Local search has been a “thing” for more than a decade. It started as a basic utility — needing to find a place and get directions — that consumers accessed through PCs. It often ended with printing out directions, which was the local-search equivalent of dial-up Internet service. These days, consumers predominantly use their mobile devices to search locally and generate turn-by-turn directions. And it’s having a disruptive effect on many of the first-generation local-search players.
According to a recent comScore study, more than 113 million consumers used a mobile device to search locally in December, 2012. This is a dramatic shift in behavior and attention from just a couple years ago. Simultaneously, local search is now being influenced by social connections on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, and Google+. Indeed, local search is quickly becoming a social activity.
One of the more surprising revelations from the comScore study is that Facebook is now the #2 mobile app for local search behind Google Maps. This puts it ahead of Mapquest, Bing, and Apple Maps. Yelp isn’t even in the top five.
Are people really using Facebook for local search? This may seem counter-intuitive to some, but consider that Facebook is by far the most popular mobile app in the world. Roughly half-a-billion people use Facebook mobile apps an average of 400+ minutes per month. Local pages alone generate 645 million page views per month. With that level of scale, it’s not surprising that consumers are using local search features like Nearby in very large numbers.
Just as Google wants to become more social through its effort to build out Google+, Facebook wants to integrate search to its core value proposition and, eventually, to its advertising products. While Facebook has quietly established itself as a top local search player, Graph Search is aimed squarely at Google’s bread and butter. This isn’t to suggest that Facebook seeks to replace Google search, much in the same way Google can never hope to replace Facebook’s social graph. But it comes down to competition in three key areas:
1. Mindshare with consumers
2. Making their services that much more valuable for users
3. Increasing ad dollars
After all, Google search is better with a social layer and Facebook’s social graph can make search results that much more relevant and useful. It’s a win for everyone — including brands.
When looking at how consumers are using social networks for local search, however, Facebook is leading by large margins over Google+ and others. This is important because the value of local search for brands extends beyond the basic utility of locating the business. Social networks not only provide personalized recommendation engines — showing places your friends like — but also a social amplifier. When a consumer finds a place, they can share that brand experience through contextualized status updates, check-ins, likes, recommendations, photos, and videos. These engagements — these customer moments — generate value in two fundamental ways: (1) they provide the data that powers personalized recommendation engines such as Graph Search and Foursquare Explore and (2) they generate tremendous earned media value. This is word-of-mouth at scale, and the following case study illustrates its true magnitude at the local level.
A national restaurant chain we looked at has 1,200 locations and more than three million fans on its Facebook brand page. Nearly all of its social marketing resources are invested at the brand level through creating and posting content. There are 1,200 corresponding Facebook local pages, but aside from being optimized via PinSync, these pages receive no content from the brand. They are not actively managed in any way.
During the month of January, the brand page generated more than 500,000 engagements in the form of likes, comments, and shares of the content the brand posted. None of this was promoted using paid media, so it was entirely organic i.e. what you get when you post content to the page. These 500,000 engagements generated 21.1 million impressions, per their Facebook Insights.
Meanwhile, the 1,200 local pages received 107,882 engagements in the form of check-ins, place tags, photos, and recommendations. These generated 31.7 million impressions or 50% more than the brand page. At MomentFeed, we are able to uniquely measure this because we roll up the Facebook Insights for each location. Otherwise, you’d have to go to each page individually for these data.
There are several key takeaways from this simple study:
1. It is critical for multi-location brands to optimize their local pages not only for search but also engagement, which increases social discovery.
2. Consumer-generated stories about a brand (check-ins, photos) are more efficient in the Facebook News Feed than brand-generated stories. In other words, it takes fewer customer check-ins to generate the same number of impressions and value as brand content.
3. Investing resources at the local level will yield higher returns than at the national (brand) level. In other words, it’s much easier to move the needle at the local level, whereas increased investment to a mature brand page ultimately has diminishing returns.
4. Posting content to local pages is pure upside in terms of customer reach and value.
5. Local search, mobile, and social are converging in ways that generate exponential value for brands and consumers alike.
As an industry, we’ve been talking about the convergence of social, local, and mobile a.k.a. SoLoMo for the past couple years. Foursquare was the first to truly nail this dynamic. Now, the behemoths of Facebook and Google are not only catching up but bringing tremendous scale with them. The true promise of SoLoMo is just now being realized. And it starts with local search.
Rob Reed is founder and CEO of MomentFeed, a social marketing platform built specifically for multilocation brands. The MomentFeed platform provides an integrated solution to manage Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, and Twitter at the local level as well as Graph Search optimization. Reed’s background is in marketing and journalism, and he is the founder of Max Gladwell, an independent blog on social media, sustainability, and geolocation. He can be reached on Twitter.