The use of Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, FourSquare, Flickr and other 'social media' tools is rampant. If you aren't aware of just how extensively these tools are being used it's probably because you're not using them, or not using them much. There are dozens of social media services, but the ones I just listed are among the most popular.
If it was just about popularity among an age segment that you don't care about, then I'd say: go in peace and remain blissfully ignorant. But it's not about teen fads, or ADD-addled techies. It's about business and that's what some of you aren't grasping.
Let me give you one quick example that happened a few minutes ago (but which I see on my “social media radar screen” dozens of times a day).
I was just looking for the phone number for my nearby bank, which is CapitalOne. I don't possess a Yellow Pages phonebook, and haven't used a book to look up a phone number in years. If you still use a Yellow Pages book, stop reading right now because none of this will make any sense.
So when I search for my bank I get a bunch of hits for all of the nearby CapitalOne branches; this happens even though all I told Google was to search for “capitalone branches.” See screenshot below:
I clicked on the link that said “More results new New Orleans, LA” and below is a screenshot of one part of the results page. Note that the results includes a “Yelp review” for the Carondelet Street branch (denoted by red arrow).
Now the first question some of you might be asking is: why would anyone take the trouble to review a bank on Yelp? No that's not right: some of you are asking “what the hell is Yelp?”
Okay some of you don't know what Yelp is, so let me pause to explain. Yelp is an online review service that started by allowing people to review restaurants, but now allows anyone to review pretty much any business establishment that is in Yelp's database. When Yelp came out it wasn't widely used, except in San Francisco. Now it's widely used by people everywhere. Yelp even has a full-time community manager in New Orleans.
In short, Yelp is mainstream. And it's accessible from devices that most people carry with them at all times.
If you have an iPhone or Android phone you can use the Yelp app to quickly find nearby businesses and read what others have said about them. Or you can post your own reviews. Yelp doesn't allow you to load new businesses into their database, but other location-based social media services do. For example: Facebook and Foursquare allow one to create a profile for a business that's not in their database.
I've done this many times. Lately when a create a new profile on Facebook or Foursquare, I ask myself “why haven't the businesses themselves already done this?” If I create a new business profile I get “points.” If the new business owner created their profile they'd get something much more valuable: influence, and maybe some goodwill.
Location based services like Yelp and Foursquare have been around for at least two years. I remember telling a friend of mine who owns a restaurant that he should start paying attention to these mobile review services. He dismissed my suggestion as though I had suggested opening a restaurant on Jupiter.
The development of new social media tools, however, is not like the bureaucracy-ridden space program. New tools get launched and widely accepted before most people even grasp that something significant has happened.
So, hopefully I'm not the first one to tell you this, but: “something significant has happened.”
When any schmo who walks into a bank can, and will, leave a review on Yelp—a review that Google will index and display in its search results—then what do you think that means for businesses like restaurants? Or small shops? Or doctors and lawyers? It means something is going on that those folks should pay attention to.
Incidentally, here is what the afore-mentioned CapitalOne bank review looks like when you access Yelp (double-click on it to make it larger and have it open in a new window if you like):
The first box bounded in red is the review, which is a 5 star review with a favorable two sentence comment. The second red box shows something even more interesting: other Yelp users can vote on whether this review is (a) useful, (b) funny, or (c) cool.
Yelp does this so that it can move reviews that people like (based on usefulness, humor, or “coolness”) to the top of its displayed results. Will these reviews be taken into account by Google? I doubt it, but you never know. The point is that people are now in a position to instantly review any business that they come into contact with.
Instantly review. As in “immediately.” As in “within 30 seconds.”
Then when the next person opens up their pocket tricorder to take readings of the local atmosphere they'll see that review, and any others that apply to nearby businesses. Remember, Google is grabbing this data and serving it up as well.
This world exists now, but many people are completely unaware of it.
I work in a building in New Orleans that houses many start up companies. It's called, appropriately enough, “the IP Building.” Most of the people in that building use these geo-location tools and are already incorporating them into their web strategies. Incidentally, only a few of them have Yellow Page listings. All of them have web strategies.
A good web strategy is one that takes into account what's popular now, and what's likely to become popular in the near future. The “near future,” in the world of Internet based tools, is 18 to 24 months. So if you want to know what the future will look like in about 18 to 24 months, pay attention to location-based social media.
Of course, many of you who read this blog know full-well what I'm talking about. A few of you don't, however. So I'm telling you now: pay attention to how this powerful trend is going to affect your business. If you say it won't affect your business and you plan to ignore it, then I hope for your sake you're right. The effect at first will be slight in all businesses, and you may take comfort from that. But eventually, in the long term (5 to 8 years) you won't be able to escape it.
It will be assumed that you are using it. And you will, or you won't be in business anymore. One way to detect that this is something significant is to look at the world of lawyers. We're always the last ones to participate in a new trend. When lawyers start getting invited to the social media party then you know you're in the last stages of deployment.
Guess what? Lawyers are joining the party. I can't tell you how many lawyers are calling me now asking me for advice, or telling me about some cool new social media thing that they learned. Of course, many of them say this as though they've been given a VIP tour of the Manhattan Project. For god's sake guys wake up! The party you've been invited to isn't getting started; it's almost over. Why do I say this? Well, for one thing established companies are now advertising for in-house lawyers who understand social media.
BTW, good luck with finding those lawyers Clorox. Oh sure, you'll find some lawyers who understand the “risks of social media,” and who can say “verboten” in several dialects of legalese. But you're going to have trouble finding lawyers who “understand social media.” It's no slight on lawyers; lots of people don't understand social media. And even experts have trouble figuring out where this is all headed.
But one thing is pretty certain: if you ignore social media, especially location based social media, then you do so at your peril. The future is here folks, so what are you planning to do about it?