Will Search Shift the Social Battlefield Between Facebook and Google?

  |  July 19, 2011   |  Comments

The Clash of the Digital Titans has finally arrived.

The Clash of the Digital Titans has finally arrived. There's Google, from its lofty perch as the search giant, and there's Facebook, which from its social throne, has taken the mantle of display inventory kings. These two industry titans now find themselves face-to-face in no small part due to Google+'s launch.

For years, Google has tried to establish itself in the social space. Likewise, with every million new users the scale of the Facebook ad network has grown. With +Circles, Hangouts, and the rest, Google seems to have hit upon something of worth. People inside the industry and, more importantly, outside Madison Avenue and the Valley are intrigued. That said, the launch clearly caught the attention of the Social Network. Last week, Facebook responded to one of the most intriguing features of Google+, Hangouts (a group video chat application), by announcing its own solution - a partnership with Skype. Skype is the newest acquisition of Microsoft, another Google foe and one-time digital king.

But, for all the social gamesmanship that comes from this response, it's likely to do little to halt someone from trying out or shifting over to Google+, if they are so inclined. What would it take for Facebook to evolve into an area that would keep consumers engaging and on site more than they already do? Perhaps the answer is all about the field upon which the battle is being fought. Google has clearly come onto Facebook's turf, but it's been attempting to do so for several years, so this is no sneak attack. However, if Facebook suddenly appeared on the search scene, well, I think it would be far most interesting.

In GroupM Search research published earlier this year, we found that consumers form a virtuous circle between the channels. While most start with search, they evolve and move into social when they feel the information available has capped and they want to find other data or get the opinions of others. Google +1, launched a few months back, was designed to be the continuation of Google's effort (following its now ceased Twitter deal) to bring social into search and compete with Microsoft bringing Facebook into Microsoft's index.

People don't want to search. They want to go through a discovery phase, which is about deep and rich data. I suspect Facebook would have little interest in this and could be quite content to fully source this to Bing or just leave it outside the social walls altogether. Searchers also want to reach a destination, and that's the play Facebook could somewhat easily make.

Imagine you seek to buy a new car, specifically a family SUV. Today, the pattern we have found suggests you use Google or Bing to identify a few candidates and then turn to your peer set to ask their opinions. In that process you may find that a few friends have liked Ford or Honda, but is that level of insight enough? Probably not. You may have to ask questions. Once you get their perspectives, you will then head back into the research loop of search.

Now imagine that instead of this, when you asked the first question inside Facebook, "Does anyone have a recommendation on a great SUV to buy?" the response is a blend of your graph and brand/third-party data. So, Facebook shows you the "likes" of brand pages, ideally with people liking specific models, not just the brand. But it also pulls in data to enable you to see which of those brands and products may be worth further consideration. This deeper search ability does two things. It connects your graph research with your extended research, but, more importantly for Facebook, it keeps you out of Google.

Brands continue to evaluate the worth of a Facebook fan and how they should buy vs. earn exposure. One way to attract brands is to give them connection points. Google built its business through the relevant intersection of content and intent. Using consumer questions in its graph and a better measure of intent could enable Facebook to not only enhance its ad properties, but also re-position the fight with a chief rival.

Regardless, the experience we have seen with Google since Bing started to gain market share suggests that innovation is most likely to be experienced when competition is present. Google+ represents the closest thing to that for Facebook since the late days of the MySpace reign. And whether or not Facebook decides to come to search, competition is present. Search and social will continue to deliver value for consumers in their experiences.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Copeland

Chris Copeland is chief executive officer of GroupM Next, the forward-looking media innovation unit of GroupM. Chris is responsible for curating and communicating insight-focused media solutions across established and emerging platforms. Leveraging his multi-year experience with emerging media companies, Chris is tasked with stewarding GroupM Next in partnership with agency leadership from GroupM's four media marketing and marketing service agencies (Maxus, MEC, MediaCom, and Mindshare). The focus is participating with those companies leading changes that most impact consumer media consumption, brand favorability, and purchase behavior.

Guiding the Predictive Insights, Technology, Research, and Communications teams at GroupM Next, Chris is responsible for overseeing the amplification of insights into opportunities that directly benefit the business of GroupM agencies and their clients. GroupM is the world's largest media investment management group and the media holding arm of WPP. Together, GroupM agencies represent almost $30 billion in overall North American billings (RECMA).

Chris helped guide the development of GroupM Next, which was established to deliver the best thinking and new insights from within the GroupM community. The unit also focuses on technology innovation connecting all media channels, but especially, online, social, mobile, and addressable.

Chris was selected to lead GroupM Next after nine years of leading the search marketing practice within GroupM. Among his accomplishments are the development and integration of the global search marketing offering for GroupM agencies, GroupM Search, which managed $1.3 billion in search billings globally and grew to more than 1,000 search marketing strategists serving 40 countries. In 2009, Chris created the research division of GroupM Search and developed research studies that deepened the understanding of consumer behavior across search and social media for leading brands and garnered global traction - most notably: The Influenced: Social Media, Search, and the Interplay of Consideration and Consumption; The Virtuous Circle: The Role of Social Media in the Purchase Pathway;and From Intent to In-Store: Search's Role in the New Retail Shopper Profile.

Chris entered the digital industry in 1996 when he joined search marketing agency WGI (later acquired by Tempus Group). He has been with the WPP and GroupM family of companies since 2000 when, recognizing search as an emerging media channel with incredible potential for brands, WPP acquired Tempus Group and CIA, and ultimately rebranded the search marketing agency as Outrider. As senior partner and managing director of Outrider, Chris delivered on GroupM's vision for the channel, leading the organization to 500 percent growth with global presence over five years, and establishing award-winning search marketing strategies that have become industry-wide best practices. In 2002, Chris successfully implemented the integration of search into the cross-channel media planning process at MEC, creating the first search marketing practice to sit within a media communications and planning company. In 2007, he guided the business expansion of search marketing practices into all GroupM agencies. In 2009, Chris was named CEO of GroupM Search, where he was responsible for driving global search strategy for the organization, while fostering the innovative application of search as an integrated channel. In his role, Chris also provided digital strategy counsel for clients, including AT&T, Dell, Audi, Volkswagen, and more.

Chris is an active member on advisory boards at the 4A's, Google, Yahoo, MSN, and I-COM. He is a frequent speaker in global forums discussing the digital marketplace and how the space is evolving, and serves as a regular resource to national and industry press. Chris contributes editorial commentary regularly to Advertising Age, ClickZ, MediaPost, and MediaBizBloggers.com. In fall 2013, Chris was honored as an inductee into the ClickZ Digital Hall of Fame.

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