This entry was prompted by Nick Stamoulis’ October, 2011 Search Engine Optimization Journal blog post entitled “Could Social Media Replace Search?” and includes some reactions to the article.
I’ve been meaning to write this for a while now. The title of Brick Marketing’s recent blog post caught my eye one day and prompted me to put a few of my thoughts down regarding this question. In fact, I didn’t even read the blog post right away, the title alone got my wheels turning bringing up thoughts I’ve had here and there about the big deal being made over “Social Media”.
“Find us on Facebook!”, “Follow me on Twitter!” are two little lines or badges that it seems every website and commercial must now include. It’s no wonder “facebook” and “facebook login” were the top 2 searches in the United States in 2010, according to Experian Hitwise’s recent report. But it seems to me that, a lot of times, local business owners and Webmasters decide they need to create a Facebook page or a Twitter feed and don’t even know why. Maybe they see all the big players push this relentlessly on TV and feel a need to follow suit. Then there are all the articles from SEO bloggers, like Stamoulis’ or this one, that talk about “Social Media” so they figure it must be important. But is it really that big of a deal? And even if it is, should your business adopt a “Social Media” campaign?
Brick Marketing says “Social Media” is important because it could replace search. Of course Stamoulis also says “this will not happen overnight or even at all” and then makes some arguments about how “it could over run search as we know it” so I’m not sure what his position really is, but I guess it doesn’t matter because his point is clear – “Social Media” is important. And his “why” is explained in 10 quick points. But before diving into those, I think you have to understand what “Social Media” is. And yes, I’m capitalizing “Social Media” and putting it in quotes for a reason.
In my opinion, “Social Media” has come to be defined narrowly in the minds of webmasters and small business owners as Facebook, Twitter, and maybe LinkedIn, Digg, and some of those other “social” websites they’ve heard of whose “like” and “add this” buttons so cutely infest websites everywhere, but nothing else. It seems that we believe socializing (not caps or quotes) is some new phenomenon that started happening on the internet in just the past couple years. Moreover, we seem to all believe that socializing only happens online and, even more ridiculously, we seem to believe socializing only happens on these mega-websites. But nothing could be further from reality and diving into “Social Media” marketing without thinking about how people really socialize, and more importantly, how your business fits into your targeted audience’s social world won’t get you any more sales or make your website any more popular.
And you also have to understand that “media” is plural. What is the medium your targeted audience uses to socialize? Is it really Facebook? Is it really Twitter? Do they really care and will it really make a difference in sales if you’re tweeting all the time or updating your Facebook status? Or is your audience best reached in the real world at local car club meets, book clubs, churches, or music venues? And don’t get me wrong, the World Wide Web is hands-down the best tool you have at your disposal and many social groups these days have community-flavored websites like forums, blogs, wikis, etc. that you can use to introduce or build trust for your business. Remember that like most social interactions, a campaign like this must be handled extremely artful, which really makes social media marketing such risky business – something I don’t think a lot of us realize sometimes). If you’re careless or make a bad impression your prospective customers will not easily forget that, and you may be cast out from their society.
Remember that social media marketing, like any social interaction is very complex, and extremely sensitive. Try to think of your business like the 14 year-old kid whose family just moved him across the country and has to go to a brand-new high school. Do you have a strange haircut or were you saavy enough to adopt the local styles? Do people make fun of your accent or are you clever enough to make it work? Were you foolish enough to ask out the hottest girl in your grade or do you know your boundaries? Be careful to handle things right, because your reputation and social success depend on it.
In some cases, you may not even want to do any social media marketing. Some business owners do not have very good social skills and would be best keeping a low social profile and just sticking to arms-length business. Unless they can leave all social interactions to someone with more finesse, a social media campaign can have a serious negative impact on business. For example, it might leave a better impression on new visitors to your website to see no Facebook Like box at all, than to see that only 4 people like you.
In summary, I believe social marketing is all about understanding your target audience’s culture and the place your business has or can potentially have in that culture. And the medium whereby that socializing occurs is limited only by your creativity, targeted audience and budget. For many people that medium may be Facebook or Twitter, but be sure you take the time to at least make an educated guess and consider other options that might work best for you. And now on to my reaction to Stamoulis’ points:
1. No Manipulation
Social media cannot be manipulated like search results can. You either communicate or you don’t.
The problem with this point is that social media can of course be manipulated. In fact, it’s much easier to purchase 1,000 Facebook likes or ask all your friends to subscribe to your Tweets than it is to spam your way to the #1 spot on Google’s search results. And just like SEO, it’s still quality that matters in social media marketing. Just because someone hears you doesn’t mean they like what you’re saying.
