Social Search: Customers Influence Search Results Over Brands

This post was collaboratively written on a wiki by Charlene Li, (cross posted) who maintains a focus on Leadership Strategy and Jeremiah Owyang, who maintains a focus on Customer Strategy. Together, we’re covering the convergence of emerging technologies at the Altimeter Group.

Twitter brokers a deal that offers search engines Microsoft Bing and Google Search access to their real time data streams.  Also, Facebook, offers up public status updates to be searched and served up to Microsoft’s Bing.  This trend towards micro media requires companies to pay attention to the real time and social web for marketing, support, and competitive strategies.  There are several impacts to the ecosystem, here’s what you should know:


  • Deal Fills In Technology and Relationship Gaps for Twitter. Twitter lacks the computing power of a premiere search engine, as their current Twitter search results are littered with spam, duplicate tweets, and are only sorted by time.   Leveraging the sophisticated engineers at Microsoft and Google affords Twitter an opportunity to focus on their platform –not search.  From a business aspect, this deal makes sense is that Microsoft and Google both have relationships with advertisers and brands, with trained sales forces to cut deals. Although the terms of the deal aren’t public, it’s suspect there was an exchange of material goods, it’s likely that Twitter will benefit from revenue share in the near future.
  • Social Search to Serve Results Based On Time, Authority. Expect real time data to merge with existing search engines, as a result we should see Google Search and Bing to serve up search results based on: 1) Real time information based on what Twitter users are saying, including memes from trending topics, 2) Preference given to links and URLs that are tweeted by users with more followers or authority, 3) Geo location of tweets to influence search results.  As users seek “Thai Restaurants in San Mateo” location based tweets could provide additional context.  4) Eventually results will be served up by your friends.  Google has given a nod to serve up information based on your social graph (your friends) using Google Profile.
  • To Compete, Facebook Must Make More Content Public. For closed social networks like Facebook, this means they need to continue to offer up more data that can be searched in public by search engines.  With default settings in Facebook set to ‘friends only’ this will continue to be a challenge as Facebook’s community prefers the filters and privacy settings that this closed social network provides.
  • Twitter’s Future: Seamless Integration with the Web. Success for Twitter isn’t about becoming a destination site, but instead about becoming a data protocol that’s embedded everywhere.    Like “Air“, microblogging features are already present in multiple applications, desktop and mobile clients, and the bite-sized information is becoming available in context wherever it’s needed.
  • Customers Influence Search Results An even more amazing impact of these announcements is that for the first time, consumers will be able to directly impact web search results. Although companies spend thousands of marketing dollars controlling their search results by using Google’s advertising services, customers and competitors can quickly and cheaply impact search results using simple tools like Twitter.  Consumers, empowered using mobile devices as a publishing platform can link to content and influence search results. Now, a simple tweet with a picture of a plane landing on the Hudson from a mobile phone will show up at the top of search results.


Key Takeaways: Customers Impact Brand Search Results Using Twitter
Even if your company is not active on Twitter, your customers can influence the search results related to your company –you must pay attention to this trend.  Just as your company likely already has a search strategy through search optimization or paid search terms, you’ll need to extend micromedia to your strategy.  In order to be prepared for this change, companies must:

  1. Develop a Listening Strategy That Starts With Roles and Process.  Every business and market is now moving faster and faster as information spreads around the globe in minutes –if not seconds.  Companies must be ready to quickly identify flare ups, be ready to respond, and correct incorrect information.  Develop a listening strategy that has internal roles set in place, a process to respond and the right tools like Radian 6, Visible Technologies, BuzzMetrics, or Cymfony.
  2. Change The Marketing Mindset –Legacy Methods Ineffective. Search marketers must understand that blasting marketing information through Facebook or Twitter won’t be effective, as search engines will filter out irrelevant messages that nobody listens to. Instead, marketers should allow content on all web properties and email marketing to be easily added to Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites by offering icons that encourage people to share. Providers like ShareThis and AddThis make this simple to do.
  3. Develop Influence Marketing Programs. Since these search engines have all noted that they will rank real time information on a person’s authority and not just traditional page ranking, marketers must double down on building these relationships.  More than ever, brands will need to foster discussions within Twitter as retweet, replies, and linking behavior will influence what is served up on results pages.  It takes time to build real relationships that develop into public conversations so get started now.

Related Links:
For a list of social networking stats (including Twitter) we’ve a 2009 collection we keep up to date.


62 Replies to “Social Search: Customers Influence Search Results Over Brands”

  1. Great insights Jeremiah and Charlene. The main thing that everyone is missing is that the key to real-time search as it applies to traditional and social is that the Web is much larger than Twitter or Facebook. As such, the opportunity for real-time search is only addressed by a relative few, and none of them include Google or Microsoft. This is instrumental in truly observing behavior and activity on the web and social web.

