For anyone who's been keeping up with Google's Maps and social space, you'll know that it's been frustrating to have to login into multiple services to try and keep up. Thankfully, Google has been working toward consolidating the experience, and the process just recently took a major step forward.
Google is now allowing business owners to verify their Google+ pages. What does this mean? It means that you can not only send out updates to the public as normal Google+ pages and profiles can, but you can also respond to customer reviews and ratings (formerly a Google Places / +Local function only). We all know that we have too many places to check when it comes to monitoring social sentiment towards brands nowadays (Yelp, Google+, Facebook, TripAdvisor, FourSquare, and on and on), but now you can cross off one of those places that you should check.
Another benefit of the combined services is that Google+ Local pages can now have more than one administrator. This has probably always been one of Google Places' most difficult limitations, and now Google has opened the door to be able to allow business owners, managers, and social media managers the ability to share the responsibility of public relations and marketing. Kudos, Google. We wish this feature had been turned on a lot sooner, and we're thrilled to have it now!
Lest you have any doubts whether Google will continue to expand in the local space, you can simply take a look at the acquisitions they've been making lately. Zagat's ratings and reviews have been on Google+ for a little while now; they certainly wasted no time putting that investment to use. With the more recent acquisition of Frommer's (one of the leaders in printed materials for travelers), we can expect to see an even richer and more diverse data set for recommendations to users.
The overwhelming shift of communication towards mobile devices will ensure that not only Google but also Apple -- and all of the other location-based services mentioned earlier -- will continue to compete for the attention of the mobile user.
Do yourself a favor and make sure that your business has a strong presence on mobile services. You'll see the benefits sooner than you expect.