Searching Social For Search

I recently wrote about how, in future, search could greatly benefit on-demand digital television, but the future of search doesn't start there and isn't even that futuristic. I think search is about to undergo a major evolutionary shift that will change the underpinnings of how search works, is used, and is defined.


Advertisers want to fish where the fish are, and the fish are very social these days. Social media sites are coming of age and Twitter search is all the rage. But if social is the new flavor of search, we need to break it down and understand the how and the why.

The first factor in this comes from a cautionary tail of jumping the shark. MySpace did not protect the sanctity of community, which is the single biggest value driver for social. As the community grew, everyone befriended everyone and thus the community lost its value. To avoid a similar fate, Facebook and Twitter must protect their community like the engines guard their algorithms to maintain relevance. At some point, these companies need to start taking some liberties to protect the community for us to ensure long-term value. Twitter, for example, needs to do some serious housekeeping, as there are too many accounts a tad on the shady side, to say the least. If Facebook and Twitter can avoid diluting the community and jumping the shark, they can change the game of search.



To understand how, lets look at why we search. I'm oversimplifying here, but there are three basic need states that dictate our search behavior that I will use to prove out my theory.

1. Discovery -- we search to find new things of interest.
2. Information -- we search to find specific information based on what we discover we like or want.
3. Navigation -- we search to get from point A to point B, because it's the simplest way around the Web.

If I want to go on vacation, I'll type in "vacation." Once I learn a little, then I start searching for "cheap holidays to Spain" or "Bahamas cruises." After I have compared prices, used multiple engines over multiple sessions, and I have decided what I want, I type in the company or brand that has it and I convert.

Why is this important? Because if community adds value, then some of the aforementioned search activity will start to shift to social areas. I would rather ask my close friends, family, coworkers, or anyone with a shared interest than hunt and peck my way through algorithmic search results. Not only does this have the potential to speed up a consumer's search journey, but it also comes in the form of trusted sources in real time. You can never underestimate the power combination of immediacy and word of mouth. But given the nature of what social search can be, it will never add a lot of value navigationally -- so I see that search activity staying at an engine.

This shift in behavior (if it plays out) has huge implications for our industry. When we do multiclick attribution analysis for our clients, we see about 50% of the value of a last click and conversion being re-attributed to early funnel keywords in the discovery and informational search phases, where the battle for awareness and interest is really occurring. This is because the vast majority of last clicks and one-click search journeys come from navigational searches. More often than not, this is your brand terms. Google right now owns navigational search because it owns the browser-based search box, so using last-click attribution, it gets all the glory. This was part of Yahoo's search undoing - - our research indicates that Yahoo is typically used in early search phases with nonbranded keyword queries that don't result in a direct click to conversion. When we changed our attribution weighting we saw that Yahoo received roughly 4% more credit for revenue generated.

If early funnel keyword activity increasingly happens within Twitter and/or Facebook versus at, dare I say, a traditional search engine, then the game has changed in two major ways. One, this shift in behavior represents a sizable amount of monetizable query volume for the social communities. Two, if we attribute roughly 50% of the value of the last click back to earlier exposures, then the price I am willing to pay for that click drops proportionally. Think about it -- search under last-click attribution still runs on the 80/20 rule, meaning 80% of revenue comes from 20% of the keywords. So Bing and Yahoo risk a loss of volume and Google risks a drop in click value.

This bodes well for social communities trying to find revenue streams, because early funnel nonbranded keywords, which is where social search can add the most value, come with higher CPCs and scale. So maybe the Google killer is not one engine, but a collective change in behavior where a growing volume of search activity starts happening in social environments. There is a lot of revenue at stake here, especially as advertisers get savvy and move away from last-click attribution.

A change in tracking attribution combined with a more mature social experience is changing search. The questions become: Who buys Twitter, and can Facebook do this on its own?

3 comments about "Searching Social For Search".
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  1. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, August 17, 2009 at 1 p.m.

    Rob great post in terms of keeping the spam out of social networks. But you know what? All networks once you reach over 100 friends who are active everything posted technically becomes clutter/spam. Not because you didn't ask for it. but it is a time/benefit issue. If a brand has a facebook fan page is it of any use? Not really. Most people once they become fans of so many things stop going to those pages. and when email broadcasts or update posts show up because of the volume between friends, music acts, celebs or whatever they get drowned out.

    As for how search will change things I am not sure social media is the right tool. If your thought is search will give you back information on how many people like a TV show....sure that can be very valuable. But then brands will start pumping in fake reviews just to get positive responses.

    The value of social networks for advertisers is truly to get WOW between friends and close social associates vs any traditional advertising or broadcasting of information. I will tune out something from pepsi because pepsi advertises to me everywhere I turn in life reducing its value. But if a friend says 'hey this new flavor rocks' I will go try it next time I am able too.

    Don't forget it is the Advertising Industry pushing all these new ways of marketing not the brands. If the brands decide to cut budgets it hurts the Agencies and Media Buyers...even if that is the right thing to do. So think of Agencies as Lobbyists in healthcare trying to block reform even though it is the right thing to do for the ecosystem as a whole.

  2. Rob Griffin from Almighty, August 18, 2009 at 1:23 a.m.

    I agree brands simply having a Facebook page doesnt cut it, Howie, and none responders hinder social activities, Ira. Too many broadcasters out there already - - consumers and brands.

    But I think you both are taking the one scenario I gave quite literally and are not looking at the potential. Social now may not have a viable search in it's various current business forms but the potential is there.

    Various apps allow for quick and easy filtering of Twitter posts (AKA "tweets", I just hate saying or writing it). So for example before I look for a web analytics platform, I can monitor what people in the biz are saying and issues they have. I can then set filters for Google Analytics or Omniture and have an understanding of these companies before I do business with either. This behavior typically required searching for blogs or industry rags. This has caused Twitter to roll out search functionality.

    This is not new just potentially is changing locations. Facebook and Twitter I see as the darlings du jour and thus have the potential.

    Not sure how much of a shift this will be or how wide spread it will become, but I see it happening in some way. Ira you even eluded to how you might use a social community in place of an engine for search.

    Howie, Ira good feedback. Thanks.

  3. Rob Griffin from Almighty, August 20, 2009 at 11:49 a.m.

    Follow up ...

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