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The Rise of Social Search: Transforming the Way Local Businesses Are Found

The Rise of Social Search: Transforming the Way Local Businesses Are Found

Over the past few months, we’ve seen major changes in both the ways users consume social media and the opportunities presented to local businesses by new social media search functionalities. 

In July, we reported on Instagram’s new immersive map, potentially changing the game for local business discovery. Since then, it’s also been reported that TikTok is the go-to search engine for Gen Z, with 40% of Gen Z users preferring the video sharing app, and Instagram, over Google Search. 

Naturally, TikTok is jumping on product developments, improving its search functionality, and even testing a ‘nearby’ feed

We’ve also seen Twitter introduce Location Spotlight for local businesses, which displays important business information and integrates with Google Maps to help customers find them.

Social platforms seem to be putting more and more focus on search and local business discoverability.

On Instagram, we’re seeing a push for users to find local businesses through creator and influencer content. Meanwhile, on TikTok, the everyday creator can go viral with their video content, which can include recommendations of local areas, businesses, or services. And now Twitter is now promoting local businesses through enhanced profile attributes.

But what about Facebook? Well, Facebook has always presented itself as a strong promoter of local businesses. Businesses can create pages, which can act as local citations. Your business page shows up in search queries across Facebook and provides an additional platform for user recommendations, engaging followers with news, updates, and offers.

Facebook’s online community groups also provide an avenue for local businesses to promote their services, or to get user reviews and recommendations. In future, we could see Facebook integrate with Instagram’s map search, and become an even more valuable platform for local businesses. 

As shown below, a simple search for ‘Brighton dog groomer’ brings up related local pages with their business info, followed by conversations taking place on local community groups. This demonstrates the power that user recommendations on local community groups have, especially as they show on search results. 

Screenshot 2022 08 26 At 10.05.32

And then there’s YouTube: the ultimate creator platform, which we know consumers can use it search for almost anything.

While YouTube is indeed a global platform, local keywords can still have an impact on business discoverability. For example, the search term “san diego restaurants” brings up food and travel vloggers providing their recommendations. 

A YouTube search for 'san diego restaurants'

It’s clear that, while some of the original tech players continue to boost local visibility through creator content, newer platforms are starting to embrace it even more.

With these changes in mind, it’s important to consider how consumers are really consuming content in 2022. 

Video-first Platforms

Social media channels have moved in favor of short-form video content. This has led to a  change in how users, particularly younger people, consume information, through quick, visual pieces of content. 

If someone is looking for the best way to make a key lime pie, they might now watch a video, rather than read a written recipe.

If someone is traveling somewhere new, they might watch videos of their destination, rather than reading travel blogs.

For someone trying DIY, their go-to for information could now be in video format. In the below screenshot, you can see a search for ‘key lime pie’ on TikTok which brings up video tutorials and recipes to make a pie. 

A search for 'key lime pie' on TikTok

When you think about it, doesn’t video make more sense for these kinds of content anyway? You could argue that this reckoning has been in the works for a long time. In many cases, video provides the user with everything they need to know in as little time as possible, in the most engaging way. 

Authentic and Trustworthy Content

Social media has always been a place of fake personas, edited and filtered images, and carefully curated, aesthetically-pleasing content. This is now changing, as “young people have decided to share it all, from messy break-ups to professional failures.” TikTok creators are often their most authentic selves, and this hunger for realness, trust, and authenticity has spread across social channels. 

BeReal: A Case Study in the Appetite for Authenticity

BeReal is one of the newest social platforms taking the younger generation by storm, now with up to 10 million daily active users. BeReal, which describes itself as ‘Your Friends for Real’, is a photo-sharing app with no functionality to edit or filter images.

Every day, at a different time, users are notified that they now have two minutes to take a photo. The app takes a photo using both the back and front cameras on the smartphone, to give a realistic view of what the user is doing or seeing at that moment. No curated images, just an authentic peek into someone’s life, there and then.

The joy of this is that you’ll most likely find everyone else is going about their day-to-day life, watching TV, cooking, working, or studying. Users don’t experience ‘FOMO’, or feel bad about themselves for not living the ‘perfect’ life we often see on platforms like Instagram. 

Users require authenticity as the number one trust signal: a TikTok user sharing their recommendations for museums to visit in Toronto or an Instagram travel influencer showcasing their most recent Miami Beach hotel stay might be viewed as more trustworthy than Google reviews—definitely something we’ll aim to explore in our next Local Consumer Review Survey.

