Google has been putting more and more infrastructure in place to cater to business owners, a trend that has led to their development of a new online space. Late last year Google opened a beta community for small businesses in the Pittsburgh, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Chicago areas to connect and build relationships with each other. The service has 5,177 members at the time of this writing, with new members still joining as we speak. It acts like many other platforms designed to bring people together to discuss situations together, and we wanted to know what it’s all about. We decided to explore this new online hub to check out what it’s all about: here’s our journey.
The first thing you’re greeted by is a pleasant home screen, stylish and easy to navigate. On the left, there’s a menu with several options, “Home,” “Local Connect,” “Reach Your Customers,” Run Your Business,” Manage Your Money,” and then “Guidelines,” “FAQ,” and “Members.” We’ll go through the first four options in this piece.
There’s also an option to post a question, from which you choose which of the four main categories to ask about, and then you’ll be able to write out your question to a forum where anyone using the service in your area can view it.
A large banner on the front says, “Welcome To Your Community!” with an invitation to connect with people using this service. It’s clear that bringing people together to talk is the focus, which is important since making personal relationships is extremely important for business. Clicking on it brings you to a welcome page prompting you to update your profile, participate in the forums, learn skills like Google Analytics, attend a community meet-up, and contribute to the community by asking and answering questions.
At the time of our viewing, the comments section was surprisingly on-topic. There were many questions that repeated, like how to increase foot traffic, how to increase sales, etc. Already, people have been (probably unknowingly) breaking the rules of the forums by advertising their products through the comments, possibly speaking to a larger unawareness of the rules of this space. Granted, it’s still early, and once people become more comfortable with space and understand it more, we can hope to see less of that.
Clicking on the “Local Connect” tab will bring you to a menu where you can choose to see the discussion section for the area that you chose at the beginning of your account creation. The first topic is an introduction section, where local businesses can introduce themselves to everybody and talk about who they are, what their company is, where they’re located, who their clients are, and what they do for their clients/what they hope to do.
Some business owners have chosen to request for people to recommend their services to others in this space in a very informal way, like “recommend us to people who like flowers,” or, “if someone you know wants a cat to let us know.” There is also a section where you can apply to be the spotlight business of the week, where Google will post a short article about the business and the owner for other people in the community to see.
Anyone can start a discussion, with requests for the names of veteran-owned businesses, a search for ServSafe-certified managers to employ, and local advertising tips. The community is very on-task, providing relevant information to people’s questions.
Google is posting their own stuff, but the majority of the discussion does actually seem to be happening with local businesses. Due to the real interesting in engaging with peers, we think this has the potential to become a space for small business owners to learn and grow with each other. Interestingly enough though, this has one of the lower levels of engagement among the different forums on the site, hopefully, we’ll see more activity as the community grows.
This section of the site is for people looking to learn some new techniques about marketing to their clients. The advice from Google is almost exclusively geared towards online content marketing tips, like how to improve your website’s blog and how to set up your website in the first place.
There are quite a few posts here from people advertising their content marketing services; these are the loudest voices in the discussion thus far, with their answers to people’s questions outlining an entire online marketing strategy, or offering free advice that recommends their services. This has worked out well for some people, with some comments showing how users are interested in these strategies and services.
There are also general community members who are particularly active and will engage in multi-comment conversations through the discussion forums. We’re also finding some more people explicitly advertising their products that have nothing to do with the forum whatsoever, like a garage door repair service and commercial insurance. Additionally, a number of community members asking all kinds of relevant things, like how to get more customer reviews, how to advertise to people located in office buildings very close to their shop, what to do for Father’s Day and 4th of July, how many people are using social media platforms, and other juicy topics. This is a vibrant section of the site and it seems to be getting a lot of good attention from users.
This section has less activity than the “Reach Your Customers” section but is still filled with good information, with Google posting articles that cater to all sorts of topics that could be of interest to a small business owner.
Some of their content still speaks about online content marketing, but they also offer tips on how to get into a mentoring relationship with peers, building your brand, making a successful team, and how to create a business plan. The community members also ask extremely interesting questions, like whether or not to ban phones in the workplace, and disarmingly honest inquiries, like what to do when you’ve accepted a job that’s too big for you. We think this is crucial,
The responses have been honest and respectful, with well thought-out posts offering words of encouragement, assistance, and advice. This section has a lot of potentials to explore the ins-and-outs of all things business, so we’re excited to see where it goes in the future.
This section has the lowest number of posts, but it’s also the newest forum and has a huge number of views for the posts that it does have. Most of the posts here are from Google about which apps to use for budgeting, tips for budgeting, using spreadsheets, and raising capital.
The user posts have been from people just starting to own their own business and urgently needing advice, and people looking to survey what others do to budget for their business. With the excitement that this forum has already received, we expect it to to be a great place to find information about finances.
That’s our first look at the Google Small Business Community Beta. It’s already generating conversation and the people who use it to its full potential seem to be building valuable relationships. Already we’ve seen users organize physical meetups for people in their industry, and questions that have been plaguing business owners are being treated respectfully by everyone in the community. As this space grows, we’re excited to see how it transforms, and we hope to see more of the solidarity and camaraderie that’s already been exhibited so far. Much of the information that’s posted is stuff you could find on your own with some dedicated internet research, but knowing that it’s coming from actual members of your community who can help you specifically with your problems turns it into something more than just an online forum. The true power comes from the connectivity that this service allows small businesses to have with their peers, and it looks like it’s just getting started.
What was the most interesting feature to you? Do you think this is a community you would want to be a part of? Have you already tried this service and have an insight into how it’s worked for you? Let us know in the comments!