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Google Promotes Hotpot, Places In Austin In Advance of SXSW

When the digirati descend on Austin for the SXSW interactive conference next month, Google is hoping their smartphones will brim with local listings and reviews on Places and Hotpot. To that end, the company today began a promotion to get local businesses, along with Austin visitors and residents, on board with the search giant’s local and mobile services.

As part of the promotion, Google representatives will be meeting with local businesses to talk up the benefits of promoting their goods and services through Places. The company will offer businesses a customizable starter kit that can include everything from a window sticker to coffee stirrers, fortune cookies, and coffee sleeves. The hope is that local merchants will display and distribute the items, thereby encouraging customers to rate and review the business on Hotpot. Upon request, Google will co-brand the items with the local business’ logo free of charge. The window stickers say “Recommended on Google” and will be enabled with near-field communications (NFC) techology, which allows some smartphone users to get information about the business by touching their phones to the sticker. Google has also partnered with the Austin Chamber of Commerce, which will help distribute the starter kits to all of its members.

The focus, according to Google spokesperson Deanna Yick, will be to educate local businesses on the free ways that they can take advantage of ratings and reviews on Google Places and Hotpot, but paid serviceĀ Boost will also be mentioned.

Google undertook a similar initiative in Portland in December, citing the city’s tech-savviness and strong business community as a reason for choosing the Oregon locale. Austin has similar cultural characteristics, and also plays host to thousands of visitors for the SXSW Interactive conference — not to mention the Music and Film portions of the event — in mid-March. One could even argue that these tech-savvy visitors to the city will be more likely than locals to use their smartphones to identify the best restaurants and bars.

To woo consumers in Austin, the company will be holding meet-ups, giveaways and other events in the area, similar to what was done in Portland. Google kicked off this morning at six locations of Torchy’s Tacos, where it gave away migas tacos to customers.

Google has been pushing hard on its mobile and local initiatives, advertising Hotpot heavily, along with beefing up AdWords and rolling out Boost nationally to help local businesses promote themselves to geographically-targeted mobile phone users. Google’s Eric Schmidt has gone so far as to describe the company’s 2011 initiatives as “all about mobile.”

Though Google has a dominant position with its Maps and Navigation products, it has lagged competitors like Yelp, Facebook and Foursquare in reviews, ratings and check-ins from local businesses.

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