Search Is For The Drills; Social Is For The Holes

How do people engage with your product or service? Do you sell something like kayaks, which become a part of people's lives, passion and identity? Or do you sell couches, which tend to only interest people while they're shopping for them?


Understanding whether your company is a momentary indulgence or a way of life will have a big impact on the channels you market through. A Twitter search for "kayak" reveals all sorts of conversation about people indulging in their favorite activity, conversation that a kayak manufacturer could participate in to become part of the community. A Twitter search for "couch," on the other hand, reveals conversation focused on laziness -- not exactly fodder for potential couch sales.

So I've come up with Kaila's Engagement Time/Channel Time Theory: If people are likely to engage with your product for a long time (kayaks), connect with them on channels where they spend a lot of time (social networks). If people are likely to make one decision about your product and not think about it again (couch), connect with them on channels where they get quick, targeted responses (search).



I've got a graph in my head. Can you see it? It's a line going up and to the right, with "product engagement time" on the Y axis and "channel session time" on the X axis.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about finding the "kitchen": the place online where people who care about what you do hang out and talk to each other. If your product is a lifestyle product, it's virtually guaranteed that there are multiple kitchens online. People will go anywhere and everywhere to discuss things they're passionate about. If your product is a momentary product, on the other hand, chances are reasonable that people don't gather to discuss it regularly. If your product is a momentary product, you don't find the kitchen; it finds you.

I'm not saying you shouldn't monitor Twitter if your business is selling couches. What I am saying is that you're unlikely to build any community momentum on Twitter, because there is no kitchen there. There are one-off people saying they're going shopping for a couch today.

Sometimes, though, you can span both the momentary and lifestyle conversations. For example, I recently did some work for a roof rack company. The actual product they sell is a momentary product; there are very few people discussing the relative merits of roof racks on Twitter or Facebook. When you're shopping for a roof rack, you're going straight to Google. But the purpose of the product is to enable better enjoyment of lifestyle activities: skiing, biking, kayaking. What makes sense for that company is to create relationships around the lifestyle -- and then to do everything they can to be top of the SERPs when people go shopping.

That company can take a cross-channel approach because they've understood that people don't buy drills, they buy holes. People don't buy roof racks, they buy a quicker and easier way to do the things they love.

Search is for the drills. Social is for the holes. Make sure you're not trying to fit a search drill into a social hole.

7 comments about "Search Is For The Drills; Social Is For The Holes".
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  1. Nancy Shaver from experian, November 17, 2009 at 12:29 p.m.

    Great analysis--as always, fish where the fish are...and make sure your bait is fresh:)

  2. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, November 17, 2009 at 2:27 p.m.

    Kaila, your 'Engagement Time/Channel Time Theory' provides a very insightful way to view Search and Social. It's an impressively succinct way to help understand the strengths of both.

    I suspect, though, that often the idea of what is the 'drill' and what is the 'hole' will vary from person to person. To use your couch analogy as an example, while one consumer may view a couch simply as something that occupies space in her living room, another may view it as a serious expression of her personal tastes. In which case she may turn to the "community" for input/review/expertise.

    The lesson, I suppose, is that the situation is rarely going to be either/or. And understanding the needs of both is going to reap big benefits.

  3. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, November 17, 2009 at 2:49 p.m.

    Thank you Nancy and Mickey! Mickey, I couldn't agree with you more. Another company I deal with makes handcrafted rugs. Now, for me, a rug is a drill -- I don't think about it that often. But for this company's customers, the rugs are art, things to be spoken about, treasured, admired, and sought after.

    I greatly appreciate your comments.

  4. Ellie Becker from E.R. Becker Company, Inc., November 17, 2009 at 7:32 p.m.

    There's alot of conversation these days about social media strategy. Most of it stays at the mile-high level. It's helpful to see some down-to-earth, practical thinking about specific attributes that make social more or less strategically useful to a business.

  5. Greg Hall from Yebol, November 17, 2009 at 8:53 p.m.

    Kaila, your analysis is better than your theorem. Social is about collaboration...meaning that for some (indeed, many) drills and tools are extremely interesting and fashionable. Social is often about contextual background info, not thing identifiers.

  6. Reuben Segelbaum from Syncapse, November 18, 2009 at 2:05 p.m.

    Not only fish where the fish are, but don't try to duck hunt in a rocky boat (the analogies are stretching, I know). But it all comes back to the end of the day, multi channel applies as much online as it does offline, and the message should reflect the channel. Thats not to say that everyone does or does not ahve a need, but a passion around that need is testimony to their engagement with your product or service. Adjust accordingly.

  7. William Gaultier from e-storm international, November 18, 2009 at 3:11 p.m.

    Kaila, interesting analogy on search and social.

    I do think though that marketers (agencies and brands) should look at all channels in a holistic way, understand that consumers (or professionals) will jump from one channel to the other - regardless of if it's a kitchen, couch or other analogies.

    It's up to us marketers to listen to all channels, test all channels, and understand that consumers jump from search to radio to tv to facebook.

    If we try to view/test/measure one channel at a time - we are ignoring our target audiences, and killing the bottom line. Atlas, Coremetrics, VisualIQ and other companies have been publishing reports on the subject - worth a read.

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