The new battleground of combined social and search is going to become a significant storyline in the world of social media marketing this year. Last week, we saw the first examples of what tweets might look like in Google search results as part of Twitter’s new deal with the search giant. It’s now being reported that Facebook is testing a newsearch feature – not quite on the same path, but more significant than it may, initially, seem.
Facebook is testing out a new functionality for iOS users which enables people to search for links while composing a status update, in-app. Just like adding a picture, the function would enable users to click on a link icon, then do a keyword search for articles related to that topic in order to share that content with your update.
At a glance, this seems relatively minor, adding in links is no major upgrade, it’s just streamlining that process – and really, it may be slightly restrictive, most people like to be able to share the exact links to the exact posts they want, and searching via this method might not necessarily help you locate the right content any more efficiently than searching outside of the app and cutting and pasting the link yourself. But then again, it might. And considering the massive amount of mobile sharing Facebook hosts, this process could prove hugely popular, effectively cutting Google out of the equation and keeping users on Facebook longer. And what’s more, it would also grant Facebook more control over more information, in the form of search data, which it could use to entice more publishers to its publisher platform. And that might just be the start.
Mo’ Data, Mo’ Options
So, let’s say this becomes a popular practice, that people are finding the links they want via this search process, Facebook learns your favourite websites and can better provide contextual searches, based on your previous sharing behaviour. That being the case, couldn’t Facebook then use that in building its case for publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook? What if, as part of their pitch, they could say that “people use this new in-app search functionality 35% of the time, and we control the search results they get – we could ensure your content appears high in those results, significantly increasing the chances that users will link to your posts, thereby increasing your overall audience.” That’s interesting, right? What, too, does that increase in searches on Facebook do for Google traffic and Google’s share of audience? We know that Facebook leads social referral traffic by a significant margin (and that’s not even counting dark social shares) – if this addition were to catch on, it could be a significant concern for The Big G’s hold on search traffic.
Obviously, these are extrapolations, we have no idea how this is going to go till we see it in the wild and we get some stats on how users view this addition. But it could be something. It could be more significant than it may seem, at this early stage.
The first examples of the new Twitter/Google partnership are staring to filter through, with Search Engine Land providing screenshots of confirmed Google tests of tweets in search results:
As you can see from this example, a search for ‘#maythe4thbewithyou’ on Google has provided results from Twitter, where the topic was trending. You can see too, the option to click through for more tweets. This example is via mobile, where the current testing is taking place, but it provides our first insight into how Google may be looking to incorporate real-time tweets.
The first question I had about the new Google/Twitter partnership was whether this would provide SEO value. If Google opted to show tweets high in search results, then definitely, there’d be SEO interest there – showing up at the top of the SERPs, in any form, is a big win for brands – and these early examples show that there is, indeed, clear SEO value. Twitter results may only appear for trending issues or maybe there’ll be a recognition value placed on Twitter activity to determine whether listing the Twitter results is likely relevant to the user query, but these screenshots show that it may be possible to reach high-visibility areas of Google’s SERPs via your Twitter presence.
This will invariably mean more brands will be investing more into their Twitter presence, as it significantly increases the audience reach potential of tweets. The change also underlines the fact that social search is going to be a significant battleground, and one that organisations will need to take into account.
A likely element of Google calculations on when and where to display tweets in search results will be the relevance of the person or people tweeting about the topic. In the example above, #maythe4thbewithyou was a trending hashtag (and the search is specifically for that hashtag), so it makes contextual sense that Google consider this relevant to the users’ search, and thus, would show the user tweets relevant to the topic. But in one of the other examples provided by Search Engine Land, the logic behind why the tweet was shown seems slightly different.
