The answser to the question above depends on whether you are trying to find a business, sign up for offers, or wanting to be found. When someone asks my opinion on location services, that’s the question I must ask first before I can respond. The value of location services isn’t something that can be addressed at face value. The answer comes after you break down location services based on three basic needs of the user. In the first need, you are searching for a business or offer, the second involves opting-in to local offers based on your profile, and the third is being found with pushed offers and messages based on your physical, geo-location.
1. Searching for Local Businesses
Naturally, Google comes to mind when conducting a local business search. In fact, according to Google, “20 percent of all search queries are local in nature." So, it’s no surprise that the search giant is concentrating on improving relevant results for local search queries. Google’s Places, now launching through a phased-in approach, combines local and organic listings intended to cluster search results around specific locations so users can more easily make comparisons on the information they are seeking. Google also uses business reviews from Yelp, Foursquare, and other location review sites to enhance information on the sites in Google Places.
Other major players are bolstering their local capabilities as well – just look at Bing Maps, Yahoo! Local, CitySearch and MapQuest. Each has contributed to the local search year-over-year growth increase, as reported in a recent study from comScore and TMP Directional Marketing. I won’t go into each of those here, but if you haven’t looked at them lately, it’s worth checking them out.
Yellow Pages directories have also found a way to bump up their presence to stay relevant in a marketplace shifting more toward digital media. Usage of Internet Yellow Pages (IYP), for instance, as a primary source for local information is up from 21 percent market share in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010 according to the comScore study. That may not seem like much of an upward trend but with all the new services, platforms and devices on the market today, any growth or market share increase is commendable. And, don’t forget about print Yellow Pages (PYP), in fact, PYP ranks second behind search engines as the most-used secondary source for finding local business information.
Yes, social media platforms are jumping on the proverbial wagon too. Microsoft and Facebook have joined forces in an agreement that combines Facebook's "like" function with results from Bing. When Facebook users search for something on Bing, such as a company or product, they will get results that includes “Like” tags by their friends. Bing searchers will be able to see what businesses and products their friends recommend. Just ask any business owner you know, one referral from a friend is worth many multiples of an ad impression.
Twitter recently announced it has enhanced its ability to help users find businesses and products with an advertising model that places ads inside the Tweet streams of users. Twitter’s ad platform was first launched in April based on subjects in the users Tweets. For instance, if you searched on Tweets about Disney, you could receive ads by Disney served up on the side of your page as a “promoted Tweet.” But with the new enhancement, beginning November 2, ads are not only inserted into the users Tweet stream, they are served up based on the people, companies and products that the user follows. I refer to these ads as de-facto search results. Twitter is also launching its new program in a controlled release.
And let’s not forget about LinkedIn. Earlier this year, the service added the ability for members to follow companies more easily on the site. Some 30 million LinkedIn users are now following over 1 million companies to find out about company updates, job openings and promotions.
2. Opting-in to Local Offers Based on Profile
You all know how ads are served up based on your member profile … Facebook, Amazon, eBay, they all do it. They serve up ads based on your likes, gender, purchase history, and demographics stored in your profile. However, what seems to be gaining steam nowadays are e-couponing services offered by services such as Groupon, LivingSocial, TownHog and HomeRun. Consumers are catching on and signing up to receive these “deals” pushed to them from businesses within their local area.
One of the newest buzz makers is Facebook Deals. Facebook Deals, lets local businesses offer discounts and deals to people who check-in using Facebook Places (discussed below) on their mobile phone. Basically, the feature gives Facebook users incentives to embrace Facebook Places and share it with friends. Facebook Deals also empowers businesses on Facebook with a valuable lead-generation and loyalty marketing tool.
3. Being Found for Offers Using Location-based Services
Smartphones allow users to find locations or businesses while on the go. The reverse of that—being found based on your GPS coordinates—is where businesses are getting excited. Knowing where you are at any given moment allows a business to push a message or offer to you when you check in or are simply within proximity of the business. The hope too is that you will share your location with your friends and contacts. The down side, according to a Pew Internet Study, is that today “only 4% of Americans use these location-based services” such as Foursquare or Gowalla to share their location with friends and to find others who are nearby. And, “on any given day only 1% will be ‘checking in.” I, on the other hand, believe that location-based services will grow at an unexpected and rapid rate over the next few years, exceeding predictions by most analysts. We’ll see if I am right.
One of the newest players in location-based services, and certainly the most significant, is Facebook Places (Anything is significant when you’re talking about 500 million users!). Launched in June, Facebook Places lets users "check in" on their mobile phones so friends know where they're hanging out and what they're doing. Facebook is also taking Places a step further with a feature that lets businesses “claim” a location or place, much like individuals have been able to do since earlier this year. And, yes, Twitter says it is considering altering its Twitter Places location-tagging function for use by businesses.
So, are location services the new social movement? Like I said ... it depends. Where are you?
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