And even though daily group discount services like Groupon are getting attention in technology circles, they remain only a minor factor that influences consumers to try a local business, according to a study conducted by research firm Harris Interactive.
The study comes out just as Facebook began a direct challenge to daily deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial. The Palo Alto social-networking giant rolled out Deals on Facebook in five cities last week, including San Francisco.
Facebook has followed up its Like button, begun one year ago, by adding a "Send" button to give its members one more easy way to quickly share news, photos, events and other activities with their friends and relatives in the social network.
For businesses, a "Like" or a positive review could be the difference between a customer choosing them or going elsewhere.
The Harris study was commissioned by CityGrid Media, a content and advertising network that operates local guide sites such as UrbanSpoon and Citysearch. The study involving 1,006 adults contacted by telephone from March 16 to 20 found that 20 percent preferred to click Facebook's Like button to signify support of a local business. That compares with 13 percent who said they write reviews on online sites that have been in existence for years.
Of people 35 and younger, 40 percent preferred to click Like and 18 percent favored writing a review. The younger Millennial generation leaned even more (49 percent) toward Like. And 25 percent of women surveyed picked Like, while only 11 percent favored reviews.
Committing to review
Taking the time to write a review requires more of a "meaningful commitment," compared with simply clicking one button, said Kara Nortman, senior vice president for publishing at CityGrid Media.
UrbanSpoon also posts restaurant reviews by critics, bloggers and users, but the simple "I like it/I don't" poll "is still the number one thing we hear about," Nortman said.
Yet Facebook is far from being the only site customers check to research a business.
The survey found 52 percent of adults under 35 check more than two websites, especially Google, which had 63 percent.
Meanwhile, 24 percent visited Facebook, compared with 21 percent who visited a review site. And 17 percent admitted to clicking on the first link they saw on a search result.
"If you're setting up a romantic dinner on Valentine's Day, you're probably going to go to other sources of information before making a decision," Nortman said.
Daily deal's impact
The bad news for sites like Groupon and LivingSocial is only 8 percent said that a daily deal offer was the No. 1 reason they tried a local business.
Typically, most consumers research businesses to solve an "in the moment" problem or question, such as "what are we going to eat for lunch, where am I going to get my hair done," Nortman said.
But daily deal sites require more planning, such as getting enough people to buy into a deal to make it happen. And those offers, Nortman said, are "more of a serendipitous surprise, something you didn't know you wanted to do that you might want to do later."
The survey also found that 67 percent of the respondents said rising gasoline prices were affecting their decisions about what businesses to patronize.
Women 18 to 34 were more likely (87 percent) to be influenced by gas prices and distance compared with men (67 percent) in the same age group.
And 47 percent of all people under 35 said feedback from a business owner, such as replies on Facebook, Twitter or an online review, were more influential than a friend's recommendation.
The survey's lesson for local business owners, Nortman said, is to cast "a wide net" across several platforms, "since it's clear there's no one magic tactic to attract new customers and keep your patrons happy."