Imagining a Local Search Pathway for Snapchat

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As a tech provider who — as a teen — once founded and grew a social network during the Friendster era, I’m always on the lookout for ways to help such businesses generate revenue. In fact, Facebook and my TalkLocal team recently announced a collaboration to power a call-to-action button that businesses can integrate into their Facebook Pages.

So, when I learned that Snapchat is planning a multi-billion dollar IPO, it got me once again imagining how a social media platform could take on the local search space and what role TalkLocal could play in that strategy. It may feel like a bit of a stretch; how could a teen-savvy app famous for its floral headdress filters and encrypted, count-down-to-self-destruct messaging possibly help local businesses — especially the plumbers and painters that my company serves? And, sure, the platform has its drawbacks but it also offers a lot of strengths and possibilities for local search. Here are a few challenges, assets, and possibilities for a “SnapLocal” growth strategy.

Is the Platform Too ‘Cool’ For Homeowners?
Short answer: of course not. Still, there does seem to be a built-in mystique surrounding Snapchat with its less-than-intuitive — often literally inscrutable — user experience. If there was a how-to tutorial for the app, I missed it and never saw it again. Meanwhile, I couldn’t figure out how to engage the selfie filters until a teenage relative showed me (you press your face until the app maps it and shows the filter options). It’s as if co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy created a medieval moat of confusion to guard their digital castle against invasion by the unhip and unconnected masses.

Yet, 40% of U.S. Snapchat users are 25 and over; in other words, if acclimating to Snapchat felt more difficult than acclimating to Facebook 10 years ago, then you may have aged a few years. Let’s not forget, Facebook was once a bastion of youth and many saw the growth of moms and dads in the site as its death knell, yet it evolved to serve the evolving needs of a loyal and growing user base. Snapchat will undoubtedly do the same. Besides, unlike Facebook which launched as an explicitly undergrad-oriented platform, Snapchat was always for everyone, even if it was most successful among the young. Today, 37% of users are 18-24 while 40% are 25 and older. And, based on daily active users, Snapchat has already exceeded Twitter with 150 million in 2016. Simply put, the engagement and the right demographics are there, so the potential for a powerful local search offering must be there also.

What We’re Working With
So, what does Snapchat currently have at its disposal to connect its millions of users to local businesses? Back in June, Spiegel discussed a commitment to “not being creepy” with the app’s advertising. At the time, Snapchat limited ad targeting — only letting businesses send targeted promotional content to users based on location and time and promoted content stayed in the public Discover section of the app and didn’t intrude into the updates from friends. However, in the weeks ahead of the IPO announcement, the team began introducing targeted ads by email address, mobile ad data, and other demographic details — more akin to Facebook. And, the ads will begin to appear in between people’s stories.

One move that isn’t yet clearly defined: Snapchat’s plans for its recent purchase: Vurb, a restaurant and entertainment recommendations app. Since Snapchat users cannot search the site to find companies of interest, the buy may be aimed at enabling search features where it matters most for the app’s brand, helping social butterflies discover more local adventures to post on Snapchat. And, although enhancing search capabilities to monetize user-initiated business interactions was a logical next step for a company that hoped to avoid the creep-factor of data driven advertising, that simply wasn’t an option for a company without a paying local business base. To shore up earning potential in the near-term, they had to bring the targeted ad capabilities that their existing clients wanted.

The Possibilities
There are two aspects of Snapchat that position it to have a unique impact on local search. Firstly, brand-building is about stories and no other platform tells a story as seamlessly as Snapchat. Users can simply open a story and get snapshots representing day in someone’s life. The images streaming simply wash over the user in a single immersive moment, very different from other social media platforms.

Secondly, the temporary nature of content is very different from how other marketplaces handle reviews, recommendations, and consumer-business interactions. By default, such interactions are part of the record (often public record); such an approach doesn’t jibe with how most people see their business interactions these days. Right now, a “memory” of me enjoying a cheeseburger may pop up on my Facebook feed; Facebook too wants to save all the pages I’ve ever liked, and now even all the business suggestions my friends have ever given me. I don’t want to think about the page I liked so that I could earn 15% off my new tires, or all the failed suggestions I got when my tire was flat. Similarly, my 2006 positive review shouldn’t pop up as a reliable source of feedback a decade later. Consumer-service relationships are largely driven by real-time convenience rather than long-time loyalty; Snapchat reflects such sensibilities.

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Automatically include save functions into business profiles so that businesses can add chapters to their story lasting up to a minute, creating an introductory brand experience for potential customers.
  • Allow businesses to categorize snaps and allow prospects to browse the story of each — streaming projects and portfolios, reviews, or a random variety or recent stories.
  • Allow businesses to make their profiles automatically visible in the Add Nearby search function. Currently, a friend has to also open their Add Nearby in order for their profile to be visible.
  • Allow people to view a nearby business profile’s stories without adding it, allowing people to sample area happenings and choose something they want to be a part of — whether it’s a local coffee shop or museum.
  • Leverage geo-location to add user snaps to a business’ stories with the user’s permission.
  • Allow users to categorize a snap as a review, tag the relevant business, and enable visibility options such as: allow to add to business story for all users to view, view in nearby service category results, or view for friends viewing this company or category.
  • Enable keyword searches and let businesses automatically add service keywords so that users can find profiles for “#plumbers near me”, etc.
  • Leverage On Demand Geo-Filters to let people target their own snaps, say an image of a carpet stain, to relevant pros based on location and get real-time messages from businesses in response.
  • Let businesses turn on on-demand booking through the site to get alerts regarding urgent service requests help. Rather than integrate a booking calendar, businesses would simply receive a call or push notification to accept/decline job or — if they aren’t available — get reminded to snap the job they’re working on.

Snapchat may be considered by many to be “the next Facebook,” but its approach to social media and interactions couldn’t be more different. From its emphasis on moments to the uneasiness the founders have with ad personalization, the company is certain to blaze a trail all its own the the local space.

Manpreet-SinghManpreet Singh is Founder and President of TalkLocal, a local startup with apps on iPhone and Android which help consumers find and speak to high-quality local professionals in minutes. Follow him @MSinghCFA.