I recently revised this article, originally published in June 2012.
The integration of Zagat reviews in Google+ is a sound strategic move for Google and Zagat, on both sides of the supply-and-demand equation.
It gives Zagat the crowdsourcing capabilities it was missing.
It provides the new ‘Google+ Places‘ with volumes of quality content which sets them ahead of all other social actors in the niche, like Yelp.
More importantly for Google, this move supersizes Google+ to the stature it was still pining for, to make it the #1 SOLOMO network in the world a year after its launch.
For Facebook, heavy weather ahead.
The Zagat conandrum
Zagat is one of the oldest and most respected restaurant guides in the world. An institution, a little brother to the Michelin. The company published paper guides well before they went online, contrary to competitor Yelp.
Because of the print heritage of their publishing house, Zagat has always been picky when selecting their restaurants: they couldn’t waste valuable print space to write a bad review. Better not to review the restaurant at all.
Zagat picks good local eateries where guests can predictably enjoy dinner, and rates them on a wide variety of criteria. Zagat’s detailed reviews take care of the surprise factor: the dinners’ experience is commensurate with their expectations. Restaurant owners (hopefully) take notice of the sore points and correct them. Everybody is happy.
Yelp, on the contrary, grew online from the get-go. They ‘crowdsourced’ their ratings, allowing any and all to drop reviews on any restaurant with a We’re Open sign. Unlike space in a paper guide, online space is low-cost. There is no concern about wasting it over scathing reviews and ugly food. The largest the footprint, the better.
Zagat went online in 1999 and established Zagat.com using their carefully crafted rating system. They simply duplicated online their offline paper-based model. Their financial model is based on subscriptions and guide sales.
With the rise of Web 2.0 sites and the growing popularity of review sites, a selective guide like Zagat couldn’t grow as fast as the likes of Yelp. An article published by the NY Times in September 2008 clearly defined the issue.
Zagat reviewers take great pride in crafting detailed reviews, rating a restaurant on many different criteria. Yelpers can slap a review in 2 minutes on their favorite soapbox. Craftsmanship vs. crowdsourcing. Polish cavalry vs. German Panzer divisions. The battle is quickly over. Easy does it; free wins the day.
Though Ms. Zagat insisted her guide was never about rating as many restaurants as possible, it was urgent for her venerable house to mutate to Web 2.0. Google+ offers her this opportunity on a silver tray.
Google+ growing stronger fast
Google launched Google+ as a belated strategic move, partly in response to the explosion of Facebook as THE social network of the first decade of Y2K.
Note: I have no inside sources in Google, so this statement is my own opinion. But Google+ was a me-too product, not a disruptive product in the meaning given by Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. It is still not a distruptive product but is becoming an ‘integrative’ product, soon-to-become much more powerful than Facebook.
Though the number of subscribers grew fast, the sheer size of Facebook has so far dwarfed [under the skeptical pens of the pundits] the progress made by Google+ in establishing its user base. Some writers likened G+ to a ‘ghost town’, others predicted a quick death. If perception is reality, the new social network was stillborn or DOA.
Yet the numbers are impressive: G+ is about a year old and has already reached 170 million subs. Where were FB’s numbers after a year of existence?
Be it as may, Google is moving fast to flesh out the ‘social‘ in ‘G+ social network‘. The rollover of Google Places into Google+ is a brilliant strategic move which, overnight, gives it the stature it was missing. With the integration of Zagat, it dons the respectability of a true publishing house.
Google+ version 1.0
In his insightful digital opus What The Plus!, author-speaker Guy Kawasaki expands on a social media identification model dubbed Social Media Decoder which differentiates G+ from FB, Tweeter and Pinterest. (The illustration proposed by Dan Roam for Mr. Kawasaki’s ‘Social Media Decoder‘ is way cool.)
Guy Kawasaki explains that G+ is the social network that links people who didn’t know each other prior to connecting around a common passion. Accoding to his classification, this differentiates G+ from Facebook, the ‘People’ network.
Like product managers at Google, Mr. Kawasaki underlines that since these connections are made and nurtured in the confines of private Circles, a very large section of the conversation that occurs on G+ actually escapes measurement by conventional measures of social engagement. (Hence the ‘ghost town’ analogy offered by skeptics.)
That was Google+ version 1.0.
The merger of Google Places into G+ is an event of seismic proportions involving some 80 million Google Place pages.
For one thing, this move will drastically increase the noise level publicly shared in Google+. Google Places welcomed reviews, and judging by the number of reviews directly submitted to Google and published on Places, they have already earned their golden gloves in the heavyweight soapbox category.
People love the limelight and the 15 minutes of fame: they won’t restrict their sharing. No no no. They will go as public, as loud as they can. No Family Circle, there. Only the Public Circle will do…
But wait, there is more!
The new Google+ Places will soon enable consumers to open discussions directly with business owners in Google+ Places, the way Facebook ‘Wall’ works. Heavy volumes of conversation in the making, guaranteed.
The resulting increased noise shared publicly on G+ will foster the perception that G+ is not just a big social network among other giants, but the ‘SOLOMO network‘ (SOcial-LOcal-MObile) of the next decade, with a money-critical local component.
Just what the good doctor needed to order.
Zagat and Google+ to benefit
As far as Zagat is concerned, the future looks bright. They needed the massive amount of traffic Google+ will bring them. Yelp’s over-bearing footprint in the restaurant scene won’t be an issue anymore. Zagat’s financial future is secured, whichever way the sales of paper guides go.
Rather, the issue for the Zagat House may become how they will protect the quality of their brand now that 150+ million reviewers can write Zagat-type reviews and publish them on G+ graced with the Zagat moniker. A sweet problem, perhaps.
For Google+, the integration of Google Places is a numbers game. Hundreds of millions of users searching Google 3 billions of times per day will get used to seeing the ‘+1′ and ‘G+’ icons everywhere on their favorite search engine. The GMail users who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet will now start using their G+ account to share their local-centric opinions.
This takes care of the demand side of the data equation.
On the supply side, business owners know where money belongs. Google Search, Google Adwords and Google Places have all the credentials they need as money makers and traffic drivers. When demand exist, a market gets organized and suppliers start touting their goods. Google Places are already populated with business content. The trend will continue with Google+ Places.
As soon as Google+ Places allows consumers to address directly business owners on Place+ pages, the former will engage the conversation and the latter will respond because of the primary piece of real-estate that a Place+ page represent. The foot traffic is there already, no need to do anything special to create it! Location, location, location.
When 50% of local searches are conducted from a smart device and lead directly to a Google Map, you don’t leave your Google Place page empty when people start commenting on you and ask you questions. You are on your computer every day, responding to the demand and participating in the conversation. Or you are a fool, soon to be put out of business.
Facebook net loser
Business owners know that time is a precious commodity, especially in tough economic circumstances where slacking at the wheel is just not affordable anymore. Try to sell anything to any business owner and they will quickly cut to the chase: Don’t waste my time. How much will this thing make me, how fast?
Business owners constantly arbitrage their time investments. This is where Facebook draws the short sticks and walks the plank.
Whereas Google is a proven money maker, Facebook has nothing to show for. Zip. Nada. Even General Motors says it, and these guys are known to leak money like sieves.
For the business owner, the choice is clear:
- Do I spend time tonight ornamenting my Facebook Fan page with cute comments and content that may engage 16% of my 350 Fans… in the hope they not only LIKE it but BUY it (please please pretty please, buy it)?
- Do I respond to the comments I received in my G+ Place which will be viewed tonight and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and forever by the thousands of people who search on Google each day specifically for a business like mine?
Take a wild guess: who wins?