From Google to TikTok: The Rise of Social Search

Suzie Shaw
By Suzie Shaw | 3 April 2023
Suzie Shaw.

Suzie Shaw, CEO at socially-led creative agency We Are Social Australia

Googling has become the generic term for searching the internet.

But in reality, Australians are increasingly doing their searches on Instagram, or TikTok.

While traditional search engines are still popular, social platforms are increasingly becoming an alternative, with users augmenting their Googling behaviour, with social searches.

As highlighted in We Are Social’s Digital 2023 Australia report, in partnership with Meltwater, 61.5% of users aged 16 to 64 say social is a key source of information, with almost 1 in 3 internet users visiting social networks to look for information about brands and products - a growing trend, up by 7% since last year.

Even Google have noted the trend, with senior vice president, Prabhakar Raghavan, remarking at a recent conference, "almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search, they go to TikTok or Instagram."

For Gen Z in particular, TikTok has emerged as one of their favourite platforms for finding answers to questions from where to find the best cafes in town to how to write a cover letter.

There are a number of factors driving this shift; firstly, users are spending more and more time on social platforms (2 hours and 4 minutes, 7 minutes longer than last year), so it’s easy to initiate a search while in app.

Additionally, many users find the more visual, video-led and scrollable content format of social, more intuitive and rewarding to use than a traditional search engine or website.

Specifically when it comes to Gen Z and TikTok, it’s the quickly-delivered information in the form of highly engaging short-form video content that makes it an ideal search engine for this demographic, whose attention span and tolerance for tedium, is shorter than generations before.

What's more, TikTok delivers information that is more personalised than a traditional search engine, because results are delivered by the smartest social algorithm out there, constantly learning based on users’ content consumption and engagement, which makes the whole experience more entertaining and intuitive.

In addition, social is increasingly being geared for discovery, from the algorithm actively helping users find the content they’ll enjoy, to mechanisms like hashtags helping users find relevant content and communities, ensuring social is set up for connecting users with information they want to find.

Finally, there’s also the element of social proofing and authority bias which are the key forces at play in terms of what makes influencers effective when it comes to product and brand endorsement. People seek out recommendations from friends, family, online communities and experts, and tend to trust recommendations from them, more than if they were to rely on results offered by traditional search engines, which are mostly published by the brand themselves or as part of online editorial partnerships. With 63% of users aged 18 to 34 trusting what creators say about a brand more than what the brand says about itself, it’s easy to see why social search is growing.

Brands are starting to recognise the importance of social media as a tool for discovery and are adapting their strategies to take advantage of this trend. By working with creators and encouraging customers to share their experiences and feedback on social media, businesses can reach new audiences, drive sales and build a loyal customer base.

Forward-thinking marketers are beginning to focus on creating engaging, social-first content that resonates with users. A great example of this is from Nike, which uses snackable video content and pinned posts on TikTok to promote their latest collections; or from delivery service Milkrun, which leverages the Instagram pin feature to share a succinct summary of their proposition and use cases. With this simple tactic, they are giving anyone who lands on their feed via social search, a quick, digestible introduction to the brand and products.

Of course, creating valuable, shareable social content is easier said than done. It requires a deep understanding of the audience you’re trying to reach, a firm handle on what’s trending in culture, the creative skills to bring ideas to life and the media smarts to find the scroller, but that’s the dark art of social media marketing.



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