First we had Google maps entries appearing for our businesses, whether we wanted them or not.
Next we had Foursquare arrive in which any Tom, Dick or Harry could create a listing for YOUR business and start ‘checking in’ and leaving comments about you for others.
But now we have Facebook setting business advertisers against each others like cock fighting entrepreneurs.
What’s the common theme? Your business is a play thing, your reputation is in the balance, and your ignorance of these things might prove very dangerous.
Here is the inside scoop.
Google maps and directory listings
If you ponder long enough, you might recall that in the beginning of (internet) time, businesses that ventured forth into this brave new world had their website addresses catalogued in directory services like Alta Vista.
Over time, young upstarts like Google not only listed your websites but had the nerve to rank them via its own criteria or weighting system, opening up a whole new industry and set of demands on small business around understanding how Google thinks so that it can balance the search engines needs (so your site can be visible in search) with the search needs of your target visitor.
But then the virtual world started lapping on the shores of the real world and two key proponents of this change were:
- Google maps
- ‘Junk’ directories
Google started scraping information from business websites to populate map listings so that when consumers search for a plumber in Humpty Doo, they would get a small map of the town with a marker showing where such local businesses existed. This has proven to be very helpful albeit surprising to many business people when they find that such a map listing exists.
If you have never seen this, go an search on your industry or business type on Google using your town or suburb in the mix and see if you appear in a map.
While this seems all good (and it is very powerful) there can be bad too because Google allows users to submit ratings and reviews of your business via these map listings. Have you checked yet? If you found a listing and had no idea it existed, go ahead and click the links on the listing to claim ownership of it so you can get regular updates from Google on activity surrounding your map.
Similarly, what I call ‘junk’ directories also emerged over the last ten years, things like, Aussie Local, Business Directory, Yibber Yabber, True Business (I am making up these names so as not to get sued). These listings are a play to get businesses to claim their mention and be upgraded from free to paid accounts and/or for the business to place commission advertising around search results pages to milk traffic for all its worth.
The reason I call these junk directories is they offer no informative content and their mass-managed presences squeeze genuine websites out of the top spots in search making it harder for real consumers to find real businesses.
I am the mayor of YOUR business
In recent years, a new phenomenon has arisen, led by online game/social networking sites like foursquare. When you have foursquare loaded on your internet-connected phone, you can browse or create lists of local businesses and then ‘check in’ to those businesses on the foursquare site.
When you ‘check in’, you earn points within foursquare and you can leave comments or tips about the business. These tips stay next to YOUR business listing on foursquare AND can be shared on Twitter at the same time.
If you have checked in to a business or location the most, you become its mayor.
In some parts of the world, business owners honour their mayors with free drinks or pizza or extra service as a way of saying thank you for creating more chatter about us online and for sharing your love for us with your network of friends and followers.
But my point is that your business might be the centre of foursquare buzz, positive or negative, without you being aware. It is only when you start searching for yourself online (like prospects would) that you discover all this chatter. Someone loves your service, someone else is bemoaning how stale your coffee beans taste, while another person is commenting on the lack of paper towel or soap in your bathroom.
Take a look for yourself and try to find your business listing. If it is not there, you can create it but most likely it will be there already.
Duelling businesses on Facebook
Just when you thought it had gone far enough, this playing with other people’s businesses for the amusement of the masses, enter the new Facebook scheme.
Clickz.com reported this week that Facebook is testing two new tools.
One allows users to block all advertising from YOUR business if they choose to. At the moment, you can hide and report certain ads that offend or annoy you but this new tool allows you to wipe a particular business off your radar altogether. Personally, I can live with this because as a marketer I want quality clicks not quantity. If someone has no interest in my client’s product or service or the client themselves, I would much rather they opted out so that we can continue targetting our more desired consumers.
But the second tool is fascinating. In this test, if you run ads on Facebook and one of your competitors does too, Facebook is experimenting with a poll that is created automatically and displayed to people who have used Facebook to ‘check in’ to both establishments, asking for them to vote on which business was best.
This means that you pony up with your cash to run ads and then, behind your back, Facebook pits you against another local competitor to ask your mutual customers which of you is the weakest link.
I am worried by this development because the poll is a blunt instrument and not scientific. Therefore, different Facebook users could be using different criteria to answer the very broad questions being asked. We don’t know how public the results will be and what recourse you get if yo come out of this poorly rated.
Should this stop you advertising on Facebook. Definitely not. But it might give some business owners pause for thought to reflect upon their levels of service as this ongoing march towards louder and more powerful consumers continues.
So, whether you like it or not, you can choose to just run your business but you cannot hide from Social Media. It is why I have written here before that anyone responsible for a business in 2011 really has no choice other than to stay abreast of these technological and social developments so they don’t get blindsided by online content about them that they should have responded to.
Have you found your business being used online without your knowledge in these or other channels? I would love to hear your stories.