Google Introduces New Social Media-like Features To Its Maps Application
Alphabet Inc. and Google have introduced new features within the iOS and Android Maps application that enable users to discover and engage with local businesses.
The new Explore + For You tabs and the ability to follow businesses within the Maps application represent what Google+ could have been all along.
Google Maps Goes Social
Maps didn’t initially set out to become a social network. Its status as the dominant navigation app for mobile users is precisely due to its initial focus on being a utility, accurately directing commuters where they need to go. The evolution of the application, however, into a social-like entity is likely the result of the vacuum left by major social networks as they have re-positioned and refocused on earning revenue from paid advertising.
The Google Maps application is looking more like a social network with each update. This includes the recently released Explore and For You tabs, which currently highlight local restaurants and enable Maps users to refine their search for local establishments. And for businesses with a storefront or local footprint, Maps now offers users the ability to follow local businesses, similar to how a user might follow a brand on Facebook,Instagram, or Twitter. The ability to follow businesses within the Maps application was unveiled just weeks after Google announced that it would finally be shutting down Google+, the primary focus of its social media efforts to-date.
Major changes in user behavior within the application will be slow and it will likely be a long time before Maps is considered a social network. But, the app’s utility and its vast user base indicate significant opportunity for the functionality to expand and become a regular part of its user experience. It is likely that Google will continue to quietly roll out new features before heavily promoting the social functionality to ensure that the features appropriately scale with consumer needs.
Since Google My Business was first introduced to local business owners in 2014, the company has released many tools and resources to help local business owners gain visibility both within Maps and the core search engine experience as a whole. The ability to claim business listings, update store information, source reviews, and publish updates (called posts) were all precursors to the ability to follow a business within the Maps app.
Google Map’s Focus On Local Business
Google Posts and the ability to follow businesses are not the only features blurring the lines between search, social media, and the Maps experience. Google has been quietly testing the use of storefronts as landmarks when driving directions are read aloud by the Google Assistant, e.g. “turn left after the Starbucks.”
Beyond directions, the connection between a business and a user’s location could be highly valuable. For instance, if a Maps user follows a business and enters within a certain radius of the business’ storefront, it is plausible that Google could send a push notification sharing the latest update posted by the business.
What The Google Maps Social Features Mean For Marketers
With the ability to follow businesses within Maps, it’s time for local business owners and marketers to consider if Posts should be part of their marketing strategy. The social media-like updates can be sourced from existing social content planning efforts and require little extra effort to publish with regularity. And, using the Google My Business interface will ensure business information is up-to-date and give profile owners the opportunity to regularly review Post analytics, such as views and clicks.
Still, two things remain unclear: (1) whether Google Maps will deliver Posts to users that have followed a business via push notifications or email and (2) whether the ability to follow a business will extend to the SERP, where Posts may also be seen by searchers. Push notifications would simultaneously benefit businesses that publish updates and help to facilitate a change in consumer behavior as users become accustomed to following businesses via the Maps application.
For more information on publishing Google Posts, read our previous blog posts.