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October 20, 2022 // Influence360  //       //  Opinion

The Social Search Survival Guide October 2022 Edition

I Don’t Google Anymore…I TikTok

In July 2022, Google shared some surprising new data that revealed 40% of Gen Z shoppers (ages 10-25 and 25% of the U.S. population) now prefer to use TikTok and Instagram as their primary search engines as opposed to Google. 

This change in search behavior highlights a larger trend in shifting consumer habits reminiscent of the move from desktop to mobile search in 2016. And it’s a change we predict will have similar far-reaching effects on a brand’s ability to connect and engage with its customers of any age. This new trend will also have a larger effect on a brand's bottom line as new ways of budgeting things like paid media dollars might be required. 

The Impact on Businesses 
 


As Social Search grows in popularity, consumers have begun to discover products more from social apps and less from traditionally brand-owned channels. For brands seeking to engage customers at every moment in their journey, this means opening your strategy to include optimizing social channels with this shift in search behavior in mind. 

As with all marketing trends, social searching will not stay specific to one user group, in this case Gen Z. Many of A+P’s non-Gen Z colleagues have already made the switch. For example, our Digital Director Alyssa is planning her trip to Spain via TikTok, while our social guru Cassie turned to Instagram when looking for restaurants to try in her new neighborhood.  

To optimize for Social Search, marketing teams will need to rethink their approach to their brand channels, focusing more on areas like: 

  • Social reach 
  • Influencer content 
  • Social word-of-mouth referrals 

The data pulled from these social channels could also potentially impact digital advertising priorities, shifting campaigns more toward paid social media ads and influencer partnerships for higher visibility.  

Your Trusted Guide in This New Marketing Landscape

Allison+Partners is here to help you shape this disruption to your advantage. Here we have provided a current primer on how brand teams can capitalize on this new migration to Social Search. 

As we learn more about how Social Search evolves, we’ll continue to publish updates as it unfolds. To stay current on all the news and trends happening in the world of Social Search, subscribe to receive updates at influence360@allisonpr.com

A Better Customer Experience  

While not a new phenomenon (e.g., millennials have been “searching” on Pinterest for years), the substantial increase of search on social apps makes this a significant moment for brand marketers.  

As with Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram mirror Google’s search functionality with the use of keywords and even geo-locators for more localized results.

Example: 

Local recommendations: Restaurants/places to go in [CITY], nail salon in [CITY], travel recommendations for [PLACE] 

The experience on these social platforms is more immersive, raw and engaging than what you find with Google or even sites like Yelp.

Example: See below a review of a restaurant on TikTok vs. a written review on Yelp. Which gives a better feel for what a customer will experience? 

  

Consumers seeking inspiration and recommendations on apps like Instagram get results based on three core areas: 

Courtesy of Instagram 

To ensure brands are searchable on these platforms, marketers will need to prioritize certain elements of their social strategy, including high-quality visuals (more on that later), popularity signals (how much engagement your content has) and even keyword optimization in areas like usernames, bios and hashtags. 

Example 

Consumer keywords: skincare routine, workout routine, summer outfits, best Amazon deals, #BookTok 

More about how social search works from BuzzFeed  

The Best Visuals Win 



Google’s search engine is all about providing accurate information consumers can trust. And while the next wave of Social Search won’t (and shouldn’t) abandon the notion of accuracy, it will present greater opportunities for visual and emotive storytelling.   

Visual Search has long been an effective part of brand marketing with Google’s algorithms prioritizing pages that optimize for Google Image search. With Social Search, visuals are taken to the next level with visual quality and visual type being core to customer engagement and retention.  

This means prioritizing content like videos (a requirement for TikTok search), as well as interactive content like quizzes, live streams and maps on platforms like Instagram. 

Case in point, if you seek even more proof of the move away from strict Google search, consumers have also turned to Google Maps, or Apple Maps, to find locations, consumer reviews, photos and more. All of which inform their ultimate buying decisions (source). 

How Social Search Impacts Insights and Analytics

Don’t Fret If Traditional Search Traffic Is Disrupted  

As Social Search grows in prominence, you will likely notice a drop in organic traffic for key search terms. Don’t panic. We’ve seen it happen across several brands and industries, particularly those focused on reaching Gen Z and younger millennials. If you prioritize Social Search in your strategy, then any drop in traditional traffic will be made up for on your social platforms. This trend has spread across all ages, even if some consumer industries are disrupted more quickly than others. 

Test New Paid Search Strategies 

Depending on your persona groups, SEM budgets may need to be reprogrammed to other channels. Look at your data. But in the near-term, we’ve seen examples that justify a 40-50% budget shift for Gen Z personas and 10-20% shift for older millennials, Gen X and baby boomers. You may find more efficiencies immediately via social or influencer programs, but don’t be afraid to test and learn. 

Understand Owned Social vs. Social 

Social Search is likely to require more paid social to reach and grow your owned channels. Users who like or follow your brand are more apt to be superfans who can advocate for your brand. Or they’re just engaging you on social as a purely customer service channel. Make sure you see the full picture and don’t focus solely only on owned channels. 

Expand Your Conversation Analysis 

Ensure you capture insights (e.g., emerging trends, influential voices, volume) not only for you and your competitors, but also unbranded conversations that shape your products’ perception. This is an opportunity for marketing and customer service to come together to drive product innovation. Listen closely and react quickly. 

Rethink Your KPIs  

Social Search may require a reevaluation of your key performance indicators. Make sure you don’t measure the same things year-over-year out of habit, but rather think through the area(s) where you can monitor and predict impacts to your business. 

