Let's start with two premises: social media enables people to discover a brand, and search helps people find brands in an interest area or topic. Facebook is the world's premiere social-connection platform. But it is now incorporating data from individuals' Facebook searches for sharing to other users. Google is the world's most powerful and influential search engine. It is incorporating social data from Google Circles and users' Google+ profiles into its search algorithm.
For marketers, the most obvious place to begin to integrate the power of search and social media is with content strategy and management. No one will share bad content; it must be compelling to stand out and resonate with consumers. But we also want content to be easily searchable. This requires strong search-engine optimization (SEO) -- for both paid and organic search. Selecting the right keywords in the title of the media, positioning those keywords in the first sentence and performing appropriate tagging are minimal requirements.
Google's "Search Plus Your World" attempts to personalize search results by applying a user's Google+ social data to the search function whenever he is she is signed into a Google account. The standard Google search algorithms are trumped by users' Google Circles' references relevant to their search topic. On the social-media side, Facebook is making its searches influenced by the posted content and interactions of users' friends.
Facebook's social-search integration may present the most immediate and interesting opportunities for brands. Say I am planning to purchase a bicycle. If I went about my online research via a simple search, with no personal information behind it, I would likely search "bicycle" or "touring bike" or "mountain bike." But what if a bicycle brand had done a great job managing owned, earned and paid media across Facebook and other social networks? What if my search turned up interesting and relevant information about bicycling that was sponsored and produced, say, by Trek?
What if one of my friends or colleagues (in my trusted network) knew I was looking for a bike and gave me a Trek recommendation? The fact that the search term "Trek," in this scenario, is well socialized means I am likely to skip a search for "bicycle" (general search) and move directly to "Trek bicycle" (brand search). I may even search for a particular product from Trek, such as the "Madone 6 Series," as a result of a combination of owned, earned and paid media.
The example above sheds light on what it means for a user to get relevant search results that are influenced by his or her social-media connections. A relevant search result comes from the search engine employing a better understanding of individuals, as opposed to returning the same results for all. A relevant search result is more powerful than a search driven by saturation (the number of pages Google recognizes on a brand's website) and visibility (link-backs from other sites to a brand's site).
The imperative is clear for marketers to begin integrating their brand's search and social-media campaigns. There is an added value for brands to establish relationships with individuals. As those relationships build, consumers will include brands in their trust social-network circles. When a brand is added to a person's social circles it will jump to the top of the queue for relevant topic searches.
Having a well-planned content marketing strategy that incorporates owned, earned and paid media can augment brands' search-marketing efforts. The more consumers are encouraged to use long-tail, as opposed to short-tail, searches, with multiple specific terms, when looking for brands, the greater success of getting the product in front of the consumer.
The era of intrinsic social-search integration is upon us.