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’ve had an overwhelming response to some recent articles on Social Media Today looking at SEO and social media best practice and the future of Facebook. There’s been quite a few more visitors to this page because of it (alot more than I’d expected), and I’ve generally kept this page confined to my fiction writing work, but I’m looking to add more social media insights here as soon as possible.
Thanks for reading, will have more info on the ‘Social Media Content and Strategy’ page soon.
I was watching a clip from Russell Brand’s latest show recently. In the clip, Brand was criticising the way he is portrayed in the media, saying they regularly use blatant untruths or information clearly taken out of context. Brand gave an example of an interview he did with MTV, where the presenter asked him a generic question to finish off – ‘What advice would you give the pop stars of today?’ Being a generic question, Brand gave a joke answer – ‘They should all take heroin’. The Daily Mail, Brand says, then ran a story on this under the headline: ‘Brand Tells Justin Bieber to Take Heroin’. This is clearly a sensationalised and mis-interpreted summary of what he’d said, an inaccuracy designed to push up hits.
The sad fact of it is journalists are being forced, to some degree, to report in this way. Tabloid sensationalism has always existed, but the new emphasis on page click metrics means journalists need to do whatever they can to make readers to press that mouse button on the headline. The more sensational it is, the more clicks it’s gonna’ get, plain and simple (I have no doubt Brand knows this too, but was making the point for evocative purposes). In fact, journalism seems to be becoming more and more of a dot-to-dot puzzle of keywords, with journos weaving the story as best they can between the search terms to ensure they maximum ‘click value’, and thus, better advertiser spend.
This got me thinking about the future of journalism, and more importantly, journalist jobs. With all the focus on clicks and sensationalism, that model, at some point, loses it’s effect, right? It’s like when you watch an ad for a TV show and it says: ‘You won’t believe what happens next…’ Then you watch the show and nothing happens. At some point, those promos lose their effect because you know they’re over-selling it to suck viewers in. Surely that’s true for journalists and publications too – the publications that continue to do it will at some point wear down your trust and you’ll look elsewhere for more balanced or more realistic reporting. But traditional media providers, in particular, are been forced into this style of blatant sensationalism. They’re scrambling, doing whatever they can to keep your eyeballs with them as they battle against the rising power of social media platforms. And looking at the data, this is a battle they ultimately cannot win. Here’s why:
Your Local Newspaper is Dead Meat
I read an article the other day, published by TheNewspaperWorks, which trumpeted the ongoing strength of press publications in the real estate sector. The writer backs these claims with data showing a large number of property buyers still rely on press publications, saying:
‘…newspaper real estate sections remain a critical influence in the buying cycle…’
This information was not surprising – the average age of a home buyer is 30+, on a good wage, etc. The major threat to all newspapers is social media, and the vast majority of social media users are under 30 years old. Those two numbers alone, with no other research, correlate to the above data. What’s missing from the NewspaperWorks article is the comparative numbers – the article says the numbers are still strong, but it doesn’t discuss the trends and changes over time. If it did, you’d see that graph descending, showing that over time social media and online use is eating into all readership and advertising numbers. That number will only continue downward as the next generation of consumers, increasingly familiar with social media, continue to move into older demographic markets like real estate. It’s one thing to say the numbers are okay now, it’s another to say where they’ll be in five years time.
Local papers are becoming less relevant as people become more aligned with Twitter and Facebook. Most people get the local paper, flick through, see if there’s anyone they know, then put it down. The local press used to serve more of a purpose in regards to local classifieds and news and events postings, but people these days rely on Facebook groups for information or web searches to find local services. That drop in relevance is obviously resonating with advertisers, as Australian regional newspapers reported a 17.7% decrease in advertising spend in the last financial year. Couple this with the fact that Facebook recently flagged their next advertising target would be small businesses, and the future is looking exceedingly grim for your local paper, which is obviously a major issue for young journalists, many of whom get their career start via cadetships with suburban and regional publications.
The other factor that signals the end of local newspapers – people can now follow local identities and influencers on Twitter and Facebook and stay up to date on local news. Where they once had to wait for the local paper to be published to get an update on a story, readers can now get news and updates as fast, or faster, than the local journalists can. The relevance of that local paper in the information cycle drops with every person who joins a Facebook community group or clicks ‘follow’ on a relevant local influencer, and it’ll be almost impossible for those publications to remain viable businesses as the next generational of digital natives become the target market. There’s nothing you’ll be able to report to them they don’t already know. Within five to ten years, suburban and regional publications won’t exist in hardcopy form.
