Search vs. Social Media

First, an apology for yesterday’s rant. I’m not one for apologizing, given that I’m a bonafide genius and all, but… well, I may have been a bit harsh on those poor, inexperienced CEOs who are blindly burning through their investors’ foolish generosity with a cockamamie “all things to all people” marketing strategy.

What was I saying?…

Oh right—I’m very, very sorry I was so hard on you. Fuck Walk it off.

Now, on to one of my favorite heated debates of late: Search vs. Social Media. It seems that every marketer worth her or his salt has placed their eggs in one of these two baskets. Interestingly enough, the split often follows the left brain/right brain phenomenon which divides marketers into the “creative” and the “analytical” categories. But I digress…

Let’s talk data:

According to IDG, traffic coming from organic search has dropped 7% as a percentage of total traffic in the past year (actually April 2006 – April 2007), while direct visits (from bookmarks and type-ins) increased 4%. Even more meaningful is this bit of data: according to IDG’s research, 70% of traffic to web sites does NOT come directly from organic search.

Meanwhile, social networks are driving more traffic than ever to targeted shopping and classified sites (data on this point ranges from 45-85%, depending on the source). Add in the greater sophistication of Web 2.0 tools and a markedly more experienced, savvy pool of users… and you’ve got yourself a juicy opportunity for creating a deeper, more direct relationship with customers—assuming, of course, that you deliver a satisfying (ie personalized, user-friendly, don’t-make-me-think-just-give-me-what-i-want) online experience.

My point? We’re seeing the first marked shift away from search (since Google reinvented the idea of it) and toward the slightly creepy [but certainly more convenient] future of personalized, interconnectedness that social media and Web 3.0 (that’s not a typo) promise. And I’m betting it’s just the beginning.

Should companies stop investing in search? That depends… on the type of business, industry, and audience, as well as on budget, access to search expertise, and competitive environment. A solid organic search program aimed at landing your company page 1 ranking on Google or other major search engines [for those of you who still believe there are any] could take 6-9 months; perhaps 3-6 if you’ve got the talent and expertise in-house. And by the way, page 1 organic search ranking only matters if your product or service correlates to common and [if you’re lucky] inexpensive search terms (meaning people actually KNOW what they’re looking for). Meanwhile, a solid social media campaign can yield measurable results in a matter of days/weeks and typically costs a whole lot less.

Aside from the advantages of speed and savings, there’s a lot more value to social media programs than simply the number of clicks generated or transactions completed online. It’s about connection, loyalty, transparency… big words that tend to scare big brands… yet those who embrace them will undoubtedly trounce their competitors. Denying what’s right in front of you isn’t what I call “strategy”. I’ll quote CK, one of my new favorite marketing bloggers to drive this point home:

“One must modernize (or face irrelevance). In using the British monarchy as a metaphor for social media…find out why it’s important to modernize, and why it’s critical to reach out to your constituents (if you want them to like you) right here.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see the benefits of hedging your SEO/SEM bets with low-cost social media as just one of the many tricks in the bag. Do it right and you’ll build your brand, strengthen direct-navigation traffic, and possibly even put an end to the Search Engine Monopoly once and for all.

Sorry, Google. (Although if you’re hiring… I’ll gladly reconsider this post 🙂

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