For Local, Search Kicks Social Media’s Butt

There’s every reason to believe that social media sites will eventually live up to their potential as “recommendation engines.” Foursquare is probably the closest to that today. But, for now, social media is a distant follower of search engines (even print newspapers) when it comes to providing local business referrals.

This is according to a new telephone survey of roughly 1,000 US adults by the Pew Internet Project. The questions and language of the survey were somewhat awkward and there was no option given to people to select online yellow pages or print yellow pages according to the material that I saw.

There were two categories of local business information investigated: Restaurants/Bars/Clubs and everything else. The numbers are very close in both categories. Here’s Pew’s presentation of the information sources for the non-restaurant/everything else local category:

  • Internet : 47% say some kind of online source is the one they most rely upon
  • Newspaper : 30% say they most rely on newspaper material either in printed form or the website of their local newspaper for local business information
  • Word of mouth: 22% say they rely on other people most of all for news and information about local businesses
  • Local TV: 8% say they rely on TV for news about local businesses – either broadcasts or the stations’ websites
  • Local radio: 5% of adults say they rely on local radio

As I said, “yellow pages” wasn’t a choice in the survey. Within the “Internet” category search is the dominant referral source. Social media is tiny: 1% or 3% of respondents said they rely on it. Pew also said that 47% of people “got local news and information [on] their cell phones.” 

What’s really surprising is how much people (these survey respondents) still relied very heavily on print newspapers (though not online news pubs so much) for local information. As it shows above, it was second to the Internet (which consisted of several categories) as a leading local-information resource.

As I said in my post at Search Engine Land, social media sites have a long way to go to become top-of-mind local tools for consumers. Right now, according to recent data, 50% to 70% of local businesses have a presence on Facebook. There’s a disconnect between that level of presence and the fact that people aren’t using social sites for local business lookups.

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8 Responses to “For Local, Search Kicks Social Media’s Butt”

  1. Tom says at

    I think there is much room for debate on these stats.  Telephone survey’s I think only speak to about 70%-75% of the public.  Even then we are dependent upon the people who are willing to take the survey.  I would imagine much of my generation (X) do not have the time nor the patience to take these surveys.  I would then conclude that these stats fit the baby boomer generation mainly, which is a huge demographic.  
    Great article, keep up the good work 🙂

  2. Greg says at

    Of course there’s room for debate. Asking the questions a different way might yield very different results. 

  3. Zubair says at

    Thanks Greg.  As a “search guy” this comes as no surprise to me.  But I think the social vs. search battle in local is more nuanced than is often made out in the winner-takes-all blogosphere.  As has been discussed at ILM, the continued fragmentation of advertising dollars corroborates the fact that people use many mechanisms and “signals” to choose a local business.  It depends heavily on the type of category of business and the particular use-case (driving out and about, have a serious large $ decision to make, etc.)  In my blog post “how social is a colonoscopy?” I identified some particular categories that will likely continue to be more search oriented and have a weaker discovery element just because consumers need them less frequently and they are inherently less “social”.
    I fully expect things will get messier before they get better.  There will always be a healthy market for “push” based local advertising like the direct marketing approach of groupons, display advertising, etc. – but in terms of local *search* I believe that social will just be one signal in the search puzzle.  In time as businesses more substantially manage their own online presence – there will be a combination of fact based information (including products, services, geo-location), advert-orial information as pushed out by the merchant (including things like availability, pricing), and social signals based on WOM and friends.

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    On one level this is just an attention getting headline…. Of course it’s nuanced and complex. Consumers use multiple sources to find local business information. The survey itself reflects this.

  5. Stephen says at

    This is very intriguing. I would not think that newspapers would be that high still. Is there an age range for this study? 

    Never the less, I still believe that print newspapers are a dying breed and that business should start to shift their marketing efforts. 

    Whether or not a company focuses on “search” or “social” I think is highly dependable on the type of business and the type of people trying to be reached.

  6. Greg says at

    No single survey should be taken as gospel.

  7. Jozef Foerch says at

    Strange that the once Social Media hit streets, in regards to it’s business promotion potential, that Sales Reps from all around the nation started pushing it as the next big thing.  This was done before the actual realization of which businesses would best find success with it (restaurants, bars, spas etc) and sold to everyone that Sales Reps could get ahold of.  It’s reminiscent of when “agencies” and startups had so eagerly pushed Pay Per Click to anyone that they could be granted an audience with.  

  8. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes, I think social media has an important role to play in customer loyalty and cultivating a group of “influencers” who then can promote or recommend your business. I think the ultimate impact of social media — not unlike display advertising — is somewhat more elusive and intangible but there nonetheless. Over the course of the next 12 months or so some SMB social media best practices will emerge. They will be somewhat derivative of enterprise lessons; however they will also be distinct because of the unique challenges that SMBs face around time. 

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