Search, Share, Buy, Find: Convergence in Search and Social Functionality

Tech magazine WIRED’s David Pierce recently authored an article titled It’s Official: Everyone Has The Same Plan For Tech’s Future in which he perceptively pinpointed a trend where big tech companies are seemingly converging on the production of very similar products. When referring to recent announcements made by Apple, he states:

Split-screen multitasking! Samsung did it. A smart, context-aware personal assistant! Google. Snap two full-screen windows! Microsoft. Natural-language search! Google and Microsoft. Pin tabs! Chrome. Music! Pick your favourite of a hundred streaming music apps. Powerful notes app! Transit directions! Rewards programs for mobile payments! A news reader! Old, old, old, and old.

Pierce’s claim is that the consumer tech companies of our time have begun to “want, and build, almost exactly the same things” and that through this we are reaching a kind of “perfect platform parity” where the same idea, stops being copycatting, and starts simply being right.

He has a point. While I believe we will see further innovation, there is a clear meeting in terms of what we are being offered by tech companies, the packaging and marketing may vary but the “new” functions are essentially the same.

Taking this into the digital marketing world, what I want to address here are some of the convergences that we have seen recently between search and social platforms in terms of what they offer their users. Let me be clear – what I don’t mean by this is Google search becoming social and vice versa, although here the introduction of Tweets in search results is interesting, what I am referring to are the functionalities found on social and search platforms and how they overlap. I address 3 specific functionalities: finding places, consuming news/content, and buying products.

1. Google’s Search Nearby and Facebook Place Tips

You’re at dinner with friends, you’re thinking where should we head next? Is there a cool new bar nearby? What do you do? With the introduction of Facebook’s Place Tips feature, you can open your Facebook app when you are out and about and “place tips may show up at the top of your News Feed”. Facebook will show you useful, and as it claims, fun information about the place you are at, “including posts from its Page, popular menu items and upcoming events”. This is fantastic, not only do I see reviews, likes, recent posts and so forth, it’s the relevancy of the places to me that grabs me.

However, a second option is to open your Google Maps App, search for a place or simply select your current location and then search nearby for the category you want – in this case, bars. What I like about this feature is the specificity, reviews are also readily available. Additionally, Google reported in May this year that “Near Me” searches have doubled this year. The question this raises for the digital marketer, assuming your client is for example a restaurant, bar, or store, is where are my customers discovering new places?

2. Facebook Instant Articles and Searching For News on Google

Getting your daily news through your Facebook feed has become a thing over the past few years, and so it was unsurprising when Facebook introduced their instant articles feature. This makes reading articles on your mobile faster and introduces a whole bunch of interactive features, changing the way people consume content on social media. This feature is especially targeted at media outlets, allowing them to “minimize content loading time” and giving them control over advertising revenue. With publishers like Buzzfeed, The New York Times, and the National Geographic on board, some of the biggest publishers are opting into this feature.

Your other option is to search for the news on Google, another popular way to consume news. In fact, I have often created news alerts that arrive tailored to my liking in my inbox every morning. You can also search for a particular publisher or simply search for a topic in the news section and filter on latest. While Facebook targets you with what may be relevant or engaging to you, Google allows you to quickly find stuff, but both are about how you consume news. Both instant articles and Google news have implications for content marketing strategies and how your content can reach your audience.

3. Buy it on Pinterest, Amazon, and Google Shopping

Last week I published an article addressing Google’s introduction of a Buy button on its mobile Google shopping results and the impact that this might have on mobile e-commerce. Here, I addressed Google’s expansion into the product search market and establishing a 3rd party marketplace within its platform, aligning it’s offering more closely with that of Amazon or Ebay.

Here again other platforms are joining the mix, of particular note here being social and visual discovery tool Pinterest, introducing a “buy” button to its Pins. Again here, pointing to an overall meeting of the functionalities on the platforms that we engage with  – allowing us to buy, search, share, find. I speculate briefly – when will we be able to buy products directly on the Facebook platform?

Convergence and Integrated Digital Marketing

Now before I hastily conclude that innovation is dead, or that search is social, which is neither mine nor Mr Pierce’s intention I am sure, can you believe Google is currently testing internet balloons in a huge freezer so as to work out how to “deliver internet services from enormous balloons floating in the stratosphere”? The point is not the incredible nature of this experiment, but that innovation by tech giants like Google continues and while I am claiming that we are currently meeting some points of convergence in search and social it does not mean that it is permanent but rather something to be aware of at this point in time.

What is important about all of this is that we realise that people will have their preferences. Some will search for places nearby, others will move to Facebook’s place tips, and some will buy on Amazon, others on Google Shopping, and others yet again on Pinterest. What this means is that it is more important than ever to have an integrated digital marketing strategy, it is not simply about advertising and marketing on Google or Facebook, if you are doing your marketing online you want a digital marketing expert not a specialist to cover all of your bases, to make sure that you are appearing where your customers are looking, and here is where it is important to understand in particular the current relationship and overlap between search and social.

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One Response

  1. Hi Maike. Excellent post! I agree (and think it’s easy to forget) that search and social have an interconnected relationship, whether through social acting as our discovery engines to then prompt searching or search engines using social signals to guide webpage rankings. So as Facebook and Google wrangle for market share and advertiser dollar dominance, it would make sense that their opportunities lie in keeping us within their walled gardens (buy button, instant articles, etc.) wherever possible.

    And wow, internet balloons? Who knew!

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