The lowdown on the rise of social search and how brands can get involved

Dru Nho
By Dru Nho | 5 March 2024
Dru Nho.

Just as Amazon shot out of the blocks to become a search behemoth, we can expect TikTok, Snapchat, Meta and Pinterest to start eating into Google and Bing’s revenue stream, writes Wavemaker’s Dru Nho. But what should brands be doing?

You’ve probably seen the headlines: social media platforms are becoming the new search engines.

It’s true. For GenZ in particular, turning to Instagram or TikTok with their search queries offers up relevant, real-time content based on what’s trending.

Back in 2022, Google’s own internal data showed almost 40% of all Gen Zs prefer searching on TikTok and Instagram over Google services – we can expect this figure to be even higher now.

And while social search may currently be driven by younger audiences, there is little doubt that as content increases and platforms develop specific products prioritising the search functionality, the age split will even out across all demos.

What’s the appeal?

For users, there are many appealing aspects to social search. Unlike traditional search engines that may prioritise certain sources, social media offers a wide range of content created by individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Access to real-time information – particularly during breaking news or natural disasters – is another advantage, plus social search prioritises its algorithm to user-generated content, which is highly appealing to GenZ.

But while it’s growing, there are also cons to social search. The prevalence of misinformation and fake news, privacy concerns and the opaqueness of social media algorithms, can affect the quality and fairness of search results. 

Concerted push by social platforms 

Snapchat, Meta and TikTok have gradually evolved their user experience to make it easier for consumers to use the search functions.

TikTok UK’s “It starts on TikTok” campaign, which launched in December, positions the platform as a place of search and discovery. The platform’s Search Ads Toggle is a direct play for a growing slice of the Search pie, as is Meta’s Insta Search Results.

Meta is also looking to leverage Facebook’s geo-location capabilities to assist users integrating interactive maps to local search. This will enable search results for business listings, while users can contact businesses directly on the Messenger app without needing a phone number. This keeps users on its platform through the search and discovery process.

So how can brands make the most of social search? 

Success will come down to how brands adapt their social channels to meet the specific algorithms on each platform. 

This means reviewing all elements to best optimise how the algorithm picks up information such as keywords, images, descriptions, captions, hashtags and audio.

Here’s where to start.

Don’t neglect SEO basics: The immediate focus for brands and their agencies should be keyword optimisation (good ol’ fashioned SEO) to match each platform’s algorithm and the way it picks up the content.

Optimise your social media profiles for consistency: Make it easier for consumers to find your brand by ensuring your social profile is optimised and aligns with your brand message. This way, no matter which platform they’re using, they’ll be able to quickly see that it’s you.

Prioritise connecting: Start a conversation with consumers through features such as comments, DMs and captions. This will result in positive relationships and long-term engagement. Plus, having these regular discussions is great for improving SEO as it helps demonstrate a brand’s expertise on the topic at hand.

Is this the beginning of the end for Google?

While the functionality of social search is not new – its growth as an alternative source of truth is. Should Google be worried? 

Not necessarily. For every benefit that comes with social search, it carries potential risks that brands and consumers need to be aware of and traverse appropriately.

Given its current prevalence among younger audiences, social search provides the right brands with an established social presence and content catalogue, an additional touchpoint to drive engagement and dialogue. But for some brands, social search is not currently relevant or appropriate.

The rise of social search has brought renewed focus on the importance of having a robust owned asset strategy in place to help brands extract maximum value from changing consumer trends. 

Whether it be a brand website or social media page, what’s important is to capitalise on the increased consumer need to have relevant information on hand in real-time. Meeting this need is what will help brands attain better growth.

Assessing and deploying an actionable, measurable SEO and content roadmap should be step one for any organisation considering diving into social search.

Dru Nho is General Manager – Digital Product & Strategy at Wavemaker ANZ



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