As you can see, beneath the first result, the search conducted was ‘mayweather pacquiao’ and a tweet from Gary Valenciano has appeared in the results. Gary Valenciano is a verified account with 2.43 million followers, so while the correlation between the tweet itself and the search term isn’t as clear as the first example, it does seem that a profile’s social clout will play a part in Google’s logic on what tweets to show and when. The first contention is supported again in the third example shown in Search Engine Land’s post:
Steve Benfey has 286 followers and isn’t verified, but #CarlyFiorina is a trending topic, so just like #maythe4thbewithyou, it’s the popularity of the topic that’s dictated its relevance in the SERPs, not the tweet originator. This would suggest there’s at least two different logicalities that will dictate the appearance of tweets in search results – there’s a ‘Popular on Twitter’ break-out, which’ll show tending tweets related to the search query, and another option which shows related tweets based on the social standing of the tweeter (or possibly the engagement levels on the individual tweet).
In the case of trending topics, this is effectively word-of-mouth SEO. You’re getting a display of real-time discussion – the more discussion about the topic, the more likely the searcher will be shown tweet results in the SERPs. From a marketing perspective, this addition will likely increase the rate of newsjacking and brands trying to tag onto trending topics, as, if successful, they’ll get the double-benefit of appearing not only in the trending discussion on Twitter, but also in related Google search results. It’ll also highlight the importance of brand awareness efforts in regards to trending topics – imagine if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a trending topic was how an NBA players’ Nikes fell apart on him during a game. That sort of discussion would be hard to ignore for a prospective customer – it’ll be more important than ever for brands to be monitoring Twitter trends to manage or remain aware of such occurrences in order to mitigate potential negative associations.
Of more marketing value, however, is option number two presented here – appearing in the search results based on tweet mentions from prominent users. This will amplify the importance of influencer marketing on Twitter – using the same example as above, what if you were searching for ‘Nike basketball shoes’ and a tweet from NBA star Kobe Bryant appeared high in the results, thanking Nike for making him such great sneakers? That could play a part in your decision making process, right? Of course, as with everything, staged responses or canned endorsements will be obvious to the searcher, and it’s likely people will filter out any such tweets that are overly promotional. But real responses, from real influencers on Twitter, might just have a whole new value proposition for brands, depending on how these tests play out.
The Sleeping Giant
Social search, elaborating on the context of your search results with the real-time discussion from social media platforms, is fast becoming a big deal. People are placing less trust in brand messaging these days, and a significant impetus for that change may be that they simply no longer have to. In times past, brands had more control over the flow of information, they told consumers what they wanted them to hear and managed the message according to their own strategic goals. But in the connected era, in which people have access to all the information, all the time, consumers can inform themselves. Studies have shown that people are already more than halfway along the purchase cycle before they even get in touch with brands, they’re not coming to your sales reps looking for more info the way they used to do. The value is in relationships, in having a higher value proposition than the product itself. In this context, social search is more important than ever – because what’s more valuable than a recommendation from the people you know and trust?
The Google/Twitter partnership only underlines the rising importance of social search and of adding that additional context to the search process. But Facebook knows this too, and you can bet, they’ll be planning their own response.
Graph Search 2.0
Facebook Graph Search was largely seen as a failure. Or not a failure, as such, but a glitchy system that never quite delivered on its massive potential. Facebook acknowledged this – Mark Zuckerberg himself has noted that the results weren’t consistent. But just as Google and Twitter move to stake their claim on social search, Facebook will be looking to roll out Graph Search 2.0, and it will be a massive improvement on the first iteration.
Facebook’s been quite overt in its efforts to keep its audience within its own walls – most specifically with its push to get major publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook. A big part of holding audience attention and maintaining user experience is search, giving users the ability to easily find what they want within the Facebook eco-system. Facebook has been cautious about how they roll out Graph Search due to privacy concerns and the need to protect the value of their treasured user data, but a new version of Graph Search will be coming soon. The Google/Twitter partnership will only hasten its arrival.
Whatever comes, it’s going to be interesting to see how the digital marketing world responds to having real-time tweets in Google search results. These first examples show that the new partnership could have significant implications, and will likely raise the value of Twitter as a marketing and brand-relevance platform. It’s an exciting development to watch, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.
