What Social Search Means To Your Business
What Social Search Means To Your Business
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Bing and Google recently announced partnerships with Twitter and Facebook to provide elements of real-time and social search to their respective search engine results. On the surface, this probably blew past most business owners and marketers as not much in the way of being important. If the information is online, aren’t Bing and Google supposed to find it?

And, frankly, the partnership has some interesting implications, but isn’t phenomenally noteworthy … yet.

Keep in mind that I am not a search expert. I don’t have coffee with Matt Cutts … or his cats. Nor do I have insider information about what search engines are doing. But I know what’s possible and think this is what we as social media thinkers and marketers need to be thinking about moving forward. For more of an industry analyst view, Jeremiah Owyang and Charlene Li have some great ideas that partially contributed to my ideas here.

What Bing and Google are tapping into are the message we post on social media sites. Those messages, at their core, are not Wikipedia pages or articles on newspaper websites, blogs or company sites. They are little pieces of social capital we trade with one another. Bing and Google are saying these little innocuous tidbits are relevant, to some degree, in results for certain keywords.

In other words, a popular Tweet about Ford Mustangs (Retweeted, linked to, etc.) could rank (and thus rank high) in search engine results for “Ford Mustang.”

Couple that thought with the fact that most search engines prioritize results based on recency and in-bound links (or how many third party people think that piece of content is good) and you start to see an indication that social search may be emerging as more relevant than we think. Quite frankly, it may be becoming more relevant than it should be.

The future of search seems to indicate that the most relevant content presented by the search engines will include, and perhaps prioritize, recommendations and referrals from our social graph. So when you search for “cheap hotel Chicago” the No. 1 result may not be the hotel that wins a search result for the term like you would see today, but the cheapest hotel in Chicago that someone you know has reviewed online. Or perhaps the top result will be a Tweet a friend sent out about a “good, cheap hotel in Chicago” just 10 minutes ago.

This is both promising and problematic. Promising because we care about our friend’s recommendations more than strangers. Problematic because for many, social media has changed our definition of “friend.” Promising because real-time and socially powered search has the potential to deliver more relevant results. Problematic because it also has the potential to deliver user-generated blather as opposed to qualified, quality information.

What social search means for marketers now, however, is this: If you do not start now building a network of fans, followers and friends who trust you, your company or your brand, you may quickly become irrelevant in not just social media, but in search too. Tell your curmudgeonly CEO if your company doesn’t participate in or prioritize social media, you’ll soon lose your search standing and see if that doesn’t help.

I could be wrong. The search engineers at Bing, Google and others may have a more (in my opinion) responsible way of incorporating social graph data points into our search results than this premise indicates. But if I’m even close to correct and the wisdom of crowds mentality of the Google world we live in prevails, your lack of participation and prioritization of social media may just bite you in the SERP. And that’s gonna hurt.

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  • Thanks. Would love to have a search person from there hop in and
    explain, of course, but thanks for the vote of confidence.

  • >> I could be wrong. The search engineers at Bing, Google and others may have a more (in my opinion) responsible way of incorporating social graph data points into our search results than this premise indicates. <<

    I doubt that you are wrong.

    -ski

  • >> I could be wrong. The search engineers at Bing, Google and others may have a more (in my opinion) responsible way of incorporating social graph data points into our search results than this premise indicates. <<

    I doubt that you are wrong.

    -ski

    • Thanks. Would love to have a search person from there hop in and
      explain, of course, but thanks for the vote of confidence.

  • Hello I just search the google and I found out your site. Nice post I am very worth reading it. Thanks!

  • Great Article!

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  • If you assume perfect access to information, which presumably is coming, this is indeed the Holy Grail of the Web – that information shared among friends who trust each other. Very exciting indeed!

    • Exciting, but not without challenges. Again, I don't know that
      everyone trusts their social graph as they would their “friends.” But
      it will still result in some interesting information. Thanks for
      chiming in.

  • Great analysis. IMHO, and I'm biased, this move validates that investing in your Raving Fans over influencers is worth it, since the Raving Fans touch the social graph of their network more relevantly/closely/trusted.

    • Excellent point, provided your raving fans are connected and
      influential online. Still an excellent strategy. Thanks!

  • marshallclark

    I can't help thinking that this all 'search within your friends' functionality is just a distraction/PR stunt. I mean, I already know what my friends like, that's why they're my friends.

    For example, how's Twitter/Bing going to help me search a vacation rental so me and my friends can go hang out together? I don't need to search my social graph for that – I need to search outside of it, but with some kind of trust/reputation factor added in.

    Where I do think it gets interesting though, is if we think of these current Social+Search mashups as the first step in developing a distributed 'social trust score' – aka: PageRank for People. This would allow you to search for topics outside your social graph, but with the added benefit of knowing that the information you find is trusted by someone – or maybe even, a whole network of someones.

