Will Facebook’s “like” and “share” replace search and links?
It is clear from the recent spat of stats generated from Facebook and Google that a shift in online behavior from search to share has occured. No tectonic plates shifting yet but the trend is important enough for Google to refocus and introduce their Google Wave sharing tool to the public.
Will these trends solidify and shift “share engines” to the center of the customer mind re-orientating the buying cycle? Will search engines keep the pivotal role they have been playing since the beginning of the millennium?
Real life example:
My ski coach shared his summer workout routine on Facebook (top share engine). I did not understand some of the technical terms and Googled them. Then I went to Youtube (another share engine) to see a video demo of a specific workout to make sure I understood the exercise correctly.
In one video I could see the athlete using an exercise mat and push up stands. I did not have these at home (I have a treadmill and weight bells) and wanted to find their prices and availability.
Again went to Google, however the search results lead me to click to Amazon where I am a frequent buyer and familiar with their check out and return policy. I checked prices and compared products by reading the reviews.
As I work close to a Sports Authority store I also checked prices there during my lunch break. Because I wanted to start this workout ASAP, I bought there.
Instead, I could have gone back to Facebook and ask around. Maybe some of my friends would have steered me into buying a different product or confirm my choice.
Now I am starting this new workout session and asking my wife to film it. The idea is to post the video on Facebook and wait for my coach (and everybody else of course) to comment and advise.
Next enters my blog about ski racing: I certainly will write few words about how great this summer workout for skier is and add information about the products I bought. Quote my coach and link to his FB profile, link to YouTube and Flickr (if I have some fun images). Sprinkle with affiliate links and start sharing my blogpost on Tweeter and Facebook.
Even if this is a long and unusual buying and after-sale cycle, the point is that I started and ended it with a share engine. More to the point, it was a share engine that helped me uncover a need and inspired me to get the ball rolling. This is not an anecdotal tale. Everyday we are looking at web stats from clients and by using the right attribution model, we can see the invasive impact of share engines on conversion from travel products to retail.
So, what’s in it for digital marketing…
How can we, online marketers, help our clients map clear and effective strategies using “share engines” to reach their customers?
We already know the answer: It depends…
Definitely explore the option if you have diminishing returns in your search strategy and your client product or service can add value to a share engine.
Don’t shift too much marketing budget to the share engines if you have just scratched the surface of SEM and delved into the rich data Search reveals. Be hesitant if your customers would not naturally share the benefits of the products. Using Facebook as a PR outlet or customer support is a valid option. This is no perfunctory task. Plan to keep an eye on it 24/7.
Stay away from social interaction if customer forums and review sites are already crammed with rants against what you wish to sell. It will only add fuel to the fire. This uphill battle is better fought on controlled grounds like email marketing or PPC campaigns.
Is share the future of search? My prediction is that “share engines” will not replace search engines but are poised to take center stage in the customer buying cycle just because customers are open to “trusted” recommendations of products, companies or experiences. Adoption and usage of social tools continue to rise and one of the current big players is ready to breakthrough.
Google rose from geek cult to Main Street and Wall Street adoration because it offers highly targeted advertising based on a superior search algorithm.
This formula added value for both customers and merchants. However, if Google remains “slave to the algorithm” it could miss the mark and let another player create and dominate a new market place of social shopping.
Facebook is a top contender but its commercial formula needs further refinement. Trying to guess what’s on 400 million chatting minds without stumbling on privacy issues is no easy feat.
Youtube could transform itself into the Google share engine as soon as it perfectly understands what is on the uploaded video and what is on the mind of people watching it. The Google Android platform could also become the main feed of shared information. Video updates of how your day is unfolding could replace written posts on Facebook.
Twitter instant share engine is an interesting playground for now but I would not advise clients to advertise next to a wall of unrelated and unfiltered tweets.
Myspace seems off track, concentrating on the music industry. It could stage a come back, learning from others’ mistakes. Or will the new Alpha and Omega of the customer buying cycle have yet to appear and surprise us all…
What are your favorites?