Not a great day for Twitter. After the micro-blogging giant’s first quarter earnings report was leaked an hour earlier than expected, Twitter stock dropped by 6%, and finished the day down close to 20%. The losses were on the back of a less than spectacular earnings report, where Twitter reported revenue of $436m – around $20m below estimates. Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo, in the company’s official release, said the gap was ‘due to lower-than-expected contribution from some of our newer direct response products’ – these would include some of Twitter’s latest product offerings, like changes to direct messaging, native video sharing, and live-streaming, via Periscope. Twitter’s report also outlined the areas where growth has been solid – but of more interest at this stage is what this result will mean for the future development of the Twitter platform, particularly when considering the rate at which they’ve been pushing out changes in the last few months.
Change is as good as…
Twitter is pushing out more changes, additions and updates than ever before. Senior Vice President of Product Kevin Weil was appointed in October 2014, and his leadership has seen a significant shift in momentum for Twitter products. Whereas once there were long delays in testing before rolling out, Weil appears to have streamlined the process – this is evident in the array of changes we’ve witnessed, from new advertising options to improved embedding options in order to spread the reach of the platform’s properties. While every platform change is approached with some scepticism – every platform has its traditionalists, overly protective of their cherished user-experience – most of these updates have been integrated and adopted well by the growing Twitter community. The latest move on this front was the recent unveiling of Twitter’s new home page for non-users, an attempt to entice more people to sign up and build its overall audience.
While these changes have gone well within the overall scheme of things, one concern stemming from the latest results is that the company will be under pressure to move even faster and seek more ways to monetize the platform. The last thing Twitter users want is to see it go the path of Facebook and start restricting reach in order to incentivize ad buy-up, but that’s invariably one element that could be considered. This is where the delicate balancing act has to be maintained – how do you incentivise new users, monetize the audience you already have, and at the same time, maintain harmony amongst your existing user-base? It’s a challenge facing every major platform, and one which is in stark view for Twitter today as it weathers the backlash resulting from its numbers.
Plenty to smile about
But it’s not all bad news. Twitter’s official report actually painted a fairly strong picture, with monthly active users up 18% and advertising revenue up 72% year-over-year. There’s little doubt the company is in a good position – it’s not as if people are turning away from the platform – it’s just not moving at the rate many (including Twitter itself) had hoped. But there’s a range of solid options coming up that may help the company turn the results in its favour very quickly. The recent growth of its new live-streaming company Periscope is a big positive, particularly the rate at which it’s increasing its market dominance over early-released rival Meerkat. The first element of Twitter’s deal with Google has been announced, with Promoted Tweets now available via Google’s Doubleclick ad platform. The Google deal, in itself, is loaded with potential and could see a significant boost in new users and user engagement, particularly if there’s an SEO value linked to tweets. There’s also the additional search functionality likely to be included as part of the partnership, and the subsequent ad options that would go along with that capability. Twitter’s overall picture looks good, despite this tremor in investor confidence. But tremors can cause lasting impacts, and it will be interesting to see what happens next.
The next battleground
One of the biggest user concerns stemming from unsteady results is the fear that the platforms will change, and the service they know and love will be impacted. Twitter is acutely aware of this, and over time they’ve shown their understanding of the value of user-experience by not making large scale changes and not balancing too far in favour of ad dollars or new users. An imperative on every listed company is the need to increase revenue, a need which always puts pressure on the way things are. But social media networks know that users can and will migrate, attention is the true currency of the social media industry. As such, I wouldn’t expect to see massive changes in user-experience, though I am looking forward to seeing what new products and options come about in the coming months – particularly as a result of the new deal with Google. One of the next big battlegrounds will be social search, an area Facebook is already pushing into with the refinement of Graph Search. The Twitter/Google partnership is likely to be their biggest competition on this front, and as social search becomes more important, as people look to validate more of their search queries via their social graphs and groups, the competition in that sector is will become significantly more intense. I, for one, am pretty interested to see where it goes.
