With the news that Facebook and Bing have strengthened their social search partnership, the office this week was abuzz with questions directed toward me and my team.
· What is "social search"?
· Why would the search engines expend energy in integrating social data into its results?
· What does this mean for search and social marketers?
After responding to this line of questioning dozens of times over the course of a week, I started to appreciate how significant these developments are. After all, it's not every day that I talk shop with someone from our creative discipline; that was the true indicator that this story had hit the mainstream.
It was also curious to hear myself responding differently to the same questions after I had explained my point of view several times before. What were initially very raw, reactive thoughts gelled into a more complete view of the situation. Having had the opportunity to thoroughly reflect on this most recent development, I've changed my entire outlook on social search.
I now believe that social is the new search.
What is "social search"?
Social search is the enhancement to core search engine results with social media data from an individual's friends and those they follow online. Rather than being presented with Google/Bing's 10 standard listings (not including the advertising) per page of results, users who are logged into either Facebook (Bing) or their Google Accounts (Google) will see results annotated with "Likes" and "Mentions" by those within their social circles. The fundamental assumption is that people use social networks to connect with like-minded people, so the chances are high that "friends" will have referenced relevant content and/or websites.
Here are the official notices from both Bing and Facebook on the latest enhancements:
These most recent developments are especially important to SEOs because now, when results do have social annotations appended to them, those listings may receive a rankings boost. To date, the rankings themselves were untouched when social elements were in play.
It seems that analytic intelligence on "rank at the time of the click" has never been more necessary than it is now.
Why would the search engines expend energy in integrating social data into its results?
The obvious observation is that, as a result of the booming popularity and adoption of social media over the past five years, there's an incredible amount of consumer preference data available within the social graph. Users are more comfortable sharing personal information and preferences online. Incorporating that intelligence within search engine results seems to be a logical evolution -- one that will help search engines maintain relevance as the Web becomes decidedly more complex and personal.
But is that the only reason for these developments? What if the truth is far more ominous for the search engines than it appears on the surface? What if social search represents a gasp of desperation from a dying online paradigm?
This is sure to be a controversial line of thinking, but the more I engage with social media the more I'm convinced that peer-to-peer collaboration is the future of information identification and dissemination. The Web allows us all to be connected, and many social platforms enable for a very fluid exchange of information, ideas, and recommendations. From a marketer's perspective, social media represents word-of-mouth marketing on steroids.
What does this mean for search and social marketers?
Let me be clear: search is not in danger. The act of searching will always be ubiquitous with an online experience. What I believe will happen is a decentralization of search into social channels. Facebook in particular seems primed to become search's next big destination, with an onsite engine that taps into its deep social graph data and returns results based on the Web's collective conscious.
But for the search and social marketer, the necessary near-term actions are far more pragmatic. Silos need to be brought down. Search and social marketing teams need to collaborate, even join forces permanently. The new reality for these marketers is that everything is now interrelated under a common umbrella of "inbound marketing."
For now we're left with very tactical action items:
1) Create engaging content that is capable of being easily shared across social sites;
2) Share that content across your own social sites;
3) Encourage followers/fans to engage with, and comment on, your content;
4) Remain current and try to avoid appearing out-of-date with the pulse of the marketplace.
The Bing and Facebook storyline dominates today's social search conversation, but a seismic shift is occurring in our space.
Social is the new search.