Setting up for one of Yelp's contributor parties. Image by Yelp.com via Flickr

This winter the Sparksheet team travelled to Toronto for Dx3 Canada, the country’s first trade show for digital advertisers, marketers, and retailers. A chief takeaway from the event was that real-world networking is more powerful than ever.

And to think that this lesson was driven home by none other than Crystal Henrickson, Marketing Director for Canada and Western U.S. at Yelp. It may sound counterintuitive, but according to Henrickson, there’s a remarkable benefit to fostering online communities in the offline space.

Yelp is no stranger to thinking outside the box. In 2009 they reportedly walked away from an offer by Google of more than $500 million. The bold move ended up being a savvy one: Their March 2 IPO launch saw the company’s valuation exceed 1 billion dollars.

During her Dx3 talk, Henrickson emphasized the importance of doing things differently. She explained how brands can get people interested in them online, and how merchants should deal with the inevitable bad review (or disgruntled reviewer).

Since more people are looking at online reviews before deciding on which product to purchase, brands, she argued, should be taking note.

We asked Henrickson to explain what makes Yelp stand out among other user-generated review sites, and about the offline networking Yelp facilitates for its devoted community of contributors (think really awesome parties).

She also cautions brand managers to take a deep breath before replying to negative reviews: posting when angry is never a good idea.