Posted December 15, 2011 8:52 am by with 6 comments

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The Pew Research Center through its Internet and American Life Project has released a study called “Where People Get Information About Restaurants and Other Local Businesses“. It can be a bit of an eye opener when it comes to the perceived pervasive sharing about social activities by using social media.

The chart below shows where people go to get information about local businesses other than restaurants, bars and clubs.

The news for social media is only slightly better when you include bars, restaurants and clubs in the mix with only 3% of the respondents saying social media does this job for them. Any time you see the words in a column saying “to small a group to give reliable statistics” you have to wonder about the impact of that area.

Oh and the big online winner for this information? Search. This says in some ways that people might actually be looking for a less biased review or it could be saying something entirely different. Either way it looks like people don’t trust the taste of their social media “friends”.

To be fair, the data used in these charts is approaching 1 year old already (January of 2011) which is a bit unusual for Pew but even if the number is higher today how much higher could it actually be?

In the end this should do nothing to deter local businesses from using social. In fact, there are many success stories of all types of local businesses doing great things with social to help sustain their business.

What research like this should do is slow down the “social media is a silver bullet and it will solve all of your marketing woes talk”. Purveyors of that kind of over the top hucksterism have tarnished the image of an industry that, for the most part, is trying to do the right thing. Sad to say but that hype is making the social media marketing industry sound much like the search industry. As the lines further blur between the two that isn’t likely to end any time soon.

So what is your reaction to these findings? What do you see in your business? Let us know in the comments.

  • Social media is no longer just for branding. Social media data now plays a role in the search engine ranking algorithm. Not being active in social media results in missed opportunities.

  • Dear Frank,
    To be honest, I always doubted seriously, that local business data should be spread widely by social media. Why should it. If one looks at the mechanisms, how social media is used by the people, it becomes clear to be highly unlikely.

    I agree with Nick, that social media data plays a certain role in search engine rankings today and therefore has an indirect impact on local business data, since search engines are the #1 source for local information today, closely followed by newspaper. The trend looks like social media metrics’ impact will even grow in search engines algorithms and newspaper’s use declines more and more.

    Considering these factors, one could say that even though “Social Media is NOT the Place People Get Local Business Data from” it NEVERTHELESS is MORE and MORE important to be SUCCESSFULL with a local business.

  • There is some justification for social media having an impact on search rankings… but in its current structure and format, it is not useful for local data…

    This has yet to be Facebook’s strong point… I understand that power and scope of Facebook, but from my own personal experience, it seems that Facebook has become more of a place where people are posting and sharing photos and being able to post silly or philosophical quotes/sayings. I’m not saying that is all what Facebook is, but it seems that if you were to really break it down, the majority of users depend on Facebook for those two features.

    Personally, I am more shocked about such a lower percentage of responders who said they use mobile devices. I have been using my smartphone more and more, and when I am using it for something local, I am not going to my Facebook app for searching… I am either pulling up google directly or performing a search on my map (which is still using search engines)

  • I think this survey misses a key point. You can’t really “get” local business information from twitter or facebook easily. For businesses that someone has already made the the determination to “follow” or “like”, these are value-add broadcast mediums that offer incentives to do future business and act as top-of-mind reminders. Just as you can’t “get” local business information from a telephone without accessing another system (operator, YP, internet) to get the phone number that can get you the information.

  • It’s not a surprise, that people don’t use social media this way. It was not designed to do that job and so people find it difficult. There are very mature services like Google locals people prefer to use, including me personally. However, since social media plays a role in SEO factors, I would expect it to be useful for the site owners nevertheless to post their infos on social networks.

  • I think people should look at the history of Yelp to realize that friends and local information are not necessarily a hit.

    Yelp didn’t actually start as a directory. Instead it started as a place for you to ask your friends for tips on who to use. You would say what you want and then it would ask all od your friends for tips. It failed. Soon all of your friends and family were overwhelmed with questions, and those that did respond were not necessarily who you would take advice from. No offense grandpa, but I don’t want to go to the same bar as you.

    Local curation is still very much the key.