David: Hey Mike, hope you had a relaxing holiday break. Our break was a little more hectic than I’d have liked, but I’m excited to get back to work in 2019. We’ve got a ton of new initiatives planned for ThriveHive, and on a personal level, it’s nice to get back into a routine.
Mike: Holidays can be like that. Although I am the king of routines, holidays or not.
David: It is prime prediction season, and while I know you don’t cotton to the game the way I do, one prediction I made has been based on your enthusiasm for Messaging in some of our previous conversations. I thought we might dive into where GMB might take Messaging this year and why it matters to kick off the year.
Mike: You are right—I much prefer trying to better understand our current reality and come up with a solid action plan as a response rather than making predictions. But messaging is one of those things that is happening now. So I would love to try to figure out what it all means for businesses.
David: I’ve been a Messaging skeptic for most of my career, purely based on the (lack of) real-time availability of the average small business. But as I’ve seen Google put more and more effort into Reserve on the GMB side, and Duplex on the consumer side, I’m convinced that Messaging is a key component of both of those efforts.
It’s a lightweight way for Google to extend Reserve into more complex, longer-tail industries, and it makes automated conversations initiated by robots a little less morally offensive (and potentially useful for parties on both sides of the conversation).
Mike: Businesses have a need to segment the many communications they are getting so that they can process and handle them effectively. And I think that messaging fits into the hierarchy of the business’s inbound communications so that the SMB is finally going to be receptive to the technology from Google. Five years ago this would not have been the case.
Although I think that for businesses, it is important that when they do add a messaging channel to their communication work-flow, it allows them to focus on high-priority messages and doesn’t get all mucked up with noise.
David: There’s no question GMB messages are likely to be viewed by businesses as “high-priority.”
It may be harder for telemarketers to leverage this channel (and easier for Google to crack down on spam) since sending a message is going to require a logged-in Google account.
That of course requires an order-of-magnitude-higher vigilance around messaging spam than the vigilance Google has shown in fighting review spam to date.
Mike: I, for one, wonder whether Google has the will and the infrastructure to keep messaging from being spammed once bad actors figure out how to make money from it. But let us, for this discussion, assume that it works as planned.
David: I haven’t followed Facebook’s anti-spam efforts closely enough, but it doesn’t feel like bad actors have spammed my Facebook business messages at nearly the same rate as my phone. Surely, Google can make it at least as hard as Facebook has for spammers.
But overall, Facebook business messages have been both low-noise and low-signal for me.
Mike: I think GMB Messaging could have a huge impact, even more than what we saw/are seeing with Facebook Messenger.
David: Perhaps one of the reasons Facebook has been perceived as an effective marketing channel by so many businesses is Facebook’s longstanding push to consumers to “Message This Business.”
Absent a messaging competitor, even a handful of conversations with real customers make businesses *think* Facebook is where the party is. In reality, as you and plenty of others have found, 90% of actual leads are coming from Google. And a serious chunk of that 90% comes directly from Google My Business.
Per my prediction, Google is *just* starting to push the “Message” CTA to consumers. And I think the floodgates are about to open.
Mike: I agree. Initially, they rolled out SMS and Duo messaging to the GMB dashboard, but the recent integration of Messaging into their GMB App feels like the real thing. It’s immediately useful and is super easy to set up.
That being said, for now, the Google My Business messaging feature is trapped inside of the GMB App. That works for the business that is on the go and runs the business from their pocket, but for any business owner stuck behind a desktop or with multiple locations, it soon becomes an unmanageable burden.
David: For Messages to succeed, the consumer expectation of a reasonable response time needs to be met. Which makes continuous business owner engagement with Google My Business absolutely critical … and historically that’s not been a Key Performance Indicator on which Google has demonstrated great success.
It feels like a lot is riding on the GMB app, unless or until Google opens up GMB Messaging to third-party applications.
Mike: The other thing that consumers will need is the availability of messaging on enough listings to develop the new behavior of using messaging via the Knowledge Panel Business Profile to contact the business.
Multi-location businesses and brick-and-mortar retailers will be hesitant to sign on as the App will be inadequate to serve their communication needs, leaving many listings at Google without the feature. This is the chicken-egg problem that Facebook solved by forcing the option onto the business pages.
Obviously, Google will need to figure out a way to scale messaging to serve those use cases. For this to gain widespread adoption, it will require something more than the app and will need to be able to be integrated with current customer support solutions à la the Facebook Messenger API.
David: Assuming that inevitable development, there should naturally be a place for something like “Ruby Receptionists”— through a combination of humans and chatbots—to assist businesses with what could be a massive influx of messages. Responses will be executed by humans to start and then passed on to Duplex.
Mike: As an alternative to a full-blown API, I could envision Google working with a limited number of Ruby Receptionist-like partners, like they are doing with Reserve with Google, to help them roll this out more broadly in a slow, controllable way.
Clearly, this project has legs, and the GMB App start is a solid, easy-to-use SMB solution. But there is so much more that needs to be done, and it is clear that, if Google sticks with it and I think they will, it is a multi-year project.
David: Yes, but I think we’ll remember this year as a major milestone—much in the same way we remember the introduction of the 10-pack or Hummingbird—it feels like that big a deal to me. The local SERPs are about to become a lot more interactive than they’ve ever been.
After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider. He’s the former founder of GetListed.org, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.