  2. Very interesting article ! With this development, the web is greatly accelerating its evolution from page centered to people centered. The inclusion of personal real data streams into search results (also influencing how other pages will show) puts people even more in the center than social networks did.

    This should have strong consequences regarding long tail developments in the statusphere and blogosphere. It seems like a major development to me

    But maybe it also opens the way for more specialized search engines (that want to focus on things that are less real time, more permanent)

  3. That’s right Brian, agreed. It’s more than Twitter Facebook, expect these update features to appear in a variety of tools and applications.

    Luis, you found the trend, the focus is on individual centered –and in relation to their friends. Soon, everyone will have a custom search results page based off the influence from their friends.

    What does this mean for brands? Mass marketing won’t be the only way to approach this space. Smaller, relationship based marketing may be just as important –if not more important.

  4. Focusing on your last point, I have yet to hear just how the engines will define a person’s authority. Something about this possibility seems creepy, elitist, and open to widespread gaming/abuse. And while I love friend-driven recommendations I’m not so sure people-focused search results will be better than algorithmic-driven ones.

  5. I’m familiar with Twitalyzer. It’s fun to play with but I’m not sure I put much real weight into their methodology (@zaibatsu is the most influential person on Twitter? Really?).

    As the recent Web Ecology Project report The Influencers ( http://www.webecologyproject.org/2009/09/analyzing-influence-on-twitter/ ) reveals, authority and influence is slippery and open to interpretation. Not sure about you, but I don’t want @officialtila , @ogochocinco, and @lilduval driving my SERPs.

  6. I need some guidance, I don’t want to read this wrong.

    As I read this I see connecting between people open up to a much wider audience. My public tweets become available. What does having followers mean? Does this mean my approx 2,000 followers is really 2,000 follower (+ Google, +Facebook, based on topic)

    If so then wouldn’t “communities of purpose” or more specialized closed networks have the potential to thrive? Perhaps people who want to connect with like-minded individuals to exchange resources, contacts, information, etc.

    And because guilt is my default, full disclosure: I ask this because I’m a part of such a network. We focus on very high quality (no spam, no ads) business networking. People use our site to get business referrals, they form groups to exchange ideas, contacts to help one another (think media such as radio hosts, journalists, also chamber of commerce groups.)

  7. Bold Prediction. This will render all other “Twitter Graders” useless. Google ranking is the ultimate rank and if they are able to develop an accurate and spam free filter for finding authority it is going to revolutionize how people and brands use Twitter.

  8. I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment, Jeremiah – the revolutionary aspect of social media (and this latest development in particular) is that these technologies make the Web smaller and more personalized, in turn making relationship-based marketing more important than ever. Legacy methods are not only ineffective, they can be downright counterproductive.

  9. I’m surprised no one’s talking much about the impact that better search results will have on how people use Twitter (ala the Observer Effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect )

    More prominent Twitter (and Facebook) results on Google/Bing are a big deal, if for no other reason than those not participating in social will be pushed even further down the search results page. While Google’s Universal Search has been doing this for years (search chase ny rangers and you’ll see the first result is actually the forth listing due to the map) there’s only so many searches that activate this feature whereas Twitter could theoretically show up for every search. This prominence will likely make Twitter a much more critical part of SEO and we’ll likely see as many “black hats” trying to “game” Google’s Twitter reputation algorithm as did PageRank when it first came out. Think Twitter spam is bad now?

    Likewise, when on Twitter.com, there’s a lot that I can’t easily do:

    1) Limit the range of searches to only return Tweets made by my followers (i.e. I know I saw someone talking about Sidewiki recently …)
    2) Search for a specific time (i.e. I want to learn more about what was being said about the balloon boy as the news first broke)
    3) Monitor a hashtag in real time without dealing with duplicate records (small plug – I’ve talked about hashtag scalability before: http://marketingtech.typepad.com/marketing-tech/2009/09/the-conference-hashtag-dilemma.html )
    4) Etc.

    If Google/Bing provided a compelling alternative search for Twitter (perhaps even via an API that third party tools like Tweet Deck could use) it could have a significant/immediate impact on how people monitor conversations within Twitter. While Google/Bing can’t help with the fail whales (frequent interruptions of service) the scalability of Twitter relies as much on search as it does hardware and this deal could have as significant of an impact on how Twitter users search/monitor Twitter as those not on Twitter do.

