Rethinking Search in the Social Age

Sharing and Speed

We live in an age of instant gratification. When we head out for some fun with friends, we check in to a location minutes upon arrival. When we experience something bad, we post status updates #FML. Oh and when we go on a holiday, we make sure to post a photo of us taking a beautiful vacation… minutes upon arriving at the hotel, “just so our friends will know.” In the recent past many books were written on how to manage email demands because we all felt the need to keep up with the flood of mails which all wanted our response “ASAP”; now we eagerly check our Facebook notifications every few minutes and use the chat and message features more than we send short messages through the phone.

In the past when we need to find the answer to something, we turned to authority figures, respected peers, and books to be well informed. Now, we simply use Google for anything and everything – mundane or important. Information at our fingertips. We are astounded by the number of voices and the variety of opinions available to us on the topic we searched on. Yours truly even found someone who can make me a custom short scale bass halfway across the world. Niche and geeky I know! Thanks Google!

The Power Shift

Technology has changed the way we interact with others, and with brands. The ease at which we can share our lives, our feelings and thoughts about any issue creates changing expectations consumers have, and the pace has changed where brands have to keep up with consumers. When disaster strikes, people take to Facebook, Twitter, and Google to tune in to the hottest news. We no longer want the sanitized version on the state news channel. No, we want anyone’s and everyone’s opinion. And so there is a leveling of power distance between authorities, brands, and “the common folk.”

A New Type of Mob Mentality

With this mob mentality, any organization can quickly become a public enemy. Those who are not affected by the issue do also tune in to what’s happening and find their sources of news on search engines like Google. If the majority of what they see first is negative news, this can quickly become a difficult situation for brands, as popular opinion is not always a true reflection of the facts. We have in a sense become our aunts and grannies – gossip mongers hungry for the next piece of juicy news that we regurgitate to our friends – only this time better equipped with technology.

A Pressing Need to Rethink Search

How should marketers respond in an age of sharing and speed? Besides being active on social channels and engaging customers, another key area to reach your “swing-voters” is through search.

In my speaking engagement at SES Singapore 2011, I shared that search engines are the first “go-to” source of information for news on a company; online news was second*, and that a third of visits to social platforms occur after visiting search engines. So while social is the place of content creation and sharing, search engines is the place of context to this content – the doorway to the Internet and the top trusted source of information. Content and context are the king and queen of the digital age.

*This was a study done by Edelman that spanned 23 countries, for the “informed public aged 25 – 64,” i.e., a marketer’s likely target audience.

How can we rethink search? Here are four main principles, which I’ve called the four RE’s:

 1. REthink metrics.

Search is not only to sell. We need to evolve from the typical success metrics of a search campaign. ROI does not only come through lead generation, product sales, and revenue, but also through brand perception and sentiment. Depending on the objective of the campaign, the persona of search has to evolve from a smiley door-to-door salesman to a trusted advisor. Returns from search can be also represented in cost savings per reach from not having irate customers call a company’s hotline, or how search can improve brand perception, which impacts market share. Use search creatively, not just for brand awareness and sales objectives.

2. REalign search strategy to the business.

We need to take off our “search marketer” cap sometimes and think in business terms – what will this mean for the business? How can I help to achieve my company’s goals? Resist working in silo. Work closely with your bosses, internal stakeholders, agencies on an appropriate strategy. Search platforms, target CPCs, run dates, day parting, ad copy, A/B testing are all great but very technical and worse, will not be understood by anyone else other than fellow search marketers. Cut the acronyms and technical terms. Who needs to know them but yourself? In other words, think more like a marketer, less like a specialist.

3. Be REady.

Swift response is expected in an age of instant Internet gratification. And that means being ready. Where I work, we try to have contingency plans if digital plans don’t work out. Yes, even for digital where changes can be done much faster than for offline, a fast activation plan is still needed so that when things get out of hand, plan B can quickly kick in. And that means your agency also needs to be ready to respond to changes quickly. Automated systems can help in this if times of changes need to be done at an unearthly hour; for example, if stocks run out at 3 a.m. A good agency will have this or will be able to advise on this.

4. REmain true.

Amplify the voice of your company. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Maintain a consistent tonality to reflect the company’s values and persona. That means if you’re Jackie Chan, don’t try to be Oprah Winfrey.

 Internet image on home page via Shutterstock.

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