in the Power of Online Communities

Sure, I use Facebook. I use Flickr, LinkedIn, and obviously and most regularly, Yelp. What I love about Yelp is its ability to help connect people with solutions. You need to get your car fixed?  Look at your Yelp friends' reviews of mechanics. Stuck someplace you're unfamiliar with at midnight?  A quick iPhone search can pull up an all-night place to satisfy your cravings.

But why do I passionately believe that online communities in general are important?  It didn't start with the company I work for, but it did start with a regional online community. An online community changed my life. Honest. I'm not messing with you here.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic medical condition. Without getting into the gory details (let's face it, nobody wants to be seen as a "sicky"), let's just say it was beyond inconvenient. It impacted pretty much every area of my daily life.

Here I was, in my early twenties, sick as a dog. I couldn't do the things I loved.  Heck, I could barely even get through my workday sometimes. I had great doctors, including one who was trying some experimental medications. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I jumped at the chance to take one of these drugs.

I joined a tiny little email group with a few other folks taking the same medicine. Mostly it was people asking if their side effects were normal – if other people were experiencing the same symptoms. Not exactly fun or exciting, but practical and useful, nonetheless – it helped you to communicate with other folks going through the same thing.

I kept in touch with a few of the group members, including one who had been successfully treated via other methods.  When it became clear that this drug was not, in fact, my magic bullet, I got in touch with this member. I talked with her online at length – after a few years of trying what felt like everything, I was hesitant to get my hopes up. However, I made an appointment with her doctor. Less than six months later, I was back to living a completely normal life.

I had gotten my health back… and I've been healthy in the three years ever since. No complaints. I would say it seemed almost miraculous, but it was really just connecting with the right treatment through connecting with the right person… via an online community.  The doctor and treatment were out there, I just had to seek out the right group of people and resources to connect those dots.

Here's my thinking:

If an online community could play a role in getting me healthy again… well, then finding a place to get tacos at midnight via an online community (like Yelp) seems like a cinch!

If an online community could connect me with a few other folks with very specific needs around the region, it can most certainly unite say… folks who want to track down the best ceviche in Southwest Detroit or karaoke in Ypsi. And if these folks have some simple interests like that in common, who knows what else they might share?

There's no denying that our own state and region have some "illnesses" of their own … or at least aren't as healthy as we’d like them to be at the moment.  If a community (on or offline) can help nurture one person back to health – it certainly has the power to create positive conversations, help search out solutions and to motivate people to enact change.  We may all have our various different tools – via the internet, in-person meetings, etc., but more regional collaboration and community is critical to getting this state and region healthy. 

Post 1 - Community: I'm Talking About More Than Just the Warm Fuzzies

A lot of times when people ask me what I do, it's hard to provide a quick answer.  My job title is officially Metro Detroit community manager for Yelp.com – a website that helps connect people to local businesses, and to each other.  So, I can say I'm a community manager, but what the heck does that really mean?  It's not as easy to pin down as a teacher, lawyer, doctor.  People often can't really picture what I do.  Basically, it's my job to nurture the Yelp community, online and off.  But what does that mean?

Usually, I'm so enthused to give examples of what I'm working on – talking to small business owners, planning a big ole party, helping a nonprofit with publicity for a benefit – that I'm eager to share more details of what I do. On a day-to-day basis, I do a lot of the practical things many people do at their jobs – I send emails, make phone calls, set up meetings, and manage projects.  I introduce people to each other, I plan events, I brainstorm.

What I'm doing now, though, is more exciting to me than other careers that might sound similar day-to-day.  Why?  My end goal is building community; community among people who are active on the site, and – as a side benefit – community in general. Trying to figure out how to help people connect to each other – and to new favorite businesses and "Third Places" that might not be on their radar?  Well, that's something I've always fallen into naturally.

Connections to each other, and our ability to reach across sectors and interests and find shared passions and values, the ability to create a larger group that inspires and supports us – is something I believe in strongly, practically. I think it's far more powerful than just a nice word that gives you the warm fuzzies.

In Ann Arbor, in Detroit, and across the whole region of Southeastern Michigan, we need each other now more than ever.  We need to connect, communicate, and figure out our shared passions and what keeps us loving and believing in our state and our region.  And sure, we need to voice what frustrates us (lack of cohesive regional transit, anyone?) as well.

When I started this job, I had a handful of people who told me that it was quite impossible – that the various cities and towns and suburbs and villages of Southeastern Michigan were too fragmented.  That east-siders would never come to an event in Ypsilanti, that people from the northern Detroit 'burbs wouldn't be interested in exploring the city itself, etc.

Now, there's some truth to that. But that's not the whole truth. Maybe it was my overwhelming sense of idealism.  Maybe it was because I've always tended to bounce around a few different communities in the region and not feel pigeonholed. My real world experience has proven that as long as people find the things that connect them – shared interests, passions, or outlooks – they'll seek each other out and look for reasons to get together, to collaborate and to simply listen to each other – whether it's in quiet discussion or with beer in-hand at a raucous bar.  I can tell you – in my work like and in my personal life – it works.

Over the last year, these shared passions have certainly worked to unite people at various Yelp events – where east-side Yelpers were motivated to drive all the way out to Ypsi to learn about brewing and connect with other yelpers at Corner Brewery.  I've seen it in various meet-ups that have been organized by Yelp community members themselves – from "eat-up meet-ups" downriver to organized taco-truck hunts in Southwest Detroit.

There are a few specific stories that I think illustrate concrete value of the benefits of community beyond just thinking "Oh, I have some friends." A sense of place, and of connection with that place and its people, is one of the factors that not only keeps me here, but makes me happy to be here in Michigan.  It impacts our quality of life in small, daily ways that add up.

Over my next few entries, I'll be sharing a few of the ways different types of community (based on creativity, a shared need/problem) have impacted my life in significant ways – and some examples of how it's very much been instrumental in helping local businesses as well.  I'm pretty sure you’ll have your own examples to add, too – so please do.  That's what this is all about.

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