Search, social marketing begin to converge

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Steve Rubel is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital (, the digital marketing division of the global public relations firm. Hands On: Search recently asked Rubel about the confluence of search marketing and social media.

HOS: How do search and social media interact?

Rubel: Search is an intent-driven medium, where users seek out what they want. Social networking is where the content finds you through the lens of friends. Those two are separate, but I think we'll see a real convergence here where search will get a lot more social and social will get a lot more “searchy.”

We're already seeing this with Google, where any query with any volume will show you live results from the Web in real time.

HOS: What ramifications does this have for database-building?

Rubel: Where it gets interesting is in the ability to search your friends' content. You can do this on Google right now. If you're an account holder, you can bring in the results from social via the Google address book. That's an attempt to bring a level of social on top of search.

As for social getting more searchy, you can go into Facebook and search your friends' content. To me, that's a big deal. It exposes a lot of content to your friends and to their friends and their friends—out many more layers to people you don't know. So push and pull will merge. Society will become media-agnostic, with one source we religiously turn to, like Google News, and another, a social stream, which we go in and out of.

HOS: Of course these organizations will want to monetize these features in some way, right?

Rubel: Facebook will probably partner with Microsoft or Yahoo and push search. And I think that Google will use social to drive more searches and search ads. Meanwhile, Facebook already has social ads based on what you're looking at—little displays next to your news feed. That's primarily how they make money, but I believe they can tap into search data more.

HOS: What does all this mean for b-to-b marketers?

Rubel: There are Facebook groups, of course, but the challenge for b-to-b marketers is in the convergence between the professional and the personal. We make business decisions based on personal opinions. Increasingly it will be the social networks we keep that help us make decisions.

So the company that puts the most people out there on the social Web and builds the biggest networks with scale will be more visible. That's just a fact. The more content you create and generate that is quality content and socially connected (the more you) will drive business. The ad model is becoming less compelling. It's more compelling to build relationships, and b-to-b is always a relationship paradigm. You buy from whom you trust.

HOS: What does the future hold for search and social?

Rubel: What brands will realize this year, if they haven't already, is they have to engage with people to be visible. It's about participation.

That goes for advertising as well. Take paid search. The focus on social engagement is how it drives value, and one way is through visibility. But paid search certainly helps drive that and remains very viable. As with social, you have to figure out where the customers are spending time, who is there, and how to participate in a strategic way.

But I think paid search is going to change. Consider real-time search. If there is an issue that's breaking on social networks that's causing certain results to surface, one of the fastest ways to get in front of that is through a paid search campaign. Automation will help create dramatic changes here, although some of it will be data driven.

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