Social Search: Customers Influence Search Results Over Brands

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This post was collaboratively written on a wiki by Charlene Li, (cross posted) who maintains a focus on Leadership Strategy and Jeremiah Owyang, who maintains a focus on Customer Strategy. Together, we’re covering the convergence of emerging technologies at the Altimeter Group.

Twitter brokers a deal that offers search engines Microsoft Bing and Google Search access to their real time data streams.  Also, Facebook, offers up public status updates to be searched and served up to Microsoft’s Bing.  This trend towards micro media requires companies to pay attention to the real time and social web for marketing, support, and competitive strategies.  There are several impacts to the ecosystem, here’s what you should know:


  • Deal Fills In Technology and Relationship Gaps for Twitter. Twitter lacks the computing power of a premiere search engine, as their current Twitter search results are littered with spam, duplicate tweets, and are only sorted by time.   Leveraging the sophisticated engineers at Microsoft and Google affords Twitter an opportunity to focus on their platform –not search.  From a business aspect, this deal makes sense is that Microsoft and Google both have relationships with advertisers and brands, with trained sales forces to cut deals. Although the terms of the deal aren’t public, it’s suspect there was an exchange of material goods, it’s likely that Twitter will benefit from revenue share in the near future.
  • Social Search to Serve Results Based On Time, Authority. Expect real time data to merge with existing search engines, as a result we should see Google Search and Bing to serve up search results based on: 1) Real time information based on what Twitter users are saying, including memes from trending topics, 2) Preference given to links and URLs that are tweeted by users with more followers or authority, 3) Geo location of tweets to influence search results.  As users seek “Thai Restaurants in San Mateo” location based tweets could provide additional context.  4) Eventually results will be served up by your friends.  Google has given a nod to serve up information based on your social graph (your friends) using Google Profile.
  • To Compete, Facebook Must Make More Content Public. For closed social networks like Facebook, this means they need to continue to offer up more data that can be searched in public by search engines.  With default settings in Facebook set to ‘friends only’ this will continue to be a challenge as Facebook’s community prefers the filters and privacy settings that this closed social network provides.
  • Twitter’s Future: Seamless Integration with the Web. Success for Twitter isn’t about becoming a destination site, but instead about becoming a data protocol that’s embedded everywhere.    Like “Air“, microblogging features are already present in multiple applications, desktop and mobile clients, and the bite-sized information is becoming available in context wherever it’s needed.
  • Customers Influence Search Results An even more amazing impact of these announcements is that for the first time, consumers will be able to directly impact web search results. Although companies spend thousands of marketing dollars controlling their search results by using Google’s advertising services, customers and competitors can quickly and cheaply impact search results using simple tools like Twitter.  Consumers, empowered using mobile devices as a publishing platform can link to content and influence search results. Now, a simple tweet with a picture of a plane landing on the Hudson from a mobile phone will show up at the top of search results.


Key Takeaways: Customers Impact Brand Search Results Using Twitter
Even if your company is not active on Twitter, your customers can influence the search results related to your company –you must pay attention to this trend.  Just as your company likely already has a search strategy through search optimization or paid search terms, you’ll need to extend micromedia to your strategy.  In order to be prepared for this change, companies must:

  1. Develop a Listening Strategy That Starts With Roles and Process.  Every business and market is now moving faster and faster as information spreads around the globe in minutes –if not seconds.  Companies must be ready to quickly identify flare ups, be ready to respond, and correct incorrect information.  Develop a listening strategy that has internal roles set in place, a process to respond and the right tools like Radian 6, Visible Technologies, BuzzMetrics, or Cymfony.
  2. Change The Marketing Mindset –Legacy Methods Ineffective. Search marketers must understand that blasting marketing information through Facebook or Twitter won’t be effective, as search engines will filter out irrelevant messages that nobody listens to. Instead, marketers should allow content on all web properties and email marketing to be easily added to Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites by offering icons that encourage people to share. Providers like ShareThis and AddThis make this simple to do.
  3. Develop Influence Marketing Programs. Since these search engines have all noted that they will rank real time information on a person’s authority and not just traditional page ranking, marketers must double down on building these relationships.  More than ever, brands will need to foster discussions within Twitter as retweet, replies, and linking behavior will influence what is served up on results pages.  It takes time to build real relationships that develop into public conversations so get started now.

Related Links:
For a list of social networking stats (including Twitter) we’ve a 2009 collection we keep up to date.



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