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.