Facebook Takes a Stab at Local—Again
David: Hey, Mike. Greetings from smoky Oregon. The fires have just been horrible out here the last couple of weeks. Tough to be stuck inside during what should be peak summer, but I guess it’s easier to make time to record this week’s column!
Mike: Sorry to hear that. Here, in paradise, we have had a great August with temperatures in the low 80s during the day and low 60s at night. Although I did hear that the smoke cloud from the west was floating over our area … with little impact.
What say we talk about Facebook’s newest ‘pivot’ in local?
David: Sounds good. I covered a lot of Facebook’s recent updates in my latest Minutive newsletter, including what’s probably the most visible update to most small businesses: the new Pages layout.
I summarized the update by describing the new layout as more transactional in focus with a heavier emphasis on reviews. Selfishly, you (GetFiveStars) must be encouraged by the latter.
Mike: Yes, they are looking to provide the consumer with the ability to take immediate action on the page. Though one has to wonder—if the page is NEVER seen, how is that going to happen?
Facebook’s review moves are also interesting, but the switch away from a five-star rating to a Thumbs Up/Down status is unusual. It is likely to minimize the number of negatives altogether. That being said, it looks like Facebook will be using ‘attributes’ to pick out themes for each business that could turn out to help businesses’ discoverability.
David: Well, I wonder if that Thumbs-Up/Thumbs-Down mindset is at all influenced by Instagram—which, anecdotally, seems to be the most popular, or at least highest-usage social network among small businesses right now. But perhaps part of that is due to the fact it’s also the social network with the highest-remaining organic visibility.
Thumbs-Up/Thumbs-Down is certainly 180 degrees from Yelp’s point of view on reviews; Yelp has long hung its hat on long-form content. As with many strategic decisions on Yelp’s part, I’ve long felt that’s a mistake, particularly in a mobile context. People don’t want to spend hours typing a review, and people trying to make a decision about where to go out don’t want to spend hours reading reviews.
Facebook also seems to be borrowing from Google’s playbook in terms of highlighting attributes (you described them as “tags”) that describe the business, as opposed to trying to parse those out from long-form content.
Mike: ‘Tags’ is in fact how Facebook refers to them. Yes it would almost seem that in simplifying the review process Facebook is not only looking for what an individual may like but is also trying to build out a more complete understanding of the business through attributes.
The company is clearly in transition between a ratings and a pure “recommend” model. But given that my recent recommendations don’t show up in my timeline, it brings me back to the question of how Facebook is going to surface this information to consumers.
Will it strictly be pay to play on the part of the SMB? That would seem to put Facebook at a strong disadvantage vis-à-vis Google and the Knowledge Panel, which has largely free visibility.
David: Yes, I was struck by how closely the new Page layout hews to the Knowledge Panel. Whether that’s the outcome of significant user research on Facebook’s part, or just path-of-least-resistance product management, both Facebook and Google seem to be aligned on the local business information they’re presenting to consumers and are disintermediating that business’ website.
But to your earlier point, Facebook seems to have blown its massive lead on Google in terms of SMB engagement (Instagram success notwithstanding) by monetizing so heavily. I wonder if there are some features designed around getting businesses to engage more that are as yet unreleased.
Mike: My anecdotal, local experience is that most new businesses starting out have not yet gotten the memo that their exposure will be near zero unless they pay. Maybe Facebook plans on changing that before they figure it out. 🙂
Google is certainly on a tear in an effort to garner SMB mindshare and seems to be doing all the right things in doing so. Surprisingly, it has once again become a real battle, but I would have to give the lead to Google.
One thing that is of interest is that all of this new review content is largely hidden from public view and is only visible when logged in. Clearly it will inhibit Google from learning more about these businesses from Facebook. Ultimately, it might mean the end of rich snippet reviews stars for Facebook in the search results at Google as well.
David: In terms of organic visibility, Facebook says it’s going to start promoting Local via a higher-profile tab within the main app, and perhaps we’ll start to see a deeper push into its standalone Local app—which at previous glance was pretty lame.
Mike: Yes, I too have tried that app and find discoverability outside of brand searches to be very limiting except for events, bars, and restaurants. Maybe this will change.
As it stands, this effort is of academic interest but hardly seems a reason for businesses to actively re-engage with the free side of Facebook. From a competitive viewpoint, it hardly seems the stuff of legend needed to take on the current local search hegemon, Google.
Will another shoe be dropping that turns this into something more than it now appears? Without that, it’s just another Facebook local update.
After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now runs Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletter, Minutive. In 2012, he sold his former company GetListed.org to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in Google and other search engines. Along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.