  10. a more interesting perspective that hyping google ranking is to understand that we have not even scratched the surface or influence and reputation in our online world. there is so much more work to do, and like Betsy said — there is also private and semi private communities.

    communities are so much further reaching that the current understanding of it, and until we can create a model or setup to do cross-community reputation and ranking, we have not even got started. that and the fact that reputation right now is not even measured with a standard formula, so we can claim diff levels of reputation easily, no one can corroborate or refute.

    want to think of the model that would work? think FICO scores but for online reputation. some people are working on building those (1-3 years out) — then we will have some reputations that we can talk about.

    until then, tweetalizer is cool for twitter, klout is doing some cool cross-community work, and there are plenty single purpose, different formula, not-binding models out there.

    good discussion, always up for reputation and communities talk.

  11. This is great Charlene and Jeremiah – very insightful.

    I think it’s also important for brands to realize that when you say, “marketers should allow content on all web properties and email marketing to be easily added to Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites” that it doesn’t mean just putting icons in place will magically “socialize” their content.

    Marketers, PRs and the like have to start making content more concise, conversational and engaging from the onset. We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to educating brands of these new dynamics.

  12. For a second there I thought this was one of those spoof “future scenarios” story until I read more carefully and realized it was real. The tech world changes so quickly it’s hard even for those immersed in it to keep up to date. I guess that’s also what makes it so challenging and rewarding…

  13. Great article! Thank you.

    Specially Jeremiah’s comment about relationship based marketing is fruitful. So far we’ve been talking about communities mainly meaning FB, Twitter, etc., but this one will lead us into “community2.0” (I have these 2.0s) thinking which means that we will see multi-layered world of communities. Where our messages are really more valuable than traditional brand messages.

  14. Brian Makas, I think you hit it. If a company cares about their search results, and is currently doing something about it, they’ll certainly need to now pay attention to Twitter.

    Esteban, does Google truly become the big brother if they have a digital score for authority for each individual? Most of the data is there, they just need package it up.

  15. Thought provoking article Charlene and Jeremiah!

    To pick up on Jason’s comment, I think this points even more toward the growing importance of content in general and fresh content in particular. If social sharing of content will help drive search rankings, and people tend to share content that is new and fresh, then creating an ongoing stream of compelling content will become even more powerful a tactic than it already is today.

    It will be very interesting to see how Google and Bing decide to handle the balance between older articles with longer term authority and new ones with current buzz…

  16. Jeremiah – Do you have any evidence/data to support this…

    “To Compete, Facebook Must Make More Content Public. For closed social networks like Facebook, this means they need to continue to offer up more data that can be searched in public by search engines. With default settings in Facebook set to ‘friends only’ this will continue to be a challenge as Facebook’s community prefers the filters and privacy settings that this closed social network provides.’

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I don’t think this can actually be argued from a purely theoretical standpoint. Facebook is still riding a clear upward trajectory, while hitwise data shows that Twitter may have hit a resistance point. (http://bit.ly/ZQRDD). If you have data that shows that Facebook is being hindered in some way by the thickness of their own walls, I’d love to see it. I personally think that privacy is why Facebook’s growth is so staggering. Thoughts?

  17. Jeremiah,

    That’s a good question, and I think you hit on something very interesting.

    I truly don’t care if Google wants to own the score for everyone (reputation or otherwise). Positive side of that is that they have more data that just about everyone else in the planet and they can do it. I just want to make sure that the score as it should be created and used has a algorithm we all know and can use, and is universally correct — at least 80% of the time.

    If they commit to being open about it, which so far has not happened with PageRank entirely, and just be the keeper of the score – the KGB could own it for all I care.

    My comment was just trying to raise the issue of the need for universal reputation.

    do you think that Google can get the necessary data from private parties and organizations to effectively do that?

    Esteban

    (PS – I agre with Steffan in the thought that Facebook continues to grow because of their thick walls, not in spite of them. Had a discussion with Clara Shih about it, she thinks like you. I would welcome Facebook to change their application permissions so that more data remains private – until then I am probably one of the few that uses no apps in there)

  18. Steffan

    When it comes to monetization, Google has figured out how to benefit from public data. Advertisers have a limited reach in Facebook as the content doesn’t spread out of the network. We wrote about that more on this post, which is also linked above.

    http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/10/07/revealing-googles-stealth-social-network-play/

    Esteban, Google profiles is intended to be a universal profile aggregator, they want a piece of the action and can do it. See here:

    http://www.google.com/profiles/felicia.day

  19. Good to know that consumers can influence the search results.

    Consumers only need to be aware of influence tactics and should think twice before spreading any message through social media.

  20. We just concluded / published our Case Study: “TWITTER: THE DARK SIDE
    Does Twitter’s Bit.ly Enable a Massive Click Fraud?” where we analyzed various aspects of the Twitter phenomenon. One of the screaming problems is the statistics Bit.ly provides that is egregiously inaccurate at best and fraudulent at worst. Bit.ly counts cyberspace’s ghosts and drones, bots and crawlers, presenting them all as humans.