2. Less Spam
Search results have a tremendous amount of spam that you usually have to open before you find out it is. Social media spam is at a much lesser amount, for now anyway!
I disagree. I think search results are pretty decent and depends if you consider 3 updates a day from your local liked restaurant as spam or communication. But I think this is apples and oranges.
3. Big Brands Using It
Every major big brand has adopted social media as a part of their marketing plan which is only going to grow stronger over time.
Which brings me back to my long point about “Social Media” marketing versus social media marketing. Major brands have been using different forms of social media for years. One medium is sponsorship. Sponsoring sporting events, charities, and countless other social groups and gatherings has been in use for years – what can we call it if not social marketing? TV advertising is another medium of social marketing. Different ads are geared for different groups of people and television has long been an integral part of America’s social life and interactions. Who doesn’t talk about their favorite TV show with friends at work or find a soft spot for the company sponsoring their favorite animal rescue shelter? So, in my opinion, this is not a reason why “Social Media” will over run or replace search but why you should consider it as part of your marketing strategy.
4. Nose End
Even though search is still very young social media is even younger. With the power that social media has built up since its initial rise who knows it might surpass search marketing over time.
Again, I think comparing the two is kind of a moot point and I’m not sure what is meant by “nose end” anyway lol.
5. More Options
With social media you have many different options on how to reach out to someone and communicate. Search only gives you two, organic and PPC.
Yeah, this is a good point. Social media encompasses so much while search is just one way to market. But the two must not necessarily be separated when marketing online.
6. Real Time
Social media is happening now. No publishing an article and waiting 2 months for someone to find it. Social media gives you instant interaction with your audience.
Definitely one of my favorite parts about internet forums. The same can be said about offline social marketing. But even on social sites, being able to search for past conversations and other useful, stored information requires searching. Anyone who has ever spent any time on an online forum asking questions should be familiar with the suggestion – “search noob!”. Many social sites have a search system or even integrate a search engine like Google as a benefit to their community as all knowledge is not available in real time.
7. Human Factor
You know that with social media you have the ability to communicate with a human immediately. With search you communicate with a link and to some people that human factor has its weight in gold.
This immediate human communication is also what makes social media marketing so risky and dangerous as people can tend to be very easily offended and difficult to please. Like I said, a social marketing campaign must be handled with extreme care and understanding of the society you are trying to become a part of.
8. Search Ability
Many of the social network platforms are starting to have the ability to really be able to search right on their platform for a variety of different reasons. Some even pulling in direct search results right through their social networking platform.
Of course by “social network platforms” Stamoulis is referring only to mega-websites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. There seems to be a lot of talk of a competition between Facebook and Google, especially with Facebook overtaking Google as the most visited website in 2010 and if there is one way I see search engines disappearing it’s if these mega-sites, but especially Facebook, integrate their own search system (Facebook is kind of doing this with Bing) to let users search the internet while inside Facebook, for example, and still remain inside Facebook much like a contemporary search engine does. People wouldn’t have to ever visit Google.com because the browsers on their new computers would come preinstalled with a Facebook toolbar instead of a Google or Bing toolbar – or some kind of replacement. Users would just log in to Facebook and search there and Facebook would keep them trapped inside their internet – again much like Google or any other search engine does now. Facebook would have to make this more obvious to users and it would probably take some gentle hands to help everyone make that transition, but I could see it happening. Google made a good defensive move in developing Chrome, but Microsoft has a huge advantage in the popularity of its operating systems.
9. Less Expensive
(In some cases): When you start to compare certain pay per click costs to market a website in the search space it can get really expensive. With social media all you really need is time spent communicating online.
Except time is money. PPC is, in my opinion, far more inexpensive than developing a good social media marketing campaign and applying it in the field than picking a few key words and making 3-liner ads. The problem is that PPC can be so ineffective. “You get out what you put in” kind of applies here. But once again, PPC should not be entirely left out of the social media marketing Venn Diagram.
10. Brand Building
The social media space really allows you to build your brand online by showing your audience you have a personality and knowledge not just a web page of content.
This is what all forms of social media let you do and what makes it unique from search. Search engines are a media used to find things. And while branding is becoming more and more possible through search, marketing through various social media is all about brand building. You establish trust, reputation, and a position in your targeted audience’s world.
This has been a long piece, but again, something I’ve been wanting to discuss. Please let me know if you find any typos or grammatical errors. All comments (minus spammers) are welcome. Thanks for reading and thanks to Nick and Brick Marketing for bringing up the subject!