Social Moves Into Search Marketing's Space


Search, meet social. Social, meet search. The two of you will spend much more time together as brilliant minds continue to find new possibilities to integrate marketing and technology.

Search and social marketing began that long journey years ago, but became stronger partners when Google, Microsoft and Yahoo announced last year that their respective search engines would integrate Twitter streams in search queries. The two media cemented a tighter bond when Twitter announced the long-awaited rollout of its Promoted Tweets search advertising platform earlier this month.

Some analysts believe the marriage of search and social puts Twitter and other social sites at a "critical juncture," but it remains unclear what revenue these initiatives will generate.

Research analyst firm eMarketer estimates the number of U.S. adult Twitter users will reach 36 million in 2012, up from 18 million in 2009. As a percentage of people who use the Internet, Twitter users will account for 18.8% in 2012, up from 10.5% in 2009.This forecast assumes that Twitter will deliver on its mission to shift its focus from audience building to revenue generation in 2010.

Twitter reported at its first conference nearly 106 million registered accounts worldwide, with just under 40% coming from the U.S. Those figures translate to 39.1 million U.S. accounts, according to eMarketer Analyst Paul Verna.

Verna tells me the numbers take into consideration that some Twitter users have multiple accounts. And I know there are the blackhat SEO spammers who have hundred of automated Twitter accounts -- a problem Twitter continually tries to get a handle on and clean up.

"Unlike MySpace, where you saw a clear downward pattern in traffic to the site, we don't see that with Twitter," Verna says. "We see a more complicated picture."

That picture makes Verna believe Twitter has something to build on but needs to answer lots of questions. Twitter's strengths have been overblown by media reports, but he admits the company shows potential.

For one, there are those licensing agreements with Google Microsoft and Yahoo that enabled the search engines to tap into tweet streams. Reports that Twitter earned about $25 million from those deals were not refuted, which led some industry insiders to assume Twitter became profitable. Some believe the real money will come from Twitter Sponsored Tweets, announced earlier this month.

Apparently, the strong and relevant tweets will survive. The Twitter Sponsored Tweets will have a "Resonance Score" to help move up the tweets on searches. If they aren't replied to or retweeted by other users they will disappear. Digg also told me it would launch a similar search feature this summer.

If it sounds like search marketing, it's meant to, as this emerging business model that considers consumer feedback follows Google's paid search business into the social space.

In an eMarketer report titled "Twitter: A Strong Current in the Social Media Mainstream," Verna points to Anderson Analytics's estimates that 15% of U.S. social network users tapped into Twitter monthly in 2009. Assuming eMarketer's estimate of 88.1 million U.S. social network users that year is correct, Anderson's figure amounts to 13.2 million Twitter users.

Other indicators of Twitter use by consumers include the length of time that people have been using the site. Verna points to Dynamic Logic and Millward Brown estimates that in Q3 2009, 58% of Twitter users surveyed had used the service for less than six months, while another 25% had been using it for 6 to 11 months. Versa suggests that at this time Twitter use continued to ramp up through late 2009, compared with other social media sites such as MySpace and LinkedIn, which had smaller percentages of recent users and much larger portions of longtime users.

Facebook, which now boasts closing in on 500 million users, up from 100 million in the year-ago quarter, could change it all with its open graph initiative announced at this year's F8 conference as the company moves to become the fabric of the Web.

Still, Twitter's popularity represents an opportunity for marketers, Verna says. "With more and more companies dabbling in social media, Twitter is emerging as an increasingly powerful weapon in their marketing arsenals," he writes in the report.

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