What Social Search Means To Your Business

by Jason Falls |
Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

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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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).