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Is social search a distraction?

4 min read

Marketing Strategy

Social search has become an enormous issue for many marketers in 2010, and we’ve covered the dramatic shift as social media becomes a larger part of the search landscape.

As part of an internal presentation I made here at SmartBrief, I showed how critical social profiles were to our brand. Of the top 10 search engine results from “smartbrief,” four of them are some sort of social profiles. Cutting right through my proclamation of social-media dominance, one member of our executive team posed a simple question that (amazingly) I had never considered: “Is that good for us?” After months of chugging social media Kool-Aid, my immediate reaction was, “Of course,” but deep down, I wasn’t so sure. Let’s take a closer look.

As a starting point, let’s pretend this is NOT SmartBlog on Social Media and we are not necessarily sold on the merits of social media. Let’s say you are a pickle pusher selling pickles online at ProperPickles. As the proprietor of Proper Pickles (OK, I’ll take it easy on the alliteration now), your No. 1 goal is to increase sales.  Do these social results bring customers closer to a sale? If you’re like me, you’re ready to jump in and say, “Of course!”

But we have to look at this from a direct marketer’s viewpoint. Before social media, potential customers who heard about these great mail-order pickles could search for “Proper Pickles” and find one clear, concise answer to their search. After social media, the customer has to choose from the homepage, the @ProperPickles Twitter account, the Facebook fan page, the Proper Pickling Blog and Proper Pickle LinkedIn company profile. Sure, the ProperPickles Web site is still the first result, but one cannot argue that attention has not been diverted. Instead of going directly to the site and ordering pickles, the end user is watching as you interact with a customer who received cornichons rather than kosher dills. Score one for transparency — but did you just lose a sale?

Upon hearing my concerns, one search engine marketing specialist reminded me not to lose sight of the “long tail” perspective. While some of these social results might dilute your brand’s target when someone searches directly for your company name, they undoubtedly boost visibility elsewhere. If a potential customer is searching for the name of that rare pickle Aunt Ethel used to bring over on holidays, he or she might come across a discussion on your blog or on Twitter. Now, you’re gaining market share by being at the center of discussion and have garnered the opportunity to begin a relationship with a passive user.

There we have it. On one hand, our new social presence is distracting driven customers, and on the other, it’s creating opportunities to forge engaged relationships. So what can we do to take advantage of our social-media presence without sacrificing the sales funnel? Here are some things to keep in mind while building out your strategy:

  1. Keep your No. 1 goal No. 1. While your social-media presence must serve your customers, you have to be more mindful of those who are not following you or reading your blogs. Many of them will stumble upon your information — so while you don’t overwhelm with sales pitches, make sure the path to your product(s) remains as simple and direct as possible.
  2. “Just being there” will hurt you. If you started a Twitter account a few months ago and neglected it, you might be surprised at how visible it may be to those searching for your business. If potential customers come across an account with little activity or a one-way feed spouting corporate announcements, it will leave a bad taste in their mouths. Increasingly, companies are judged on their interaction with customers — so make sure you display that at all times.
  3. Beware of dilution. As a follow-up to the above point, don’t do it if you’re not going to do it right. Make sure your social presence serves a purpose legitimate enough to steal eyeballs away from your central hub.

What are your experiences in the new world of social search? Are you seeing fewer organic impressions to your site directly from search engine results pages? How is this affecting your overall numbers?

Image credit, DSGpro, via iStock