Influencers live between joke and necessity. We've seen the memes. But we also need curation, tastemakers, and thought leaders to cut through the noise in this information abundant world.
We started with regular influencers. Then came the micro-influencers. Now nano-influencers. Will we have local influencers tomorrow?
Very well possible, if you ask Google!
Google Local Guides
Last year we announced a Google Maps pilot feature that allowed people to follow select Local Guides, the everyday people who are passionate about sharing their experiences on Google Maps.
Today we’re expanding this feature and beginning to roll it out globally. If a Google Maps user has shared photos, reviews or lists publicly, you can now follow them and get their recommendations, advice and updates delivered to your Updates tab in Google Maps. So the next time you find someone sharing helpful photos of takeout menus, handy lists of your city's most spacious parks or inspiring photos of local shops and services, you can keep up-to-date on all of their recommendations. https://www.blog.google/products/maps/better-local-recommendations-google-maps/
It is a weird time to launch local guides as the world is shut down but as a long-term play, it makes sense.
I think it's kind of the death stab to Yelp, which seems to be struggling.
https://www.reddit.com/r/assholedesign/comments/i4bewt/yelp_is_now_charging_small_businesses_30month_to/ Yelp now charges $30/month to add a custom logo
What makes a social network?
As I mentioned earlier, we need curators and trend setters. Humans are tribal creatures of habit. Some are coffee snobs (your’s truly), other have a Friday night pizza ritual.
For Google, it's a huge opportunity. No one really wants to use the "s-word" (social) but Local Guides is kind of a social network. You have a profile, can write blog posts, create or join little tours (meetups), share travel tips, write how-tos,...
... and most of all, you can connect with other local guides! Google allows you to "follow" other local guides. Come on! How much closer to a social network does it get?
For Google, it's a new opportunity to display and sell ads. I mentioned several times how desperately Google needs new revenue streams after mobile gave it a chance to double the ad surface. Now Maps.
"Every month, more than a billion people use Google Maps, and they’re not just looking for directions. Worldwide, people are searching for things to do: ideas for the perfect date night, an amazing local coffee joint, or their next adventure. Across 24,000 cities and towns, we now have an active community of 120 million Local Guides on Google Maps who are passionate about sharing their experiences by contributing reviews, photos, lists and more."
The "social network" has an interesting gamification system: for each contribution, local guides get a point.
Of course, some people try to game that. Local Guides has a bit of a spam issue. But is that surprising? Not much. Wherever people can game the system, some will. To be fair, though, Google should do more to provide a better experience, at least if they want a thriving influencer eco-system.
Platform Confluence and Facebook
Here is why I think Google will win local: it's deeply integrated within the rest of Google's ecosystem (Platform Confluence).
First, your Google account allows you to become a Local Guide. The integration is seamless.
Second, Maps is already heavily used. Google mentions billions of people using Maps (in the quote above) for purposes like navigating and finding local businesses. Yelp has no chance against that.
Third, Maps is heavily integrated with Google Search. Any query that has the slightest smell of a local user intent shows a map pack.
Fourth, Gmail, Calendar, and Maps are connected. Google Home will let you know when to leave the house to get to your lunch appointment in the city.
Snap tried something similar with Snap Maps - and it's surprisingly good. Like most Snap products. But like most Snap products, it's being copied. The idea of showing stories for local businesses is smart because people want to see pictures and videos when evaluating places.
I expect Google to push further into that aray. What would stop them? And what would stop them to show more ads in such stories?
And that brings me to Facebook, Google's biggest rival and driver of innovation. Instagram has "places" but it's not a discoverable map. Facebook has "Facebook Local" and it doesn't seem like anybody uses the app but they also have a good set of local pages that are useful, e.g. https://www.facebook.com/places/Things-to-do-in-Chicago-Illinois/108659242498155/.
In other words, Google's push into making Maps more social and provide more local content provides an avenue for revenue, engagement, and competition with Facebook.