For Marketers, Social Isn't Quite The New Search

My friend and gyro colleague Scott Gillum recently wrote that "Social is Intriguing, However Search is Proven." In that piece, Gillum presents some interesting data points, culminating with the closing argument that social warrants experimentation, but until more is known about its impact on the bottom line, marketers should be sure the basics are covered. The basics, of course, include best-practice search engine optimization and a healthy paid search presence.

Gillum's piece and my recent MediaPost column, "Social Is the New Search," have been positioned as a point-counterpoint of sorts within the office. I'm on record saying that the future of search appears destined for decentralization into social venues; Gillum advocates that organizations place social opportunities on a shelf until the search house is in order.  



Who's right? Or is it just a matter of perspective? 

According to Gillum, "traditional online" tactics are crucial in environments where marketers have limited time and money. In order to prove value to their organization, marketers are pressed to demonstrate that their expenditures are directly impacting bottom line-performance. The data Gillum shares points to an online buying environment where the "importance/usefulness" of traditional online channels is significant and slated to grow "2-3X" in the year ahead.  

Social is a different story altogether, because it's difficult to quantify the ROI impact. Now, let's exclude social advertising from this discussion. Social advertising can be challenging to attribute ROI, but it's not outright impossible. I'm talking about core social media programs: social listening, community development and management, contests, games, applications -- you get the point. Those programs require some leaps of faith to quantify impact.  

And analytics vendors, please spare me the "we've figured out how to calculate the ROI of a Facebook Like!" No, you haven't. You have marketing propaganda and little more.  

The truth is, my belief that users of social media will grow in their reliance on these channels to perform "search" functions (information seeking) in no way conflicts with Gillum's stance that investing in search before social is the way to go today. We're actually very much aligned in our thinking:  

Now - Don't ignore search. It's proven and produces solid ROI.

Tomorrow - Social will pay off. The onus is on companies to discover their own "killer application." 

The real challenge for those of us in the digital trenches is to help guide our clients (or bosses) to a sensible communications roadmap. Social media may hold all the glitz and glam, but we can't allow the decision-makers we report to, to get caught up in the hype. Many need reminding that even "social engagement" is difficult to prove, because it relies on a handful of arbitrary metrics. Install an exceptional "traditional online" platform first, then feel free to experiment in social.

If your priorities here are reversed, then you have gaping holes in your digital presence.  

Now,  I'm not trying to rock the boat; I'm a big believer in social media. But there's a reason there are far more fake social gurus than there are fake search gurus -- and it has everything to do with accountability. Search is proven because it is held accountable.

3 comments about "For Marketers, Social Isn't Quite The New Search".
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  1. Alex Edlund from, September 16, 2011 at 6:37 p.m.

    "Who's right? Or is it just a matter of perspective? "

    Well, it seems like you're really on the same page judging by your closing lines. You start off by positioning your article and Gillum's on the opposite sides of the spectrum. Then you finish by saying search is actually really important and social is, well if you can prove it, good?

    We all know that social is important, because it opens up a direct line between the company and the consumer, where interaction can take place, engage audience, create advocates.. etc. But the discussion shouldn't really be search or social, it should be search and social. Best impact is achieved when you combine the two.

    Paid search is on another level in terms of bottom line. However, social media is a great way of reaching your audience where they spend most of their time.


  2. Rick Vidallon from VISIONEFX WEB DESIGN, September 17, 2011 at 12:28 p.m.

    The Key Word here is Social. The most effective use of social networking websites are to engage users on a social level. The deeper or more personal the connection you make stimulates the most conversation.

    Note that this conversation can be heated, negative, positive, knee-jerk and so on.

    Think of it this way. If you are planning on taking a vacation you will know;

    a. Where you are going
    b. When you will leave
    c. How you will get there.
    d. Where you will stay.
    e. What you will do once you are there.
    f. How much money you will spend.
    h. And finally when you will leave.

    I would not set up a Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, Four Square, Google Plus) page just because every one else has one, rather develop a basic strategy of how I would use social networking and how it fits into my marketing strategy.

    (I have a personal page for all; BUT NOT MY BUSINESS)

    I shudder and cringe when a client asks me to put a Facebook like button on their homepage.

    What image are they trying to convey?
    Should a cancer medical practice have a 'Like' button on their homepage?
    Should a pizza parlor have a 'Like' button on their homepage?

    As businesses continue to build and mange an online presence on the Web, they may want to remember two simple rules;

    Search engines are for searching.
    Social networks are for socializing.

  3. Scott Gillum from Carbon Design, September 20, 2011 at 2:49 p.m.

    Maybe we're trying to measure the value of social media the wrong way. Because corporate marketing is driving social activities at many organizations, the default to trying to fit it to a traditional ROI view. Perhaps we're using it at the wrong part of the funnel and the real value of social media is at the bottom of the funnel - as a customer retention/loyalty lever. Measuring engagement level as an indicator of customer retention has been done by Gallup. They are now working on how it applies to Social Media. Maybe this is the real payoff. Think about the value of having brand advocates enabled with social tools to ramp up word of mouth that will produce real results!

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