- Yelp meets Flickr in Google's latest update to Maps, as people in nine test cities can now follow Local Guides for reviews and photos of local businesses.
- Starting in Bangkok, Delhi, London, Mexico City, New York, Osaka, San Francisco, Sao Paulo and Tokyo, this new functionality will bring preselected Local Guides to Maps' "For You" tab.
- The newly announced follow feature brings Google Maps in line with social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
Like it or not, influencers play a major role in modern culture. From flashy YouTube videos to filter-laden Instagram posts, social media mavens regularly help shape how your potential customers spend their money. Thanks to a newly updated feature in Google Maps, influencers will have yet another avenue to help users learn more about their surroundings.
Created back in 2015 as a way to combat Yelp, Google's Local Guides program has been a way to turn its most active users into veritable tastemakers in their community by allowing them to post more comprehensive reviews and other types of content. Starting in Bangkok, Delhi, London, Mexico City, New York, Osaka, San Francisco, Sao Paulo and Tokyo, existing Local Guides will not only show up in the "For You" tab on the app but can also be followed for updates on their contributions about local landmarks and businesses.
Once you follow a guide, their suggestions will natively show up in the Google Maps app, pointing you toward popular businesses and experiences. While most influencers generally do their work for free merchandise and advertising dollars from larger companies, Local Guides will be able to take advantage of Google-based perks, including early access to new features, regular meetups, free Google services and discounts.
During Google's Local Guides summit, representatives said, the program has grown to serve approximately 120 million users across 24,000 locales. With such a wide net over local establishments, this new functionality could be a major help for entrepreneurs and small businesses everywhere – and you'll want to make sure your business is viewable on Google Maps.
Yesterday's announcement came a little over a year after Google offered the same functionality to individual businesses on Maps, among other additions. At that time, the tech giant wanted to enter a space that Facebook held firmly.
This past summer, the company also launched a variety of tools for local businesses that allowed them to customize their online presence. With that update, business users could update photos and profiles on Google Maps, create a custom short URL, and send deals directly to Google Maps users.
While Google hasn't given a timetable for when the new follow function will go live for the nine starter cities, it's important for your business to get ahead of the curve by signing up for Google My Business.
Whether you're a brand-new business or you've recently moved to a new location, there's an easy way to update Google on your new contact info.
1. Create a Google My Business Listing.
Google allows business owners to update how the search engine displays their business in local listings for both the search engine and Google Maps. Creating a Google My Business account is free and gives you control over how your business is viewed.
First, sign up on Business.Google.com. You can add the basic information and address of your business, but before you can edit and gain full access to the My Business features, you need to verify that you're affiliated with the business.
The most common way to verify your business is by having Google send a postcard with a verification code to the address you listed for the business. (There are some cases when Google can send you a verification code in a text message, phone call or email, depending on what kind of business you run.)
You may find that your business is already listed on Google but displays incomplete or inaccurate information. Business listings can be added or edited by anyone, which is why it's important to verify your business and keep the information current so it continues to display accurate information.
2. Manage your listing.
With a verified Google My Business account, not only does your business show up on Google Maps, but you can customize your profile in several ways, such as by uploading photos of your business. There's no limit to how many photos you can add, so restaurants can add pictures of their menu items, shops can display their products, and event venues can show their rental spaces.
Google My Business provides other features to add to your page depending on your needs. You can customize the different fields in the information panel to display your hours of operation and a link to your website, for example. The panel features quick links to dial your business phone line or create a reminder about your business.
Google lets you add business-specific features, such as a menu for restaurants and booking for hotels or event centers. Several booking and scheduling services are compatible with Google My Business, so you can link users directly to them to schedule appointments.
3. Engage your customers.
Your Google My Business listing gives you opportunities to communicate with customers, including a Q&A page where you can post answers to frequently asked questions about your business. You can also add regular posts to your listing, updating customers on what's new with your business and giving you a new pipeline of communication to customers.
Google reviews are a big part of your listing, so you can use them as an opportunity to directly communicate with your customers. It's not encouraging when you get a negative review, but there's a way to turn it into a positive experience.
There is a special approach to responding to negative reviews. If you get a bad review, respond to it quickly, empathize with the customer, and ask for a second chance to do right by them. You'll have a public display of your timely and high-quality customer service, and you may even convince the customer to change their review.
Google My Business also provides data on how customers interact with your business listing. You can see how much interaction your listing is getting, including how many times users jump to your website from the listing, request directions to your business or call you directly from the Google Maps app. You can even see where your customers are coming from on Google Maps, helping you make better business decisions on where to advertise or open new locations.
Ultimately, how much you interact with your customers is up to you. You can use the tools Google provides to understand how people are interacting with your listing and respond in kind or just use the platform to control your presence. Either way, getting on the program and making sure your business lands on Google Maps before the Local Guides update goes live around the world should be a priority for every entrepreneur and small business owner.
Andreas Rivera contributed to this article.