A screenshot of an influencer drinking a cocktail at a beach bar

In the screenshot above, we can see that a content creator has tagged the Miami Beach hotel in her photo, showing her experience at the location there and then. The hotel’s comment (highlighted) is an example of a great way to respond and engage with user-generated content such as this. Anyone viewing the post can see what the hotel may look like, what their experience might be when they get there, and potentially the promise of good customer service through the hotel’s online engagement. 

When it comes to search, users want to see real reviews and real experiences, and this is what video on platforms like TikTok and Instagram can provide. 

For anyone browsing nearby restaurants, for example, social search adds authenticity, from real and trusted content creators. With video, you can see the plated food, you can grasp an idea as to what the interiors and vibe of the restaurant would be, and you can hear about and see recent experiences directly from the creator themselves.

A TikTok video screen shot which says "Top 5 restaurants I've tried in 2022 so far in Chicago"

Source: TikTok

This example from TikTok shows food, drinks, interiors, and exteriors from Chicago restaurants, so that users can get a feel as to what the restaurants feel like, as well as what the food served will look like. 

Traditionally, a search result would rely on the Google algorithm, which can present potentially fake reviews, out-of-date images, and poorly-optimized websites —none of which bode well for a good IRL experience.

Ultimately, social search showcases a more authentic, real-life world experience, rather than relying on content that’s been carefully, and likely artificially, crafted for algorithms.

Why are social platforms making substantial changes for local businesses?

This might be an effect of the pandemic, where more local businesses took to the world of digital in order to continue making money during lockdowns across the world. Social platforms are tapping into a market that is more digital than ever before, enabling local businesses to grow and increase visibility through their channels.

If more local businesses advertise on these platforms, grow their followings, and become more active through social search, this naturally results in more revenue opportunities for the platforms, and so the imperative for them to develop more functions for local businesses grows ever more.

Creating Viral Video Content for Social Search

This might sound good for Gen Z users, or local marketers in industries such as leisure, tourism, or hospitality. However, social media, and in particular video, can be highly valuable for local marketers across a variety of industries, for older audiences, even in the most niche of places.

Here are some great examples of local businesses causing a stir on TikTok, and reaping the rewards by doing so:

The Pool Guy, a swimming pool engineer based in the UK, has gone viral for his pool-cleaning videos. These have led to increased discoverability throughout his local service area and beyond, and even celebrity bookings.

The Pool Guy on TikTok

This Manchester, UK-based hairdresser shares incredible hair transformations, and often finds that clients travel the breadth of the UK just to have treatments with her.

Keratin One Hair on TikTok

TikTok isn’t just kids performing dances or lip-syncing along to popular music. It’s full of people giving advice on health and fitness, financial advice, home improvements, advice on plant-care—you might even find your local dentist on TikTok

Dr Wallin & Family on TikTok

While they might reach global audiences, you’d be surprised at how showing your trust and authenticity through TikTok can help boost your local brand awareness and drive customers from both your local area and from further away. 

Taking Advantage of Social Search

Now we know the power of social media video, and the rising importance of social search, how do local businesses take advantage of these evolutions in social media? 

First of all, increase your social media presence. Being active on channels like Instagram and TikTok could work well, especially for businesses with a visually pleasing interior, or a product or service they can easily show off through video. If you’ve got subject matter expertise in law, healthcare, or finance, answer frequently-asked questions through short-form video on these channels. You never know who your content might reach. 

Secondly, engage your audience to drive user-generated content. Get users who visit your location to tag you and share content from their experience. Engage with anyone who does share their experience on social and thank them! Your potential customers want to see authentic content from existing customers, and user-generated content is the catalyst for this. 

Reach out to local influencers and offer them a gifted meal or a visit to your location in exchange for creative content on social media. Make the most of content creators on social media, as these are the people shouting about your brand, and boosting discoverability through social search. 

In Conclusion

Social search is growing. With this, in turn, platform product developments and user behavior are now intertwining to become a force to be reckoned with. 

Users are engaging with, learning from, and searching for more video content, to help answer their questions, inspire something new, or be entertained. Now’s the time for businesses to start getting creative behind the camera to meet user needs.  

Through video comes authenticity and social proof from a range of creators across social platforms. Creators are showcasing their content in the most real and trustworthy way, and users are hungry for realistic content. Local businesses should make good use of user-generated content throughout their local marketing campaigns. 

While we might still be reliant on Google, the power of social media is always growing, and social search could have a huge impact on how you achieve your business goals. 

Jenny Bernarde
About the author
Jenny looks after the BrightLocal community, through managing our social media channels, connecting with our community, and producing our online webinars.

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