Metro publications will survive longer, but not a heap longer. The divisive move to paywalls won’t be the solution either – why would a people to access news and information they can obtain for free from their Twitter account? Twitter and Facebook also provide the users with more customisable options for the news they get, so they can not only stay as up to date as any newspaper can, but they can do so on specialised topics and not have to pay for the additional content they won’t read. Of course, the argument is that people will pay for quality content, which is true (and many niche titles have had varyng levels of success with payalls based on this model), but the newspaper is mostly news. How much of it is editorial content – or, more specifically, how much of it is editorial content that readers will pay for when they could just follow the relevant influencers and track the conversations on Twitter and Facebook and remain just as informed? Seems like a tough value proposition, and one that’s no doubt got tougher as mainstream publishers try to produce more click worthy content, what with the keywords and headlines, etc.
Pretty soon, you’re going to be telling your kids how you used to read the news on paper that you bought from the shops, the same way my Dad tells me about how they used to gather round the wireless in the days before TV.
The Generational Shift
Of course, this is nothing new, I’m not blowing anyone’s mind with some revelatory powers of predictive genius, anyone in the media sector is accutely aware of these issues. The issue people may be less aware of is how fast it’s happening. Obviously, the smartphone penetration rate is currently the biggest factor in the shift, and Australia has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world. According to data from Google, Australia’s penetration rate went from 37% in 2011 to 65% in 2013. That is a massive shift in an incredibly short space of time. While the major media corporations are definitely aware of this change, this data would suggest the death of the print newspaper is closer than many would think.
The biggest issue now facing traditional media producers is the generational shift. For the next generation of consumers, social media is already engrained in their day to day lives. It’s part of who they are. They live on Facebook and Twitter. They have no connection to a newspaper in physical form. As that generation comes through, it’ll be impossible to maintain the viability of print editions. But the change is also deeper than that. It’s not only affecting how they consume, but what they consume.
The next generation can choose the news they want see. They can follow whomever they want on Twitter for updates, get the news relevant to their interests, disseminate that with their friends on Facebook. It’s this that poses the biggest challenge for traditional media to capture. It used to be that they would tell us what the news of the day was, what was happening in the world, readers went to them for the info. But now readers can stay ahead of the curve, they can access all the information journalists can, just as fast. Now the media has to tailor their info to the readers in order to win readers with great content. It’s a significant shift in process and one many publications are struggling to combat – how do you stay relevant when you no longer control the information flow?
That’s not to say there’s no place for great journalism, there is and there always will be, but it’s getting harder for journalists to find a niche, an area they can own and make a career out of. The opportunities for journalists, in a traditional sense, are drying up and getting paid work will continue to be a challenge for all those in the field.
‘Branded Journalism’: The Future?
So what do you do? You’re a young journalist keen to get into the field, knowing you’re effectively chasing a dinosaur to ride. Will we lose great writers and insights because they need to get paid doing something else? Sure, there’s more opportunities to present your voice online, and it’s possible you could secure independent advertiser spend to fund that, but with so many voices and fewer central arbitrators, securing that sort of independence is going to remain a challenging proposal. One area that is interesting, that will undoubtedly grow as businesses push to best utilise social media platforms, is branded journalism.
It’s an element that remains key in the new media landscape – the power of storytelling. For a brand, being aware of the power of social media alone is not enough to ensure success. You can’t just fire up a Twitter account and whack on an Instagram profile and be down with the kids. Businesses need to produce shareable content. You want Facebook likes? You have to give people a reason to forward it on. You want re-tweets? People need to see the content and think ‘my followers would be keen to know this’. There has to be some substance to get ‘virality’ – it is one element that cannot be faked (or not entirely, though people continue to try). If businesses want to win in the social media landscape, they need to be active on social platforms, they need to produce engaging content that gets noticed, and they need to understand their online presence, what their target audience want to share. This was supported by a recent article by ShopSocially CEO Jai Rawat (here) in which used data from Searchmetrics to show the influence social media engagement now has on SEO. In the article, Rawat’s number one point to ensure content is more shareable and reaching it’s full engagement potential:
Great content. You know whose best placed to help businesses produce great content? Great writers.
The stories that get shared around the digital landscape are, above all, solid stories. Think about what was the last non-fiction story you re-tweeted (BuzzFeed lists don’t count). Why did you share it? What did it have that made you think your followers needed to see this? As noted on the graph above, people want to share interesting, funny and important things. Or they want to share what they’re doing, what they believe in. This is an area where businesses need engagement, they need real stories, real content that real people will read and share. Definitely, I can imagine some would instinctively recoil at the thought of their journalistic integrity being dictated by a brand affiliation, but there amazing opportunities for journalists and writers to help brands find authentic stories, real stories of people who benefit from their affiliation with the brand. Red Bull do great branded content, Under Armour does some great work – there are great brand stories to be told.
Brands that can provide engaging, interesting content to promote their products without pushing them in your face are the ones that will win the battle for social media dominance. Branded journalism will be one of the key factors in solidifying and strengthening brand image in the new media landscape, and ensuring ongoing success. The key to this will be the stories, making those links organic, making the brand a part of community discussion.
And maybe that need for stories, for intelligent, researched content, will help keep many fellow writers and journalists doing the work they love in the ever evolving media landscape.