Using social media data to improve the relevancy of Internet search results has been a major goal of search marketing providers since the dawn of user-generated content and social media when Facebook was nothing more than a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.

In its original form, the idea was to take all of the things one’s friends were saying about a particular restaurant, product or brand, and incorporate that content into the results one would see when searching with a related keyword.

The challenge was (and still is) that most of our friends are not content creators. Sure, we might comment from time to time on a friend’s review of a movie they saw recently or answer a question from a colleague about which smartphone to consider, but that’s a far stretch from what is required to deliver a consistently a high quality “social search” experience at scale.

In most cases when I search, none of the people with whom I’m connected have ever written anything relevant to the search. As a consequence, the search engines have a hard time incorporating content from my friends into my search results.

Shares, Likes, Tweets, and +1s are Changing All of This

Several years ago when Facebook unveiled its Like button and Twitter rolled out the Tweet button, the significance of these launches was mostly understood through the lens of virality and social discovery. By getting people to like their brand, marketers could count on the friends of those fans to see that and like it too. Same thing goes for Tweets and +1s. The genius of these features is that they do two things extremely well. They make it incredibly easy and fast for individuals to:

  • Connect with specific brands and content
  • Express affinity for the brand or content with their friends and followers

Like Coffee MugThere is tremendous value in these simple and fast methods of social expression because they transform things that used to be relatively hard and time consuming to write about (knowing what to say about the restaurant I ate at last night, having something pithy and amusing to report about a recent experience with a smartphone, etc.) into a simple click of a mouse or tap on a smartphone screen.

I can count on two hands the number of friends who have ever written a product review on Amazon. The number of friends who have liked a product or brand is in the hundreds. We can all be content creators now.

The enormous traction these features receive and the quantity of the actions individuals have taken speak for themselves. Billions of social signals are sent each day, connecting people with brands and content, and spreading the word to others of their existence. Awesome!

Search Benefits from Social

Today, the major search engines are turning the consumer data generated by these social signals into gold. Facebook’s nascent (and still private) Graph Search mines the likes across one’s social graph to find the friends who have shared something relevant to your search query. Google uses social signals, including shares and +1s, to determine the timeliest and most engaging content to include in the results of your search.

The numbers of shares, likes, tweets, and +1s can have a significant, positive impact on the “discoverability” of brand content in search results. All other things being equal, the more social signals your content receives, the more likely it is to get found by people searching on PC, tablet, and mobile devices.

In order to benefit from this major trend, brands must do two basic things.

First, they need to redouble their attention on and investment in content and digital experiences that are useful and engaging for their target audiences. Marketers must think and act like publishers.

Second, brands have to make the sharing of their content a primary component of the experience their target audience has with it. Make “liking,” tweeting, and sharing it as rewarding as consuming the content itself.

By doing these two things, brands will see not only their content spread via word of mouth across the desktop and mobile Web, but will also see the presence of their content increase in the results their target audience finds when searching for it. Social and search represent a win-win for marketers and the time is now to take advantage of it.

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Ben StraleyBen Straley
Vice President of Social Technologies