Social media is a driving force behind content in the modern online world. Sites such as Facebook, Google+, and Twitter are great means with connecting with people from all wakes of life. They have a great global presence, but what they bring to the table in the local social media arena is not very plentiful.
Local social media is about connecting people in a community. It can be about connecting individuals with their friends or connecting them with the businesses and services they enjoy. Most of these services use mobile applications and mobile Web sites as the driving force behind engaging users, so having a great mobile presence yourself will lend itself to a positive experience from the individuals.
The way I see it, most local social networks can fall into the following non-exclusive categories:
- Let users display their location/connect with places
- Let users find their friends
- Leave reviews/rate their satisfaction
- Offer limited time deals for users.
Letting users display their location and connecting with places is primarily done via mobile applications/sites that allow the user to check in to the location. There are many different social networks that offer this feature, but the primary ones would be Foursquare, Facebook Places, Yelp, and Google+/Google Latitude/Google Places. Foursquare is currently the leader in this arena, but recently it has been suffering numerous lengthy instances where the server goes down preventing users from being able to check in so it may lose some ground in the future.
The key to Foursquare’s success has been its game-driven mentality. Users gain points for every check in and encourage users to check in with friends. Check in more than anyone else in a 60 day period and you become the “mayor” of that location. Check in to certain types of locations (e.g. a gym, parks) enough times and receive a “badge”. Foursquare allows retailers the ability to offer deals to users based off of certain criteria such as the number of check ins, mayorship, etc. Radio Shack recently found that Foursquare users spend 3.5 times more than non-Foursquare users, so these are the type of users you would like to engage.
Yelp is a Web site that started out primarily as a review-driven site that only recently added check-in support. It offers the same type of features as Foursquare, only they use “duke” instead of “mayor”. Neither Facebook Places nor Google offer any type of game-like features at this present time, but check ins for Facebook Places allow you to tag other friends as being with you, and can be seen from the administration for your Facebook page, and deals are presently limited to select cities.
Check ins on Google+ allow you to leave a comment with the check in (similar to Foursquare and Yelp), but cannot presently be seen anywhere but on a Google+ user’s stream, not even in Google Places. I feel like this should be wrong, but I can’t find this data anywhere at the present time but am anticipating it once Google+ releases organization pages in the future.
Users can receive deals using Google Offers as set up in Google Places. Both Foursquare and Google Latitude have begun experimenting with Near Field Communication (NFC) based check ins. NFC is a technology where you tap your phone against a device and it will perform an action (e.g. make a credit card payment or check in to a location). NFC is in its infancy stage and not supported by many phones (presently just some Android phones). Foursquare also has support for check in via QR Codes.
Social networks such as Google Latitude and Gowalla are currently the top networks for allowing friends to connect with one another. They let you find where your friends are at a given time and can be useful for meeting up and finding new places. Google Latitude lets you check in and lets you rate and review businesses as you check in, so it is gaining steam with users.
Yelp is currently the dominate review driven site, with Google Latitude gaining heavy traction in this area. Yelp is the more business driven network of the two, as they allow businesses to set up deals such as “Get a $40 gift certificate for $25” that are displayed upon its Web page and inside of the mobile application which results in Yelp taking a 30% cut of the deal. Google has a free service such as this called Offers as listed under Google Places which is displayed in Google Maps and Google search results when it shows a business, and when a views the business in Google Places or Google Latitude via mobile device.
Deals seem to be a hot arena right now. As mentioned above Google and Facebook are currently getting in to the field. Like Facebook, Google has a service called Google Offers (not to be confused with Google Place Offers) that is currently only in select cities. Groupon is the number one one deal oriented service with the largest selection of cities available. There are also industry specific deal services such as OpenTable which lists restaurants that currently have an opening.
Each social network seems to have their own type of mechanism for verifying that you’re the owner of a business and have the ability to manage the listing on their service. Google Places sent out a post card to the address that had to be keyed in to verify the account ownership. Yelp’s primary mechanism is to call the phone number on file which was very useful in my experience. Foursquare is supposed to have a phone number verification system as well, but it seemed to be buggy when trying to call the last time I tried, so they sent out a place letter as a fall back.
Facebook ties in the location to the location on your Facebook page. This actually seems a bit too lax in my opinion and I hope that they put stronger restrictions in the future. We currently have three Facebook pages set up all using the same location and they all appear when a user tries to check in. With no formal verification in place anyone can create a page for a business and say they are the ones that are located at that place. I hope this changes in the future.