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August 18, 2022 // Lindsay Sanderson  //       //  Opinion

Three Steps to Optimize Your Brand for Social Search

As marketing professionals, we know brands want to be where their consumers are. They read newspapers in the early days of advertising, they started watching TV in mid-late 1900s and they expanded to online googling and reading articles in the early 21st century. In 2022, we’re due for a new evolution in how we continue to reach new consumers – but where?

Based on new data from Google, 40% of Gen Z consumers now use social platforms like TikTok and Instagram to search, rather than traditional search engines like Google. On social, consumers use searches to find what restaurants to go to, what books to read (#BookTok), where to plan their next vacation and more.  

However, unlike on Google, consumers who search on social seek a different kind of search result. Rather than the most factually correct suggestion, they want recommendations from other users who they deem relatable, aspirational or trustworthy based on their social presence or content.  

If audiences have moved to social and exhibit new consumer behaviors on these platforms, how can brands follow? 

Human-First Social Content 

There’s only one way to play on social – content, content, content. TikTok has even released recommendations for creators to produce up to 10 videos a day to build their audiences most effectively. For most brands, that kind of video content lift isn’t possible, at least not in the short term, but there are ways to prioritize the type of human-first social content that users desire. 

When you create brand content, go for casual. High-production quality, polished videos perform poorly on TikTok and stick out like a sore thumb on social platforms. Social consumers look for people who they relate to or who inspire them, show them new perspectives or educate them. They gravitate to those who make sensitive topics accessible, introduce them to new products or services, or just make jokes. And they are open to being influenced by them.  

To achieve this as a brand social media manager, it’s crucial to lean into user-generated content from fans to brand ambassadors. Sourcing this content can be a challenge, but creating programs with free products, coupons, community-building and other initiatives can encourage this type of content from existing brand fans.  

Influencer Marketing 

As great as brand content can be with help from users and brand ambassadors, the audience for a brand can be limited and users want trustworthy, word-of-mouth recommendations. Here’s where influencers come in! If your brand’s audience is on social media, people on social should talk about your brand – and you can pay them to do just that.  

Influencer marketing has grown exponentially in recent years, expanding from e-commerce to tons of other industries, such as tech, healthcare and even B2B marketing. Influencers can help brands reach wider audiences, drive sales and conversions, and create a “cult-like” following (think Glossier, Apple, Soul Cycle). It’s no secret influencers have sold-out products before, even with unpaid promotions, and that trend will not likely end anytime soon.  

Although they can build reach and impressions quickly, not all influencer partnerships are great partnerships. When choosing influencers to partner with and create content with, authenticity must be at the forefront. The best influencer partners are those already excited to work with your brand and whose content fits into your established brand aesthetic. With the right partnership, influencers and brands can gain consumer trust for both parties, but inauthentic partners can do the opposite and hurt both in the process. 

Paid Social Ads and Boosting 

So, you share human-centered content on your brand pages and expand that further with influencer and brand ambassador programs. But you still want more reach on social – you want to be in these searches!  

The key to reaching more eyes on social platforms is, you guessed it, more money. We know social platforms like Instagram award brands for spending ad dollars on their platforms and being favored by the algorithm is in every brand’s favor. Spending ad dollars on boosting organic or influencer social content will ensure more see it and they’re the ones you want to see it. You can target these ads specifically to your key demographics, and you can see if they’re working with even more specific social metrics than those accessible through organic posts. 

Like influencer marketing watch-outs, there are some key things to keep in mind when creating a social advertising strategy. When consumers are on social, they want an authentic and trustworthy experience. They want the content on their feed to feel like it’s personalized to them, so your ads should not disrupt that flow. Focusing on human-first ad content and boosting human-first brand content or influencer content can help to achieve that “barely an ad” aesthetic that works best on social platforms, especially on TikTok.  

In the same way that “jump on a call” now means a Zoom or Teams meeting, “googling” something will happen more frequently on social media, not on search engines. With younger generations leading the charge on digital innovation, we won’t likely see a reversal of this pattern anytime soon. Instead, we can follow the lead of Gen Z consumers, preparing to meet our audiences on social searches and be there even before they type their first question into the TikTok search bar.  


Lindsay Sanderson is an account executive on the Marketing Innovation Team based in Washington, D.C. She specializes in social media and influencer marketing campaigns for a broad range of brands, including technology, consumer and non-profit clients. 

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