Jon Buss, managing director for UK & Northern Europe at Yext, explores the growing power of social search, how different social giants are approaching it, and how brands can take advantage of this trend
Search has become our index for life; and people expect to immediately see maps, menus, reviews and local, relevant and accurate information, whether that’s to find the best local restaurant or the nearest 24-hour pharmacy. There’s no doubt that Google has been dominant in driving this success but over the last year, we’ve started to see a more aggressive play for local search among big social media platforms, such as Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram.
However, do social media platforms have the capability to take on search engines like Google and Bing when we’re seeing constant innovation? Last week Google updated its app for Android and web with badges for image search improving its visual discovery – a play into Instagram’s territory? It also recently announced an update to ‘Google feed’ to include curated information based on a user’s interests and what’s trending in their area making the mobile search experience even more local, personalised and contextually relevant
Considering the huge quantity of user data collected each day via social media platforms, from location to consumer, this move shouldn’t be a surprise; social media platforms have a vested interest in keeping users within their feed. But what does it mean for brands when social platforms, which power the connectivity of millions of people each day, develop a search functionality to compete with traditional search players, such as Google and Bing?
Considering Snapchat, they have recently announced a revamp to the way users can search. ‘Search for Stories’ is a new functionality which enables users to browse through Our Stories (the public story arena of the platform), whereby, latest algorithms scan content, including captions, visual elements and time of the posting, to group stories by theme. For example, ‘Search for Stories’ can pull out Snaps with the words “Wimbledon” or “Andy Murray” in captions, and aggregate them into a single story for when people search for “Wimbledon”.
This means Snapchat users can discover real-time content about a topic in a similar manner to how they consume Twitter content. And they don’t have to go to Google to search for the information. For more general social searches, content which pops up will be based on time and location of the search, again making it a richer, personalised experience.
Facebook has also made several significant enhancements to its search functionality. It has encouraged its users to geotag their experiences to assist in indexing for local search; integrated Interactive maps to local search to enable accurate search results for business listings; and also added suggested search terms to the search box and a business category indexing tool to help users discover relevant businesses.
Facebook is also transforming the Messenger platform to the style of Yellow Pages, where users can contact businesses directly from the platform without needing a phone number and is beta-testing the combination of social media data with local search results—a functionality which will enable its users to see locations where their social network has checked-in or posted so they can discover the opinion of their friends and family as they search for nearby businesses.
Facebook-owned Instagram too has also introduced ‘Story Search’, which enables users to search through stories labelled with specific hashtags, hashtag stickers and locations stickers.
Google is still dominant, but the ability of social media platforms to tag experiences and scan content based on this indexing has enabled them to drive harder into the realm of social search. Users can now discover all sorts of short-form, local, and real-time content, whether branded or unbranded, as they browse through social media.
As social search provides users with up-to-the-minute content based on trending, relevant topics, this now provides a huge opportunity for brands. Consumers can now discover new brand content just by searching via hashtags and trending topics. No longer does brand content need to languish on page four of Google’s search results. Businesses can now publish relevant and timely information, all within the newsfeed of a potential consumer, and at no extra cost.
This social search capability should push brands to think differently about consumer behaviour; to understand that subject matter is now a proxy for a search term. For example, if I were to type “Indian food” into Facebook search, it will surface brands and pages which I have liked, suggestions, photos, and friends’ posts etc. This content is retrieved through Facebook’s algorithm, determined by the data with which you and your social network browse and engage.
If I was to then visit an Indian restaurant and interact with the location on Facebook — check-in or geotag a post — the Indian restaurant will now be more immediately searchable amongst my social network. Users can therefore now gain relevant search results combined with their friends’ opinion; a truly powerful combination of brand referral and recognition. Local search and discovery apps Foursquare and Yelp offer similar functionality to their communities of users.
The golden nugget here is that social search is a functionality able to generate an enormous amount of natural traffic towards businesses. Businesses can capture and convert organic social traffic—essentially a free form of SEO.
To make the most of the increased opportunity for visibility within social media, businesses need to ensure that the published information that’s surfaced is correct at every consumer interaction and that this information is rich and contains deep facts and attributes about the business from the location to the type of customer access, latest menu’s, reviews, promotions, dietary information, images, and videos. As a brand, how do you know that the information social media platforms or traditional search engines like Google are giving people is right?
With information about your brand scattered across the digital ecosystem, it’s paramount that your brand is the single source of truth for all information and content published, and should remain in control of this digital information, rather than rely on any other source for accuracy. So, if you haven’t done so already, take control of all the public facts about your business across the digital ecosystem as this trend is set to continue.