Saturday, February 04, 2012

Google+ as an elegant mashup of maps, places and a store homepage

In the half year since its launch, Google has acquired 90 million users, the company says, opened brand pages and integrated with third-party social-media management systems like Hootsuite and my firm, Hearsay Social.

As an example of how rapidly its clout has grown, the new Android OS (nicknamed "Ice Cream Sandwich") prompts new users to sign up for Google with the personal info they've already entered on the phone. As for business, if you type something like " burberry" into Google search, you will be instantly redirected to the Burberry Google page.

But there's something even more massive that Google could be doing with business pages that would transform the online business space. Google, through its Maps and Places services, already has information on millions of businesses. If the information on each of those business's pages, complete with address, phone number, photos and customer reviews, were put into a Google page, Google could become a local-business powerhouse.

Consider that Google Maps is not just a popular option for directions and location search on the Web, but also the default maps app on iPhone and Android devices. And most local businesses, from a taqueria in the Mission district of San Francisco to a taqueria in Austin, already have business pages on Google Maps. What if Google converted every business page on Google Places into a Google page? Where both exist, what if the two were combined? Let's take Nordstrom as an example. It has both.

Nordstrom San Francisco Google Places

The Nordstrom San Francisco Google Places page, above, has business information, while the Nordstrom San Francisco Google Page, below, offers interesting social posts.

Nordstrom San Francisco Google

The benefit of a fused Google Place page to the social-media manager is obvious: maintaining one page beats maintaining two. Continually updated, the page would benefit the local user as an authoritative source of information about the place, like its address and phone number. The fused page would be engaging, with photos uploaded by users and the manager alike, along with user reviews and comments. In addition, we would find conversations occurring between business owner and customers in a consolidated place. 

Google began integrating Google into Google Maps last September, to allow users to share information embedded with the maps. With the launch of brand pages, it only makes sense to similarly tie Google to the business listings on Google Places. And Google Places, though it may not be branded that way, is in the pipeline. In late November, the official Google Your Business page hosted a real-time Q&A in which a user asked, "I'd like my Google business page to be linked seamlessly with my Places page, people who check in on my Place page should be able to find my Business page." Google's response? "I think you'll be thrilled with what we're planning for Google and Places."

One doesn't have to think very long to take this idea further. Google Offers, the company's Groupon knockoff, would integrate perfectly with Google Places. Imagine a user, planning to buy drinks for a party, searches for directions to the nearest BevMol. Along the route, Google Offers surfaces a $199 value deal on a crash course for making mix drinks, obviously something the user would find interest in. The possibilities are endless.

Google knows it has this ace up this sleeve, and the social-media savvy among us know that it will go live with it sooner rather than later. With Twitter flexing its influence over social businesses with new brand pages, Google could use something of this proportion to turn attention back to its site. Google Places could change everything. It could kickstart the social-local revolution.

Clara Shih is CEO of Hearsay Social.

Some good thinking here by Clara Shih from Hearsay on how Google+ mashed up with maps and places could become a de-facto homepage for millions of small business (yellow pages, anyone?) - there's a clear path to that and I'd be surprised if google isn't already testing this.

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