    We even found one bit.ly links that had over a million clicks (1,677,769 to be precise) and not a single human behind it!! More on it here:
    http://www.seo-artworks.com/Twitter/twitter-study-millionclicks.htm

    They do not discriminate between real and robotically generated automatic clicks with no actual human behind the click so the conclusion raises an urgent need: “The key findings of our experiment – enormous discrepancy between the published bit.ly’s statistics and the reality behind it – created an urgent need for a standardization of URL shorteners and honest, peer reviewed, analytical tools that advertisers can trust.”

    I know I am touting our own horns — it is our work after all — but couple of months of serious analysis and experiments to prove findings is worth sharing (we have a huge list of bot’s IPAs as well).

  21. Two things to add on the very insightful report:

    1. Twitter is not only 'outsourcing' search as a function to Google and Bing, as a global repository of emergent trends, it has also given access to the mighty search engines the rich dataset of community-filtered knowledge, and influencers profiles etc. All this would help Google (or Bing) to better understand segments of influential users and where their interests lie. What it means it to make Google even smarter in serving content and identifying emergent information – which can help feed into its spontaneous ads network. (think of Twitter recognising 'Susan Boyle' as a keyword before it hits mainstream media – Google can use this launch ad hoc but powerful marketing campaign for say, Coca cola?)

    2. You mentioned that Facebook must open to compete – I am not too sure about that because the product propositions of the two products are completely different. If Facebook chooses to open its network, it loses trust which is one of the most important asset for a social network company. It started as a close network – Facebook is about a network of friends close to me (e.g. seeing your best friend's baby photos is a very emotional and personal thing), and most users value trust but do not want to do much work in setting up privacy levels of their profiles, or even don't know how to. From a business point of view it makes sense, but from a user-centred point of view, Facebook may be better off investing into a team of marketing data miners than opening itself up to the giants.

  22. Two things to add on the very insightful report:

    1. Twitter is not only 'outsourcing' search as a function to Google and Bing, as a global repository of emergent trends, it has also given access to the mighty search engines the rich dataset of community-filtered knowledge, and influencers profiles etc. All this would help Google (or Bing) to better understand segments of influential users and where their interests lie. What it means it to make Google even smarter in serving content and identifying emergent information – which can help feed into its spontaneous ads network. (think of Twitter recognising 'Susan Boyle' as a keyword before it hits mainstream media – Google can use this launch ad hoc but powerful marketing campaign for say, Coca cola?)

    2. You mentioned that Facebook must open to compete – I am not too sure about that because the product propositions of the two products are completely different. If Facebook chooses to open its network, it loses trust which is one of the most important asset for a social network company. It started as a close network – Facebook is about a network of friends close to me (e.g. seeing your best friend's baby photos is a very emotional and personal thing), and most users value trust but do not want to do much work in setting up privacy levels of their profiles, or even don't know how to. From a business point of view it makes sense, but from a user-centred point of view, Facebook may be better off investing into a team of marketing data miners than opening itself up to the giants.

  23. Two things to add on the very insightful report:

    1. Twitter is not only 'outsourcing' search as a function to Google and Bing, as a global repository of emergent trends, it has also given access to the mighty search engines the rich dataset of community-filtered knowledge, and influencers profiles etc. All this would help Google (or Bing) to better understand segments of influential users and where their interests lie. What it means it to make Google even smarter in serving content and identifying emergent information – which can help feed into its spontaneous ads network. (think of Twitter recognising 'Susan Boyle' as a keyword before it hits mainstream media – Google can use this launch ad hoc but powerful marketing campaign for say, Coca cola?)

    2. You mentioned that Facebook must open to compete – I am not too sure about that because the product propositions of the two products are completely different. If Facebook chooses to open its network, it loses trust which is one of the most important asset for a social network company. It started as a close network – Facebook is about a network of friends close to me (e.g. seeing your best friend's baby photos is a very emotional and personal thing), and most users value trust but do not want to do much work in setting up privacy levels of their profiles, or even don't know how to. From a business point of view it makes sense, but from a user-centred point of view, Facebook may be better off investing into a team of marketing data miners than opening itself up to the giants.

  24. Hello,
    i am discovering youy point of view from a French blog, that has been traducing the text, it is a very interesting point a view, thanks a lot

  25. Hello,
    i am discovering youy point of view from a French blog, that has been traducing the text, it is a very interesting point a view, thanks a lot

  26. hips. More than ever, brands will need to foster discussions within Twitter as retweet, replies, and linking behavior will influence what is served up on results pages. It takes time to build real relationships that develop into public conversations so get started now.

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