I wrote a piece recently questioning whether the rise of social media has been a positive or negative for our overall levels of political engagement. The idea for that post came from the general level of ambivalence to a recent election in my home state, and how that same sense of lessened political impact seemed to be pervading through social networks and online conversations. The question, really, was about whether giving the audience more specific control over their news inputs would mean we they would actively tune-out content that was of little interest, and whether political news would suffer as a result.
My findings in that investigation were that social media is not necessarily lessening political engagement, but that political parties do need to consider where and how the audience is interacting in order to keep them engaged and maximise the potential of their messaging. In large part, it seems many political organisations have not advanced their communications and outreach strategies in-line with the social media communications shift, and as such, they’re not reaching their audiences as effectively – a concern that will exacerbate as the next generation of digital natives move into more politically and socially aware phases of their lives. Failing to reach them on the platforms where they are most active will lead to political failure – the numbers do indicate that political campaigns that had received traction in social media were significantly more impactful and ensured wider awareness of local political issues.
In order to extend this further, I decided to investigate political and news engagement based on Google search trends – the news stories people are seeking to learn more about via online search. While not definitive, Google search patterns can provide a indicative measure of the public ‘pulse’, the issues of most relevance to any given region. By looking at what we’re searching for, I hoped to get an idea of what issues were gaining the traction amongst Australian internet users and build an understanding of what that means for how we communicate and engage with digitally savvy audiences. What I found was both obvious and enlightening, in equal measure.
What People Want to Know
To start with, I wanted to get an idea of internet news trends, of the stories have gained the most traction over time. My suspicion was that by looking through the most popular Google searches, year-on-year, I’d find that we are, indeed, far less politically engaged or news driven overall, as I suspected the charts would be increasingly filled with searches for Justin Bieber and One Direction as time went on. That wasn’t the case – the above chart looks at the most popular Google queries globally. I shaded each topic in a colour – blue for tech, pink for entertainment, orange for news and current affairs and green for sport. As you can see, if anything, people are searching for news content more than ever in the last few years, which suggests the interest in news and current affairs is still strong, or at least on par with gossip and entertainment.
What I also found interesting was that tech queries on Google went way up in the mid-to-late 2000’s, dominating search in 2006-07, but have died down since. Now, given the growth of social media since then, I don’t think this suggests people have become any less engaged in tech – I think it’s more likely that this exemplifies a change in search behaviour. These days, you’re much less likely to go to Google to search for ‘Facebook’ because everyone knows where to find it. Everyone accesses it through apps or links – social media and apps are definitely more prevalent now than they were in 2007, but the way we come to them has changed. That behavioural shift is indicative of the larger trend of how search is being used – it’s hard to say people are searching for news content more frequently in 2014, despite these numbers, because the way people come across news content online has totally changed.
In any event, looking at global trends only forms part of the overall picture – news stories that are relevant to people in Australia might be totally irrelevant on a global scale. Breaking down the search to a regional level would provide more indicative insight into how politically engaged Australians are.
First, I looked up the trending Google searches for Australia over the last four years. What was most interesting about this is how few local news stories made the cut – the mentions of ‘RFS’ and ‘AEC’ in 2013 are related to bushfires and elections, and the mention of ‘MyGov’ in 2014 is news related, but the rest is dominated by entertainment. This suggests that maybe we’re not seeking more information on important local issues, but then maybe, I thought, generic search is probably not the most indicative measure of news engagement. I switched the analysis to searches conducted in Google News instead – the news stories Australians have been seeking more information on in that same time period.
