Digital Insider: Social search will change the way brands use search

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With the Microsoft and Google partnerships with Facebook and Twitter official, search is on its way to becoming the new kind of search engine that Bing promised during its launch.

Under the terms of the new partnerships, the search engine giants Google and Microsoft will integrate real time feeds of Facebook and Twitter updates into search engine results. This will change the user experience for natural search, since consumer-generated content will now rank alongside corporate Web sites and news sites.

The idea is to make the search experience better. “We believe people are either looking for this type of content or will be pleasantly surprised to discover something new, and our implementation is designed to have a positive effect on the search experience,” said Melissa Powell at Microsoft spokesperson in a blog post sent to DMNews via e-mail.

For brands, this means that their brand image in social media is more important than ever. If a consumer does a search for a brand, they will get not only the brand's corporate Web site, but also social media feeds. For example, if you search Skittles, you will not only land on Skittles.com; you will also find tweets about Skittles. This could be an issue, since last year Skittles ran a Twitter campaign that backfired and had people tweeting negative things about the brand.

“It is likely that if brands have had some kind of backlash, those updates from consumers are already starting to be indexed by the engine and some of them could have some staying power if a lot of people are talking about them,” said David Berkowitz, senior director of emerging media & innovation at digital agency 360i.

One of the big challenges with this new search model is including the latest news, versus the latest tweet and the authenticity of the source. The issue for the search engine is to determine which has more relevance, The New York Times or a commentator on a blog. “The biggest challenge is discovering the authority, and with real time results it is a much more open,” said Berkowitz. “During the Iran election, there were Iranians that not many people had heard of before tweeting about the situation and they resonated very quickly. They were relevant for examples about the Iran election, but they may not be as useful if they were tweeting on American sports.”

In addition to affecting natural search, this new approach to indexing social media content in a search engine will also affect paid search. “Ultimately it will create more inventory, which will give advertisers increased and thus more flexible pricing and selection about where/how they want their ads to run,” said Shar VanBoskirk, VP & principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Marketers also will have to keep up with real time events even quicker to help take advantage of their ads. “The burden on marketers is about keeping ads up to date,” said Steve Baldwin, editor-in-chief at Didit.com, a search engine marketing company. “The same way that the expectations of search engines have changed-- where we expect search the latest information-- that expectation will eventually happen for paid search ads.”
 
“People will not only expect to see that you have brand of tennis shoes, but they want to know if you have the brand of tennis shoes on sale during the next hour and that you have only three pairs left in stock,” added Baldwin.



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