Tom Schmitz // Jan 4 2011
Some say 2010 was the year of local search, some say it was the year of mobile and others say the year of social. Strong arguments can be made for all three.
Google reimagined local search. Looking back it seems like each month the search engine introduced new changes. The three/seven pack of local search results became integrated with the organic top ten. The map of local search results moved to the right side then began sliding down with the scrollbar right over the PPC results. Then the sliding map stopped sliding. Stars from Google Places reviews appeared below results then flushed to the right next to the paid results. I can go on and on about local search but one thing is clear, it is more important than ever. This makes sense. As the Internet continues growing more and more small businesses are taking the web seriously. Some searches lend themselves to local results. People don’t want to find any coffee shop. They want to find one in their neighborhood or around the block. I think local search passed a milestone last year. Local businesses are enjoying the same level of traffic that nationally targeted websites saw in the mid-2000′s. It’s noticeable and it’s profitable.
Much of this has to do with smart phones and other mobile devices. When you’re searching for a book on your iPhone, chances are good that you want it now and will walk or drive to the closest bookstore. Mobile changes everything. It’s not just phones either. People are taking their iPads and laptops with them to Internet cafes, work and even the park. WiFi and mobile broadband has become ubiquitous. Who wouldn’t want to spend a sunny summer day sunning themselves while watching Lost reruns on Netflix?
This brings us to social. Social is mobile. I update my Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare accounts from wherever I am. I can use Twitter to chat with professional colleagues all over the world from anywhere in the world. I can let my Facebook friends know where I’m at so we can get together on a moment’s notice. It’s the same with FourSquare. And while the mobile aspects of social media has grown tremendously during the last year it’s nothing compared to our ability to share news, images, music or random thoughts. In 2009 Facebook was good for promoting yourself on Facebook. That changed in 2010. Brands, big and small, set-up Facebook fan pages. They are using the site to build communities and engage with people. Remember the book Raving Fans? The definition of a raving fan has changed. It’s now someone who reads your blog, follows or likes you on Facebook and responds to your tweets. Raving fans don’t just talk about you, they engage with you.
So what will 2011 bring? Obviously more integration between mobile, social and local. More companies and brands will join in to promote themselves. But what I think will be most interesting is how users will change their behavior. We are getting over the “Neato Factor” and social media, mobile and local are becoming part of our everyday experience. Lots of people will become bored and drop out. With more people comes more noise. Already I’ve noticed lots of people stop using Twitter because they cannot cut through the incessant links and quotes enough to carry on a conversation. The same is bound to happen on Facebook as it grows. At the end of 2009 promoting via Facebook events was a good strategy because few were doing it. Now I get invited to five or more events a day. The noise is growing and people will leave. I wouldn’t be surprised if net growth – the number of new users minus the number of abandoned accounts – shrinks in 2011 on the major social media sites.
One phrase that keeps popping into my head for 2011 is thin slicing. The ability to separate out the sponsored messages, self-promotion, people who are not really your friends and focus on the people who you do want to interact with. There may be a market for locally based social media communities, say a SeattleBook, or topically based sites, perhaps a PhotographyBook. Toss in a universal login and the ability to interlink communities and you could have something.
Here is what I predict: During 2011 we will see a new breakout property on the Internet. It will combine social media, mobile computing and location or topic based segmenting. There will be better message and conversation threading and archiving. This new site will not be a Facebook killer, at least not during its first 24 months, but it won’t have to be. An enthusiastic user base of highly engaged raving fans will keep it going and growing.