How Social Search Changes the Way We Find Local Businesses

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As online maps, directories, and social media evolve, consumers are finding new ways to find and compare local businesses. Social search, which aggregates the recommendations and opinions of friends about specific businesses, is taking on an increasingly important role in this type of local discovery.

Street Fight recently spoke with Miriel Robidoux, the director of operations at Wajam. Her company integrates social media into online searches. She discussed how social media is changing the way people find merchants and what social search might mean for the future of Yelp reviews.

How does adding a “social layer” onto search engines and maps change the way we search and how much of an impact does it have on a local level?
I think [people and businesses] are going to see value added in a different way. Right now we have search and recommendations, which is great, but we don’t have a camera lens on what our friends do. I know that [for] myself, I will call my good friends and ask for their recommendations. If I want a good French restaurant, for example, I will usually put it on Facebook and say, “Hey, does anybody know good [French] restaurants in San Antonio?” because I’ve never been there.

We took a look at the information that’s circulating in social networks today and we realized that there has to be an easier way for people to tap into that knowledge.

If a business knows that people are finding it through their social networks instead of, say, Google Maps or Yelp, how does that change the way they market to customers? 

Word of mouth is the best marketing anyone can get. Social search is democratizing word of mouth and making it easier for local businesses to benefit from it. With our solution, local businesses can see immediate results and benefit from their social media presence.  

Can you elaborate on what you mean by “immediate results?” How exactly will social media increase business?
Businesses who have a social media presence can grow their business through different marketing strategies. For example, they can create a campaign that encourages their fans to talk about and share their positive experiences with the product or service offered. Once these people share these recommendations on social platforms, Wajam makes it easy for users to then find these recommendations when they search. We even let users find these recommendations on a map via Google Maps, bringing visibility to local businesses by geographic location.

Why did you decide to pursue online shopping and how do you think social search can impact shopping sites?
I think it comes to the same basis as for restaurants. When we’re looking for general terms in life, we usually ask for recommendations from our friends and family and people close to us as to what they would recommend — “I’m looking for an iPhone; what would you recommend?” Now we can bring that value to the end users by giving them an overview of what their friends are recommending for shopping as well.

What do you think is the future for social integration into search? Do you think recommendations by, say, someone’s Twitter followers will start to replace Yelp reviews?
We think there’s room for both organic and social results. There are contexts in which I want to read reviews from strangers. Other times, I want more trustworthy advice, especially from friends who I know are “experts.”

For example, when I need advice on a new bike, I’ll prioritize the recommendations from my friends who are bike enthusiasts, people who have shopped around themselves and have experience.  [The] same with restaurant recommendations. If it’s someone I know, I can always follow up with that person if I need more specific advice. I can ask my friend who knows my preferences, “Was that Indian restaurant’s food too spicy or just right?” You can’t get that information from a stranger.

There can be a lot of value in getting recommendations from people you know and trust. That’s why the big players are actively trying to figure out social search. Google has been experimenting by adding Google+ results when you are logged in, and Bing also offers ways to connect with Twitter and Bing. We believe that there’s an opportunity as a third party to bridge the gap between these competing platforms and ultimately give users more choice in which search engine and which social platforms they can use to get the recommendations they need.

Isa Jones is an editorial assistant at Street Fight.