Again, not much local content in that list – I highlighted the local stories specifically to better exemplify the data. As you can see, we searched for ‘Julia Gillard’ and ‘Qantas’ in 2011, ‘Mysogynist’ is related to Gillard also in 2012, and we have the ‘Melbourne earthquake’, but outside of that it’s all world news. The most searched for news content by Australians is rarely even about Australia – which is concerning, considering the impact local news issues have on our day-to-day lives. The question is, are we paying more attention to global news to the detriment of local issues?
The Currency of Clicks
Here’s the thing: there’s been much angst in recent times about the negative affect online media is having on journalism, and the quality of journalism in general. Just recently, Edelman published a study on modern media consumption and part of their findings were that 75% of journalists now feel more pressure to think about their story’s potential to get shared on social platforms. Whether you like it or not, the media economy is now driven by the currency of clicks – the website that gets more traffic, makes more money, and those signals, the stories that are generating clicks, are now being used to decide what stories get covered and what gets more attention. You see this every night in the evening news, there’s far more entertainment and gossip type stories making it into the news feed because that’s the content that’s generating clicks online. News outlets want to provide the audiences with what they want, therefore more of this content, of arguably lesser news-relevance, is being reported.
In considering this, and looking at the Google search data, what I think we’re seeing is the effect of a more connected global community. Social networks have provided us with unprecedented access to the global conversation – just last week, I tuned in and watched a building fire in Brooklyn being streamed live via Periscope. The connection is immediate, we’re more connected to the wider world than ever before, but as a result, our attention may be being dominated by global stories, while local issues fade into the background. To clarify this further, I sought to match up Australia’s news search habits with those of other nations to see whether we, as a smaller news nation, are seeing less local content than others.
A Question of Relevance
Using Google Trends, I looked up the most searched terms in Google News – Australia for the past 6 years. As you can see, the local issues (pink) were still not largely prevalent, with world news dominating in 2014.
I then compared that to the US:
Local news searches in pink.
Now, it makes sense, to a degree, that there would be more local news stories searched in the US, as many of these stories are of international relevance. But have a look at the political discussion in America. Politics features prominently, a lot more prominently than it does in the Australian topics.
In the UK, political issues also feature, though their news searches are dominated by sport, particularly in the latter years. But even when it is sport, that’s still local discussion, something largely absent from Australia’s news searches. For comparison, I charted the mentions of local news from each region:
Comparatively, the volume of local news searches in Australia is well down on the US and UK, especially when you add-in local sport as an extension of local news content. What this suggests is that we are, in fact, becoming more global in our approach to news – which is undoubtedly a good thing, greater global awareness leads to increased understanding overall. But our newfound connectedness with the global conversation may mean we’re becoming less engaged with the not-so-shiny, less attractive, more boring local news content. But those local issues need our attention and interest.
Relevance vs Popularity
So let’s say this is indicative, that we’re losing the local audience on the news and current affairs issues of significant relevance to them and their day-to-day lives. What then? What can we do to address the regional news attention deficit? The stories that people are clicking on and searching for are the ones they’re interested in, that engage them, so how can we make local politics or societal concerns more popular? This is a question that all political groups need to be considering – in no way should issues be made more divisive or sexy through artificial means, but there is a legitimate concern that local issues are going to receive less and less attention over time, and that’s incredibly bad news for the advancement and improvement of our immediate surroundings. Political groups need to be working to integrate social media and social media communications into their overall mix, into reaching their audiences where they increasingly are. Many are doing this, there’s a whole range of politicians who are actively engaged on social platforms, but there’s a definitive need for politicians to be using social media to connect with their audiences and increase awareness of issues. If the public loses interest in politics, we lose in general – we need our elected officials and leaders to be representing the views and interests of the wider community, and to be relating their messages back to the people in the methods and means they are most engaging with.
While only one part of the puzzle, the Google trends shown here indicate local news engagement is slipping. There’s no definitive answer as to how to combat this, but it’s a question all communicators should be considering – if global news items are dominating attention, how do we tell stories that raise attention and awareness among our audiences? How do we ensure important local issues remain at the height of public interest?