The summer, other than bringing us the usual high temperatures and humidity, also brought a few major changes from some of the big social networking players: Google, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Google, as great as it is for search purposes, frazzled me continuously when it came to its local business and social media networking offerings. Google+ wasn’t really all that Google made it out to be and a little while ago, the search giant withdrew most of the few remaining benefits of running a company Google+ page. Were it not for a great contact in Google (Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management trained, too!) I would have despaired a long time ago.

What Google does best is Search and Maps, so I was happy to see that during its recent tidying up of the Google My Business offerings, Google actually created an extremely useful function: You can now post business updates directly from your Google My Business listing and they are displayed where people actually see them — in search results and on your business’ Google Maps listing. If you’re not using this tool yet, you definitely should give it a try, because it’s not only useful for your audiences, but also for you, because it allows you to put your content where people actually see it. It’s also very easy to use — just go to your Google My Business dashboard and click the ‘Create Post’ button. You can then create a post with 100-300 words and an image.

Sure, it’s not a storytelling behemoth, but by limiting the number of characters and images, Google makes sure that your post will display nicely in search results and on maps. You can also designate your post as an ‘Event’, which lets you add a start and end date, a time and an event description including a link. Regardless of post type, Google also gives you the ability to add a ‘Call to Action’ button to your updates. I personally like the events feature best, and initial tests suggest that while previously (when created as part of a Google+ company page) only a handful of people would see an event, it is now seen by hundreds of people.

There’s one drawback: Your Google My Business listing still needs to be verified. Postcard verification is out in our part of the world for obvious reasons, and only Google knows why it offers verifications via phone calls on a random basis only. Recently, they added video call verification to their options. Great, but they’ll ask you to stand outside your hotel or outlet with the logo clearly visible. Not so easy if the logo is 30m off the ground, stuck to a wall. I’m still waiting for the hover board I ordered from Amazon a little while ago.

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Instagram came up with something new, too, during the summer: Branded content tagging. In a nutshell: It’s an easier way for users to determine when posts by influencers or publishers are the results of commercial relationships with the businesses they are posting about. This is a welcome move and you’ll soon see influencer posts marked with ‘Paid partnership with’ popping up in your feed. When the tool is used, both the creator and the business partner will have access to the insights for such posts — in other words, you can actually see an influencer’s Instagram insights for the posts he or she has created for you. 

Last, but not least, Facebook-owned WhatsApp, while not strictly perceived as a social network by many, has made further inroads into the ever more important B2C messaging space by announcing verified WhatsApp profiles for businesses. This functionality hasn’t yet arrived in the UAE, but it’s already being tested in India, so it can’t be long before it reaches our shores. Again, it’s mostly about clarity. WhatsApp B2C messaging is going to be big, so you might as well prepare for it now by looking at incorporating a ‘Click to WhatsApp’ button on your websites or in your email signatures and by getting your teams trained on how to use the web-version of WhatsApp.

Another important step: Getting your Facebook page verified. You don’t have to by psychic to see that getting a verified WhatsApp profile will hinge on having a verified Facebook page and, most likely, vice versa. Verification jitters? Fret not, because in next month’s column I’ll provide you with an easy to use guide on getting your profiles and accounts verified.

Whatever you do: Keep it social!

Make the most of the new functions – Five things to try

1 - Take control of your Google My Business listing: Still haven’t set up your Google My Business dashboard? Take control of your Google assets and claim your Google Maps listing today. This will automatically create a Google My Business dashboard for you and you can then add other assets, e.g. Adword accounts, etc.

2 - Revisit Google reviews: The newly created ability to post updates directly on your Google Maps listing or search results will draw more attention to your Google reviews. Whether users are looking at your search listings, paid adverts, or your location on Google Maps, they’ll always see the latest reviews, so make sure you reply to your reviews regularly.

3 - No more questionable influencers: When’s an Instagram influencer not an influencer? When he or she refuses to agree to the new branded content tagging partnership. If the functionality is already available in your Instagram account (it’s being rolled out in stages), insist on it being used the next time you work with influencers.

4 - WhatsApp ready: Get WhatsApp ready and see who in your hotel or restaurant is best placed to take on the responsibility of monitoring the service and replying to messages. Also consider adding a WhatsApp button to your website or email signatures.

5 - 24/7 readiness: It’s not just WhatsApp, of course. There’s Facebook Messenger, plus an increasing number of questions being asked by users on Google Maps and search listings (you’ll only receive alerts for these if you’re actively monitoring your Google My Business dashboard). Add to that Expedia’s real-time feedback and other services requiring 24/7 manning and you’ll have to take a hard look at how you’re handling the increasing onslaught of messages across platforms.

About the Author: Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity. Iconsulthotels is now sps:hotels — a leading hotel management consultancy that provides its clients forward-looking business strategies, keeping them ahead of the market. Email: hello@spsaffinity.com.