Every day consumers are sharing more online. Currently consumers share four billion updates, conversations, recommendations, photos, videos, tweets, posts, shares on Facebook, 200 million on Twitter and one billion on Google+ per day. Mark Zuckerberg predicts that every year, consumers will share twice as much as the year before. Consumers now turn to their peers, and even strangers, for recommendations and information on brands and the products or services they sell. As stated by Nielsen, 90% of consumers trust recommendations from their friends and 70% trust opinions posted online.
This shift in consumer online behavior is the catalyst behind the ongoing changes in search engine algorithms we’ve seen over the past year, in which Google and Bing have updated algorithms to incorporate consumer-generated content into search engine result placement (SERP). Last year, Google’s Panda update reduced rankings for low-quality sites and improved rankings for high-quality sites (sites with content and information driven by consumers). Bing followed suit with its Tiger updates, improving the accuracy and relevance of SERP. As consumer-generated content moves to the top of the search-engine food chain, brands’ SERP will change. In fact, data shows that between 75% to 90% of the top 10 search results on any given SERP have at least one Facebook like or Twitter tweet.
What’s more, Google and Bing are now serving personalized results based on the data aggregated from consumers’ social graphs. Google launched its new “Search Plus Your World” feature in January that finds both content that has been shared privately along with matches from the public Web, giving users the option to search via their personal connections or the social Web in a single search. The personal results are showcased at the top of the page and are based on consumers’ own behavior and their social connections, but only include content from Google+.
This follows the Bing announcement last year that people searching on Bing will be served results that include information or “Likes” their friends have shared on Facebook. Facebook also uses Bing as its search engine within the social network. As Google and Bing continue to compete, search and social will continue to converge -- and consumer-generated content is the fundamental driving force in the equation.
These changes make one thing abundantly clear for marketers: Consumer-generated content about their brand, products and services is not a nice-to-have, but an increasingly critical element of their marketing strategy. Marketers must implement social media marketing initiatives that facilitate the creation and sharing of consumer-generated content about their brands. Social referral programs are a key addition to a marketer’s social strategy, as they are a natural way to foster consumer-generated content.
Social referral programs, by nature, tap into consumers’ need and desire to share information and content with their peers, resulting in consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketing. The opportunity for brands is to reach out to highly engaged, loyal advocates and turn them into “social advocates” – who, in turn, refer the brands and products or services to their friends and social communities. If brands can properly harness the power of C2C marketing, they can create a new, high-value marketing channel. This new channel can not only help brands foster consumer- generated content (such as updates, conversations, recommendations, photos, videos, tweets, posts, shares, or +1s), to increase their SERP, but also produce highly qualified new customers and sales, boost traffic and awareness and give them deep insight into customer behavior across their social graphs.
With online sharing growing at an exponential rate and the rapidly changing nature of search engine algorithms, brands have no choice but to employ a social media marketing strategy platform that encourages consumers to share about their brands.