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Social Media Meets Local Search

stewart-gregg
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Social network traffic continues to increase at a dramatic rate. To date, however, these sites have had a challenge in leveraging this traffic into revenue and ad platforms. Evidence of this can be seen in Facebook's decision to hire Sheryl Sandberg to assist CEO, Mark Zuckerberg with expanding and monetizing Facebook's growth.

In past articles we've explored the importance of user reviews and ratings as an entry-level strategy for utilizing aspects of social media to increase local search selection and preference. Several standalone local search sites focus on the referral and social aspects of local search (examples include yelp.com, Insiderpages.com and Angie's List). While traffic is growing, these sites are still in the early stages of generating large sales lead/referral volume.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at emerging local search products/applications on the heavily trafficked social platform/portal sites. So I went out to the two most-used social media sites, MySpace and Facebook, to probe what local search tools were available on these platforms. I searched "Yellow Pages" and "Local Search" on the sites to aid in my exploration.

I was intrigued by the SERP (define) results for these terms on MySpace. In addition to the Google ads, I was presented with several profiles, including one entitled "Welcome to Verizon." I'm happy to report that Verizon Yellow Pages resides in Athol, Massachusetts, and is a 47-year-old male. All kidding aside, I wonder the value of profile posting like this.

A peek into the MySpace Forums reveals postings similar in nature and organization to the old Usenet groups (define). Boy, do I feel old. And while I could get volumes of information on a host of topics, if I wanted to find information on a local restaurant in my home town or in a major city, I'd go hungry.

Local search hasn't yet found its way to MySpace. If you want to target their users, look to creative ad units and their classified section for an appropriate category.

Facebook appears to be a little further down the local search development path. There are a couple of applications that support local search for Facebook users:

  • My Yellow Pages

    The My Yellow Pages application allows users to rate businesses within a specified geography and to ask friends for recommendations. In testing a number of markets, they appear to have a healthy amount of local business listings and categories supported in the application.

    The My Yellow Pages application displays businesses with an average rating and the ability to bookmark and share businesses found. While this is useful, I couldn't get any further detail on the ratings information. Additionally, few businesses outside of major metropolitan areas received ratings.

  • MojoPages

    MojoPages is a Facebook application that appears to be repurposed version of their existing MojoPages.com beta Web site. Tagged as "People Powered Yellow Pages," MojoPages states they have more than 15 million businesses in their database. Their top markets based on the number of reviews vary from 671 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to 63 in Carlsbad, California. Based on the listings of the top markets, their area focus appears to center on Southern California.

Ad Models

Unlike standalone IYP/Local search sites, I found no developed ad models for these social media referral directories. So if you're a local advertiser, it makes sense to ensure your listing information is correct, and work with the user-generated review information.

Why Should You Care?

In July 2007, comScore released a study on social media showing meteoric growth in the segment. Additionally, according to eMarketer, advertisers are continuing to experiment with social network advertising, with $920 million being spent on social networking sites in the U.S. this year and a projected $1.6 billion in 2008. Worldwide, online social network ad spending is expected to grow by 83 percent, to $2.2 billion in 2008 from $1.2 billion this year.

Targeting Local Leads on Social Sites

In addition to ensuring your business information is present in all local directories, reaching consumers on social networking sites requires the local business to be active in the online community by reaching out to others, being involved with posts, and taking more creative steps to find the qualified lead. Could it be worth it? For some, yes. But it's definitely something that needs to be tested on an case by case basis, as there are no set standards for ROI (define) on these platforms, as of yet.

Once again, social media and user-generated content management is a required element of your comprehensive local search program. Keep your eyes open and check these sites often as local communities, and resources like referral directories, develop quickly.

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