    I wrote an article on the topic a while back – would love to bring it back up for discussion as your article seem to be on a very similar track: “Docs are Old-School, We Need PageRank for People” http://www.bit.ly/128U9V

    • Very interesting Marshall. I like the Pagerank for people concept. I
      think social search will certainly get toward that concept, though
      probably not as specifically as you describe it. Still — great idea.
      Maybe the Zakta folks (who read my blog) or someone at one of the
      larger places will take note. Good thinking!

      • marshallclark

        I think you're dead on Jason when you mentioned in another comment that there may be more than one kind of social search once this all settles out. The PageRank for People concept that I'm focused on would likely be the part that rolls up into general search – a transparent input into Google that would influence rankings based on topical social graph information. Basically a ranking algorithm that looks at interactions on the social web as to assign reputation; something I imagine would be a more accurate proxy for authority than tracking links between webmasters/bloggers.

        • Very cool ideas, Marshall. I hope the search folks see this and
          approach you for help!

  • denikasrel

    Jason,
    I too have been pondering the implications of social search and appreciate your take on the topic. It seems like such a major change to search as we now know it and one has to wonder what “relevant result” will mean in the future. Especially, as you rightly note, social media has changed the meaning of friend. So some of the results from the social media sphere may not mean as much as others due to actual strength/weakness of our connection to one another.

    Still, your bottom line assessment is a good one: businesses need to start to work social media to their search engine advantage. Thanks for the insights.

    • And thank you for the thoughtful response. I appreciate the discussion!

  • This is great, however I think if Google aquired Twitter then they would win in this space. If google doesn't go after Twitter I don't think they will last. Twitters search will be a great asset to google.

  • Hi Jason, nice post. But I guess even if they add social media element sin their search result. They won't give it too much weightage. Social search will work as extra feature or add-on for real search. Social media hasn't matured yet. It's in evolutionary process so everyone knows that we can't rely on it's result. And things can be manipulated easily in social media as everything depends on UGC or CGM. Not sure, if I could explain my point correctly :)

    • I see what you're saying, Amir. I hope you're right and social results
      aren't just tossed in the hopper with the rest of te results. But I
      fear the wisdom of crowds mentality may blind the engineers to what
      diluting the results pool means. Thanks for the comment.

  • Agree, I understand why the networks would want to be ranked in search engines, but this could mess up search results for the reasons you stated and could get annoying for those using search engine users who don't want to see people's tweet or status updates when searching.

    • Yep. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail on this, Craig. We'll see.

  • Thought-provoking post. I think the question I have is how the actual integration of things like tweets will work in the search interface. It's exceedingly rare that I search for something that a 140-character tweet will satisfy. Not to mention the fact that the snippet under each search result is probably long enough to show the entire tweet, so I don't even need to click through. It just feels like the wrong place for tweets. Maybe they'll put them on the sidebar or something.

    • Interesting thought, Ryan. Perhaps the search engines will separate
      out search and social search some how. That might be worth doing! Good
      ideas.

  • As I covered in a blog post recently, the thing about Social Media search is that you have to have a respective Bing or Google profile, be logged in at time of search, have linked your profile to your social networks, AND have friends who are doing the same on their end to see any social search results. I was in the Google Lab doing this and basically NO results came up the entire time. Though it can have negative repercussions, it is highly unlikely that anyone would go to all this trouble…
    The full post is at http://www.premiumchatter.com/2009/11/03/google

    • Good thoughts. Thanks for the ideas and the link, Lauren.

  • ShyamKapur

    This is an excellent article timed very well. Businesses are waking up to the new reality but perhaps a bit slower than most of us in the field would like. Any help they can get to understand the evolution of search and social media in the months and years to come will be appreciated by them. I want to bring to the attention of marketers and others the first and only truly semantic search engine that currently works on Twitter data, TipTop, now available in a beta version at http://FeelTipTop.com TipTop’s powerful engine understands each and every message on Twitter just like a human being would. As a result, it can discover from within the data the very best tweets organized nicely along a variety of categories and concepts learned dynamically. In fact, the entire platform learns from data as data flows through the engine. You can now see in real time the sentiment associated with anything in the world that people are talking about. Please give it a try. You will soon see that TipTop truly is a magic engine useful for a variety of purposes.

  • knealemann

    Companies that decide to ignore this evolution may as well bury their entire bodies in the sand. There will never be one way, one answer or one algorithm that will solve all of our problems. But if “friends” are replaced with “brand evangelists”, “primary customers” or “influential buyers” companies may rethink their focus on how they navigate two-way conversations online.

    @knealemann

  • dmattcarter

    Does this new accessibility finally open up our facebook status updates to Social Media Monitoring devices?

    • No it doesn't, Matt. Facebook only opens what it considers “public”
      conversations. Those are ones which happen in groups and on brand/fan
      pages. Status updates are for your friends only, thus private in their
      eyes.