How Social Search Impacts Your Existing Content Marketing Strategy

Shift Existing Content Strategies 

Depending on your existing content strategy and digital plan, this new trend in search behavior may necessitate strategic shifts in your approach. For example, if paid search was a previous priority, it may yield more return to shift dollars to advertising or use influencers on social media. This strategy could help expand brand reach on platforms where consumers are expanding or shifting their shopping behaviors.  

Evaluate Formats 

We’ve come a long way from 15-minute videos on YouTube to 15-second vertical videos on Instagram Reels. Make sure your content strategy produces content in as many formats as your consumers need. Spinning off new versions of content is certainly easier than starting from scratch. However, this isn’t all about resizing assets. Make sure to consider the customer’s experience when they see the content and how they interact with it to find the best fit. 

Make Content for Influencers 

Brands should create content that’s not only sharable, but also designed to help influencers, employees and brand ambassadors share your brand story. Look for opportunities to enhance an influencer’s brand with top-tier content that allows them to tell more engaging stories about you. Fewer consumers will reach your brand channels. Help influencers understand your desired look, style and voice. 

Find the Speed That Works for You 

TikTok happens fast. That can be uncomfortable for many brands. And that’s OK. It’s rare to find a creator who excels at blogs, YouTube and TikTok, and most brands cannot afford to stand out across every channel. Leverage people in your organization on the channels where they’re strongest and where you think you’ll have the most impact. This new framework will allow your brand to operate at the speed today’s customers expect and to see the best results. 

How Social Search Impacts Customer Service

Reach Your Customers Where They’re At 

Many brands still drive customers from social (where consumers ask for help and expect a quick response) to email (where brands buy time to respond). Moving closer to your customers by interacting with them where and when they want (i.e., on social channels) will improve relationships.   

Look at New Channels 

For brands that do not have a brand or influencer presence on TikTok, this is a compelling reason to consider changing that. Investing in social media, especially in a paid capacity with advertising or influencers, can have an immediate and measurable effect on brand awareness, especially among Gen Z and millennial consumer audiences.  

Flip the Script 

Many brands outsource customer service or resort to chatbots, which can, at times, underserve a critical part of your business. And while customer service can be viewed as a loss leader, where cost reduction is king, there is a strong opportunity to forge lasting brand loyalty with a solid and consistent customer service experience. Taking a closer look at how consumers experience your brand’s customer service and moving it to newer, more direct channels can be a boon to your brand’s long-term success. 

How Social Search Impacts Social 

The Consumer Funnel Is Shifting 

One main point to consider is the possibility social is becoming less about brand awareness and advocacy and more focused mid-to-lower funnel conversions. This is true for a growing portion of today’s consumers, who accelerate through the funnel faster on social apps. Take this mindset when preparing content plans by dedicating social content to these BOTF audiences, so you can capture engagement on both ends. 

Boosting Posts Is Crucial 

With these new consumer behaviors, reach becomes priority on social searches. The most direct and measurable way to increase reach across social is through on-platform advertising and boosting. This is an easy way to increase ROI. Just make sure to boost the right content on the right channels to the right people. 

Tap Into Paid Social Ads 

Brands should consider investing in social advertising and syncing their social advertising plans with their organic content strategy. This can be an impactful way to shift priorities in this changing landscape by reaching more people with creative that speaks to them. It’s also a generally untapped area for niche marketing to increase advertising efficiency. 

You’re on TikTok (Even If You Don’t Know It) 

Whether it’s security concerns, budgets or resources, many brands aren’t on TikTok. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not on TikTok because your brand doesn’t have a handle. Your brand is on TikTok, you just don’t have a say in the conversation by not including it in your strategy. Our recommendation: Find a way to engage on TikTok, even in incremental ways. 

How Social Search Impacts Influencer Marketing 

Influencer Marketing Is a Big Opportunity 

Where brands do not yet have the reach on their owned channels or do not yet have an owned TikTok channel, influencer marketing can be a solution to bring brand awareness among consumers and provide a human voice behind your brand.  

Keeps Building Trust 

Many social users, especially Gen Z consumers, are more likely to trust influencer content than brand content when doing research online. One example of this is CeraVe in the early days of TikTok trends, where “skinfluencers” boosted brand awareness and sold-out products without any significant marketing or brand product shift. 

Foster Long-Term Relationships 

Allison+Partners’ 2019 research showed influencers want a stronger voice in their content creation, and this trend will accelerate as content shifts away from brand channels. 

How Social Search Impacts Employee and Customer Advocacy 

Give Power to the People 

Empowering your brand’s most passionate fans and employees will become an even more impactful communications asset. Give them the content they need to share across their social channels. 

Focus on the Niche 

Niche groups of trendsetters will propel consumer changes faster than many brands can react. Brands will want to ensure content creators are armed with timely information and useful tools to share with their networks.  

Empower Employees 

The impact of employees talking to their friends and family is often overlooked, but it will only increase in importance. Gen Z wants employers to have a strong purpose and contribute to something greater than profits. For brands living their stated missions, their happy employees will be empowered to grow the business and their experiences will be relayed. 


This New Normal Is Coming
 

Social Search is here and will evolve rapidly in the coming months and years. As you begin to think about how to incorporate Social Search into your daily strategies, consider your experience as a consumer. What are the brand interactions that bring you joy? The ones that make you cringe? Use that to see your customer with a fresh perspective. 

Finally, we’ll leave you with this: one critical difference between traditional search and Social Search is that a great landing page with the right keywords could predictably bring in the right traffic to specified brand channels. Then you simply must get consumers to see your side of the story via ads or ranking within the top results.  

With Social Search, our likes, interests and locations will have a much greater impact on the content we are served. Content from individuals will be prioritized over brands, and it’s likely the consumer will be much more informed before encountering your side of the story.

Contact us at Influence360@allisonpr.com for more information how you can leverage the shift from search to Social Search to your advantage.

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