The Relationship Between Social Media and Search

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social-media-searchComscore, in conjunction with social media agency m80, has released the findings of a new study on the relationship between search and social media.  The results are pretty interesting.

Actually, the results, as presented by Comscore, read a bit like a copy of War & Peace in original Russian–is there some mandate of which I am unaware that says all survey findings must be written in the impenetrable language of Legalese? My last leasing contract was easier to understand than this.  If you want to read the actual white paper, which is maybe even more dense than the press release, feel free.

The basic finding is this:  search and social media are connected.

I know.  It’s earth-shattering.  As the blogosphere goes into hyper-drive covering this groundbreaking reveal, I’m left wondering how they can possibly view this as news. I mean, was there a growing concern among Internet marketers that social media wasn’t having any impact on search?

Let’s look at what the press release says are some key findings:

  • Consumers exposed to a brand’s influenced social media and paid search are 2.8x more likely to search for that brand’s products.
  • Consumers exposed to branded social media are 2.4 times more likely to click on an organic listing.
  • There was a 50% CTR increase in paid search when consumers were exposed to both influenced social media and paid search.

I’m firmly cemented as the resident skeptic about such things here at ReelSeo, but just in case you need more evidence, I’m about to start asking questions again.

First… what counts as social media? This is not the first time I’ve asked this question regarding a widely accepted and reported set of study findings.  Is YouTube social media? Because it wasn’t last time–that time the study measured online video versus social media.  But a lot of folks in search marketing space agree that YouTube and other similar online video sharing sites ARE social media.. People who work full time in social media can’t agree on what counts as social media, but thankfully, Comscore has figured it all out.

Also, which social media sites in particular were measured?  Facebook?  Twitter?  How about MySpace?  Friendster?  A blog?  Digg?  Should I keep going?

It’s entirely possible that Comscore states all this somewhere, but there’s no link from the press release to any explanations, nor does the white paper mention exactly how the study defined social media.  If they explained it somewhere, and I missed it… mea culpa.  If they did not, then the entire study loses a bit of its luster. But even if it’s cited somewhere on their site, it’s likely they still had to hand pick a list of sites they were going to count as “social media,” and the odds are good I might wish to add to or subtract from that list.

How are brands supposed to know how to leverage bold claims like these if they don’t know which social sites to target?  What if it’s not social media in general that drives the search awareness higher… what if it’s specifically Facebook but not MySpace? Specifically Vimeo but not YouTube?  Specifically Twitter but not Tumblr?

Also, isn’t saying that “people exposed to branded social media efforts are more likely to click” pretty much the same thing as saying “people exposed to branding of any kind are more likely to click?”  I mean, have they done any studies on how much more likely I am to click on a company’s paid search ad after being exposed to their billboard on the interstate or their radio spot during my morning commute?

Don’t get me wrong.  I truly believe there’s a correlation between exposure to branded social media and search behaviors.  I just don’t feel compelled to water it all down to some blanket statement, and I’m not sure why Comscore does. I’m honestly surprised there needed to be a study.

I also can’t help but wonder what other branding efforts might have impacted those click numbers.  For instance, if I’ve seen Sony’s Facebook page, but then also have seen some great Sony TV commercials lately, along with a magazine ad in Rolling Stone.  How does Comscore know what branding exposure carries the most weight? Was it the Facebook page or the magazine ad that made me click?

Also, there doesn’t appear to be much time spent on the topic of conversions.  I can tell you from experience that there are all kinds of people who click on search ads.  Quite a high number of them don’t convert at all.  Any decent SEO or PPC professional will tell you that huge traffic numbers are only so valuable if they don’t translate to any higher conversion rates.  I mean, I definitely want my Google ads to be clicked on, but not just for the sake of it.  Remember when you used to see all kinds of articles about the massive waves of traffic that a first-page appearance on Digg would net you?  Then, a few months later, the articles were all talking about how Digg users bounce from sites quickly and aren’t actually valuable traffic because they don’t convert?  Traffic itself is only part of the goal.

Well, at this point I’ve either won you over or ticked you off.  I’m sorry in either case.

Maybe I should go back to the beginning of this post and simply write that “Comscore says social media marketing helps drive search clicks” and be done with it.  Do I think that is an interesting statement?  Yes.  Is there anything actionable in there?  No.  Not at all.  There’s a social aspect to almost every website and online service these days.  Pretty soon “social media” will just be a blanket term for “the Internet.”  Actually… come to think of it… that’s not so far off, now, is it?


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