What Search And Social Media Have In Common

Here's my first Social Media Insider in MediaPost.

What Search And Social Media Have In Common

Is social media the new search?

Pardon
the clichéd phrasing, but it's a question I've been hearing a lot
lately, and one I am at least somewhat qualified to answer. Last
Tuesday, I penned my final and 224th Search Insider column
for MediaPost, dating back to mid-2004. For most of that time, I've
been with digital marketing agency 360i, where I've worked with
marketers from major brands on their social media strategy.

Newsweek runs
a feature in the front of the magazine (yes, the paper thing) where it
takes two events that are often compared with each other and then
analyzes why the comparison works and why it doesn't. The theme is
fitting for looking at social media today and comparing it to how
search emerged as a viable marketing channel early in the decade.

Why the Comparison Works

According
to the Interactive Bureau, in 2001, search accounted for just 4% of the
$7.2 billion in Internet advertising revenues. Forrester notes that in
2008, social media accounted for nearly 2%  of online's $23.1 billion.

Why It Doesn't

Looking
at the year after is telling. In 2002, search shot up to 15% of online
ad spending. Forrester forecasts strong growth for social media in
2009, but it will still account for less than 3% of the total, and in
2014 it will be less than 6%.

Why It Does

Fairly
quickly, the search competition matured into a two-horse race between
Google and Yahoo, with Microsoft joining a bit later. Currently in
social media, MySpace maintains a lead over Facebook for now over
Facebook in U.S. users and revenue. As Facebook surpasses MySpace in
U.S. users and then revenues, this two-horse race could gain a third
entrant if Twitter continues its growth trajectory — and then gets a
revenue stream.

Why It Doesn't

By
2002, it was clear that Google had a business model that was scalable,
even if few could predict just how much it would scale. Yahoo wound up
acquiring Overture, formerly called GoTo, which established the basic
model that Google later adapted. No one knows exactly what the most
successful marketing models for social media will be.

Why It Does

Google
gained its early traction during the decade's low point for online
advertising, as the company defied the doldrums of the dot-com bust and
9/11 attacks. We're in another downturn and social media usage is going
through the roof.

Why It Doesn't

If
there is any cause and effect related to recessions, it works better
for search, where the downturn led marketers to consider more
accountable direct response media. Social media is generally best
suited to branding.

Why It Does

Search
engines quickly established the distinction between paid and natural
results. In other words, there are the listings you pay for and the
listings you work for (plus some will appear organically). Similarly,
social media is now often classified as paid media — a buy of any kind
from banner ads to virtual gifts, and earned media — the exposure and
interactions received by working for it through tactics like blog
outreach and video syndication (plus some will happen organically).

Why It Doesn't

Search engine queries tend to fall under one of three buckets: navigational, informational, or commercial. Microsoft's adCenter Labs has a tool
that predicts whether a query or Web site is informational or
commercial. For instance, the query "new car" is listed as "commercial
intention" with 92% probability, while "Detroit Lions" is listed as
"non-commercial intention" with 94% probability. With search, there is
a high probability of commercial intent for a vast number of queries.

Now
try imagining how that works with social media. What do you think the
commercial intent is of someone logging into Facebook, watching a
YouTube video, or checking Twitter updates? There are still
opportunities to reach these consumers and build relationships, but
getting a direct sale is a relative layup in search compared to social
media's three-point shot with Shaq and LeBron double-teaming you.

So
social media isn't the new search, but the most engaging,
fastest-growing online activities all have major social components, and
the growth rates are so stratospheric that marketers and consumers
alike are still trying to make sense of it all. Let's enjoy the process.

And
on that note, I'm enjoying joining the original Social Media Insider
Cathy Taylor and contributing to this community. I do hope to keep it
social, so feel free to share your thoughts via email, in the comments
on Twitter, on my blog,
and elsewhere. Perhaps we can meet in person too, such as at the OMMA
Social New York event June 23. The first way you can participate is by voting on the agenda — but do it now, since voting ends tomorrow.

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