Facebook’s “Yelp Alternative” Blurs Lines Between Social and Search

Facebook is piloting a new program that will bring reviews from top food publications to select restaurant pages across America.

Hot on the heels of partnering with media outlets like Buzzfeed and The New York Times to publish content for Instant Articles, Facebook is partnering with trusted foodie publications like New York Magazine’s Grub Street and Eater.com to showcase restaurant reviews alongside search results for restaurant pages. Along with professional reviews, Facebook will publish reviews from users’ Facebook friends along with crowdsourced opinions from Facebook users.facebook-eater-balthazar-review

Enhanced review features seem to be a strategic move on Facebook’s part to move into local search and service reviews, an area currently dominated by sites like Yelp. “In order to give you access to even more helpful information about local places, we’re testing a new unit that will display critic reviews for certain restaurants in the US,” a Facebook spokesperson told ClickZ.

Additionally,a Grub Street post placed Facebook in direct competition with Yelp by calling the new feature “a cure” for “crowdsourcing opinions from Yelp.”

In February, Facebook began testing a feature called “Place Tips,” which offered suggestions for nearby businesses based on geo-location. Place Tips, when coupled with enhanced reviews, probably means that Facebook is gearing up to take its place in the local search arena. Place Tips and reviews naturally go hand in hand, which makes the enhanced service a real contender in the discovery service arena, according to Josiah Humphrey, co-CEO and co-founder of Appster, an app development firm.

“Obviously they go together very well because, essentially, it’s the same kind of thing,” says Humphrey. “Facebook is continuing to build out its ability to be a credible source of information and relevant content. So whether it’s this Place Tips play or this restaurants play, they’re going to keep continuing to build in this direction.”

It could be that a combination of Facebook’s recently added mobile payments combined with review and search features could place the social media giant in a prime position to offer local goods and services in the vein of GrubHub or Amazon.

No matter where the future of Facebook’s content-meets-search-meets-crowdsourcing experiment lies, local businesses should be ready to cultivate winning reviews on the social media site or be left behind.

“Smart restaurants that are well versed in social media will start putting resources towards Facebook,” Humphrey says. “You have to be proactive about it, and that’s the responsibility of the company. It’s just how we should be doing business in the 21st century. [Facebook reviews] are just more work at this point.”

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