There are lots of new ways to find cool stuff near your home and when you’re out and about. Community-based platforms and a burgeoning market of social location apps make use of our online relationships. In addition to making life more enjoyable and convenient, it’s transforming the landscape for local businesses. Here are four platforms that improve how brick-and-mortar businesses reach customers.
• EveryBlock, a new website and app owned by MSNBC.com, encourages community-building within zipcodes by combining basic civic information and local news with neighborhood message boards, reviews and photos . Just as Facebook keeps you in touch with your global network, EveryBlock aims to connect you to the guy down the street. By sharing information about local restaurants, upcoming events, and community news via a network of neighbors and businesses, the site gets you offline to check out your environs.
“EveryBlock provides a forum where [local businesses] can be part of the conversation,” says Brian Addison, EveryBlock president. For instance, if a user asks on a community message board “Can anyone recommend a good auto mechanic?” neighbors and businesses respond in a collaboration that can reinforce a sense of community. EveryBlock is available for 16 U.S. cities including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and launches in Austin, Denver, and Pittsburgh next month.
• Yelp also relies on user-generated reviews to help consumers discover local services. Since 2004, Yelp users have been patronizing businesses based on reviews from people in and out of their own circle. A local restaurant with hundreds of reviews and a four-out-of-five-star rating makes diners more inclined to give it a try.
Yelp now seeks to have even greater influence over local business traffic with its newly updated iPhone, iPad, and web applications. Recognizing that 40 percent of Yelp searches originate from its mobile apps, the company has redesigned its business pages, making business details, photos, and review displays more eye-catching. It has also enabled users to edit business information and “like” others’ reviews. Yelp Insights match businesses to relevant demographics, and a check-in feature can be embedded with Apple’s default Maps app. With its enormous reach, Yelp’s influence in shaping consumers’ social discovery patterns is growing.
• Like EveryBlock and Yelp, the newly revamped Foursquare mobile application further demonstrates just how impactful personal relationships have become in guiding consumption patterns. No longer a mindless “check-in” platform where users are incentivized by virtual badges, the application now seamlessly incorporates location-based recommendations from friends. Users see friends’ locations and comment on “check-ins.” They also see recommendations about where to go and what to do in their current area. If you are exploring a new neighborhood, you can tap into your Foursquare application to see what their friends have said about the area and visit recommended stores and restaurants.
• With its recent purchase of social location application Glancee in May, Facebook is positioned to compete in the mobile arena and possibly revamp its check-in feature. Introduced with considerable buzz at SXSW 2012, Glancee was an iPhone and Android app for “bringing together the best of your physical and digital worlds.” The app promised to “make it easier to discover the hidden connections around you and to meet interesting people,” according to Glancee’s website. It mined interest information from Facebook and Twitter to help users discover others nearby who share the same interests as they do. If they wanted to get to know other users, they could “favorite” them and explore their recommendations. It’s not clear what Facebook plans to do with Glancee’s team and software, but the acquisition was likely part of its candid effort to boost its mobile application presence.
As users employ these new online tools to discover and maintain connections more of the time, it may become easier to build closer relationships. The connections formed virtually through apps and web-based platforms are likely to prove influential in instigating offline activities. As we increasingly use such apps, more and more of our decisions will be based on what that guy down the street is saying.