Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland still behind in the new café-critic age but it’s all app to change

By Ruairi McNally

OK, let’s set the scene — you aren’t sure what you want to do tonight in Belfast but you know that you want to eat somewhere nice and maybe go and see a movie.

Up to a couple of years ago you might have opened the local paper and scoured it for cinema times and some restaurant reviews — and more recently it was as simple as opening up the web browser and quickly looking for your favourite review website for local listings.

We are increasingly trusting our peers when it comes to decisions about how to spend our money and time, with sites like Tripadvisor initially used to encourage travellers to believe the power of community rather than the press. Research published recently by Search Engine People found that 70% of online consumers trust unknown users. This behaviour isn’t only restricted to online purchases with 51% of consumers surveyed using the internet before making a purchase in shops.

Ciao, Ebay, Money Saving Expert and Amazon are other mainstream sites which use user comment to provide a more rounded experience for their products whether they be books, electronics, CDs, car insurance or other products on which to spend your hard earned money.

Increasingly these reviews are finding themselves on our mainstream social networks like Facebook and Twitter as users feel more comfortable sharing their experiences with their friends online in contrast to discussing such things in person. The Harris poll found that 46% of people said they could be ‘brutally honest’ on the internet and 34% had turned to social media to air their feelings about the company. Due to the increase in mobile usage, people don’t even have to leave their table to leave a review.

Up until recently location based services on the mobile like Foursquare and Gowalla were used by fast growing but still very niche audiences — particularly Gowalla, which has 150,000 global users. This meant that there were limited amount of users regularly ‘checking in’ to local cafes and leaving their thoughts behind for others to read. On Foursquare, despite the three m illion global users, Belfast-based users still sit under the 1,000 mark and so as a user you weren’t getting the full location experience.

So what exactly is the full location experience? OK, I may walk down a street in Belfast city centre and open up Foursquare to find that two of my acquaintances have been in a particular nearby café and have enjoyed their daily special. This would help to convince me to walk the short distance and try the same special. There have been few examples of this type of activity working in Northern Ireland until now. This is likely to change with the imminent release of Facebook Places which will help make location based marketing opportunities mainstream. Facebook is visited by over 470,000 in Northern Ireland and over 100,000 users have an active profile — so we can expect a big change in its use in the coming months.

In the UK ten million, or 38%, of active Facebook users access the site using the mobile phone app — which if translated into our local user base, could represent over 38,000 users actively using location services. Which would be a much more healthy opportunity for local businesses and brands to get involved in, activating location- based offers and promotions.

The recent launch of apps for local review website Lookaly, and the Belfast Telegraph as mobile app, may further help to encourage the Northern Ireland audience that there is a place to share their opinions while on the move and know that their information will reach a mobile user base.

Belfast Telegraph