Have you ever Googled anyone? How about yourself or your brand? As a marketer and business owner, you know that showing up in “search” is important (the higher the better!). It’s an essential component of online marketing. You want to be in as many places as people are looking for you.
If you have the budget, investing paid search can help. But, there are other things you can do besides relying on organic search ranking and paid search engine marketing. Have you heard of social search? It’s a strategy that can really contribute to your marketing efforts—and at a minimal cost if you approach it the right way.
What Exactly Is Social Search?
“Just Google it” has become part of our regular vocabulary over the last couple decades—making “Google” a verb, as well as a noun. Now, it’s no longer the only go-to search engine. In fact, recent data reveals that many people are turning to social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok as their search engines of choice.
The Social Search Survival Guide October 2022 Edition notes that “40% of Gen Z shoppers (ages 10-25 and 25% of the U.S. population) prefer to use TikTok and Instagram as their primary search engines as opposed to Google.” That’s a significant portion of your audience to consider with any online marketing efforts.
Social media platforms are also taking note of the shift and optimizing their search functionalities. For example, Instagram rolled out an immersive map feature in July that makes it easier for people to search for local businesses. Instagrammers can scroll around a designated area, browsing through popular locations and filter their search based on different categories (e.g. fitness, beauty, restaurants, business services). TikTok is also working on developments surrounding social search, including a “nearby” feed (currently being tested).
Pinterest, much loved by Millennials, has already been at this for years in one capacity or another. This isn’t too surprising since Pinterest is more “visual search engine” than social media network. But, today’s social search strategies can elevate this already-established platform.
Why Is Social Search So Effective?
Part of the draw to social search is its dynamic presentation. Think of vivid visuals (including video) and the ability to engage people with a storytelling approach. Sure, the foundational information generated (location, hours, website link, etc.) might be the same in both social search and traditional search engines, but social search has proven to be more interactive and emotive.
There’s also the opportunity to get feedback all in one place. Consumers are increasingly turning to online reviews to influence their buying decisions. Recent data indicates that 93% of people have made such a decision based on an online review.
Even Google recognizes the shift towards social search. Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan, who runs Google’s Knowledge & Information organization, has been quoted as saying, “We keep learning, over and over again, that new internet users don’t have the expectations and the mindset that we have become accustomed to. The queries they ask are completely different.”
If the behemoth that Google is voices concerns about its market share, you know the search tide is actually shifting.
Tips to Optimize Social Search
Implementing tactics to optimize your social search strategy won’t generate results overnight. However, there are some steps you can take to help move the needle a little faster.
Rethink Your Overall Search Strategy. If you’ve previously invested in paid search, you might think about shifting some of those dollars to social media and even consider working with an influencer. Remember, a big draw is imagery/video that engages. That may require a bigger portion of your online marketing budget.
Consider Content Formats and Platforms. Parameters are always changing. Instagram Reels made the shift from 60 seconds to 90, TikTok implemented long-form video options, and many social media platforms are leaning into things like livestream shopping or other events. While you do want to be available to your audience in as many formats as possible, and as many platforms as possible, try to focus on the ones that garner the most engagement. This might align with the platforms you feel most comfortable with. Not everyone has the speed and bandwidth to be everywhere, all at once.
Open Up to Influencer Marketing Potential. Oftentimes, small businesses perceive influencer marketing to be out of their realm. Yet, data shows that influencers with a smaller following (known as nano-influencers) may perform better among the small business audience. There’s a greater opportunity to form authentic connections with users, at a lower cost. The important thing to keep in mind surrounding social search is to create content that resonates with influencers—as well as ensuring influencers truly understand your brand voice/tone and style.
Be Ready to Evolve Customer Service. If users are searching for you, and finding you on social media, there’s a good chance they’ll also want to be able to talk to you if they have questions or concerns. They may not have the time (or patience) to wait for an email response; they want answers now. Do you have the customer service capabilities to meet those requests? If you do, it will go a long way in establishing and solidifying customer relationships—and thus brand loyalty and advocacy.
Don’t Neglect Your Complementary Channels. Consumers may find you, and even engage with you, via your social media presence. Yet, their access to your business doesn’t necessarily end there. Make sure to keep your website updated with fresh content that’s optimized for SEO. Continue to foster relationships via email outreach. If paid search has been working, it’s probably a good idea to keep it going. A robust content marketing strategy can make a significant difference to your bottom line.
Reflect on Your Own Experiences. Small business owners often have limitations in terms of the breadth of marketing they can afford—both financially and given time constraints. You may not be able to hire a social media/social search strategist, but you can reflect on your own experiences with social search. What types of content/formats/platforms garner your attention? Which ones turn you off? You can take this perspective into account when designing your social search strategy.
Looking Ahead Toward Social Search’s Future
As social search continues to gain momentum, it will be imperative for small business owners like yourself to evolve your approach to search. Again, this doesn’t mean you’ll be abandoning additional efforts. But, it will require a shift in perspective. No matter the audience you serve, social search deserves a good, hard look.
If you’d like some guidance, or just a chance to revisit your social media/search strategy, let us know!
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