Using Search or Social Networks for Local Business Discovery

Yesterday, I was talking with Bill Manos from Social Media for Small Businesses – NYC about the continued importance of search for discovering new businesses.  With Facebook overtaking Google in terms of overall number of visitors, how soon will social networks overtake search as the primary means of finding out about a new business?

More Questions, Less Answers on Social Networks

Social networks have proven that they make it easy for individuals to send their thoughts or comments to their friends.  Companies like Facebook and LinkedIn have also created specific Questions (or Answers) sections where you can post questions for everyone to see.

There’s a wide range of questions, but there are those that relate to finding a business:

  • Can you recommend a good French restaurant in Downtown NYC that’s not Balthazar?
  • Anyone have a good dentist in Wilmington, DE?
  • Who has a good flower wholesaler in LA?

I see these types of questions on Facebook, but I don’t see a lot of answers.  With your personal network typically being a very good source of recommendations, how come answers to Facebook questions seem to be sporadic?

Using Search Engines to Find Answers About Local Businesses

In 2010, search was the second most popular online activity behind email.  With more than 20% of searches on Google related to location and the shift Google has made by making local results more prominent, it’s clear that business discovery is an area that’s very important to them and to consumers.

So why would a consumer still search instead of asking other people on a social network?

Combining Search and Answers with Quora

A new questions and answers site called Quora has been growing quickly over the past month.  People register on Quora and can ask questions or answer questions as well as follow people they know.  Sounds similar to Facebook Questions, right?

One thing that’s interesting is that Quora allows Google to crawl it’s Q&A content so when you perform a search on Google, you’re now beginning to see search results from Quora.

Unlike Mahalo which tries to do something similar, but is editorialized and tricked out with ads, Quora contains crowd-sourced knowledge that lets anyone post a response to a question.  Since the whole purpose on Quora is to ask and answer questions, there are no other distractions as there are on Facebook.

I like what Quora is doing because it’s primary focus is knowledge.  By allowing their content to be indexed by the search engines, I believe it’s a solid intersection of algorithmic editorialization and human-generated information.

I think it’s meaningful for small business owners to think about how social networks are used for business discovery and how to get started.  Search dominates today, but that may not always be the case as it becomes easier for people to broadcast their sentiment through asking and responding to questions.  It may be the intersection of the two that helps consumers actually find the best answers to their questions.

What do you think about using search or social networks for local business discovery?

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