Thirty years ago, if someone happened to see a business they had never heard of before, there was no way for them to learn about the business except to go inside (there were no cell phones, so they couldn't just call a friend).
The internet and social media have radically redefined the way people learn about businesses and decides which ones to try. Now, with a few taps of their mobile device, people can check reviews on Facebook, Google and more.
Vying for consumer's attention when they're searching for business information has led to some healthy competition between some of the largest companies on the web. There is already some indication that 2016 may see some shakeup in the industry. Facebook's new, secret Professional Services feature may be the start of a rivalry with Yelp.
For those who (somehow) don't know, Yelp is a service where anyone can leave a review about any business. While there are certainly many sites that offer similar services, including those from giants like Google, Yelp has remained highly popular with its users and with consumers at large.
Facebook already has reviews for local businesses, the new Professional Services feature seems more geared toward helping people search for local businesses and services. According to initial reports, Facebook will give results based on the review scores and popularity of the local business that meet the search requirements.
The difference may be subtle, but meaningful. In the past, it was nearly impossible to find the Facebook pages for local businesses unless you already knew the business you were looking for. Now, a person can easily search for plumbers in their area and discover highly rated service providers they hadn't heard of before.
The Professional Services feature also gives businesses a reason to update their About information on their Facebook business page. When someone does a generic search, Facebook will give subgenres that can be used to narrow down the search. The information they use will come from the information that business owners give on their About Page, so it's worth it to go through and ensure all the relevant information you can give is there.
Though Facebook has yet to officially announce the feature, people can use it now by going to https://www.facebook.com/services/. The site will offer to search in your local area, but they also cover remote places, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
This new project is part of a larger effort by Facebook to expand the reach of its platform even farther than before. As was discussed in a previous article, Facebook has made several improvements to make their site more useful for consumers and advertisers. They've made it easier to search for news articles, improved the quality of their overall search, and added in new mobile marketing features.
Even with this Professional Services feature, Google has just as much to lose as Yelp. Google has made several changes to Google My Business and Google Maps to make it easier to search for local businesses and reviews. And given Facebook's popularity with consumers for product information and reviews, it makes sense that people will turn to them for local reviews, once it becomes easy enough to do.
All of this points to a 2016 where Facebook will continue to be a major player in the internet and social media marketing. Business owners and marketers should be experimenting with these new features to see how they can use them to promote their business.
At the very least, local businesses should have a Facebook presence and allow for reviews. It may help them attract new customers in the same way as a good listing on Yelp.