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Search & Social Media: The Marketing Debate.

The author

Epiphany Search

Over the past few years, it’s become almost impossible to escape the influence of social media. Whether it be the rise to prominence of Facebook and Twitter, new ventures into the realm such as Google+ or the real world impact that these sites are having, social media is now a growing part of daily life which hasn’t gone unnoticed by marketers. Yet with Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) indicating that digital marketing spends are set to expand by 11.2% over the next three years, should this focus on social media necessarily lead it to be viewed as the cornerstone of these new campaigns?

The social trend

One only has to look at the amount of interest generated across industry sites by the release of Google+ to know that we, as marketers, are fascinated by social media. Every aspect of the service has been discussed in minute detail, even prior to its full release – and why not? It is, after all, set to become a part of the digital landscape in which we operate. On the surface, this interest equally seems to have been played out amongst the general public, with social media sites having been announced as the most popular destinations for UK internet users in January of this year. In a single month, Facebook and Twitter collectively registered 2.4 billion visits, accounting for 12.4% of total internet traffic. Certainly, no one today would doubt social media’s value as a digital channel and this seems to be reflected in the current budgets. In its ‘State of Digital Marketing’ report, Efficient Frontier recently reported that it expects to see Facebook advertising to have the strongest growth of any digital channel in the latter half of 2011, while CPCs on the site rose by 22% from Q1 indicating an increasingly competitive landscape fuelled by increased investment in social media. In contrast, the rate of growth for search has comparatively slowed since this time last year, falling from 17% to 8%.

The elephant in the room

So is this shift in spend a fair and logical development in light of the above figures? According to the latest annual survey of internet habits, the current focus and excitement over social media is perhaps threatening to draw marketers away from a substantial part of their online market. The annual Pew survey, looking at online habits in May 2011, certainly does point to the recent surge in social media usage. According to the survey, 65% of internet users have interacted with social sites at some point – undeniably a substantial number. However, in comparison with the 92% of respondents who have used search engines it perhaps pales in comparison. The survey equally makes it clear that search use is remarkably consistent and frequent across all demographics:

  • Search has remained the second most popular online activity, after email, since 2002.
  • 96% of people aged 18 to 29  use search engines online - a figure which only drops below 90% amongst those older than 65 (87%)
  • 59% of adults use search on a daily basis, with at least 50% of under 65s searching every day.

Despite the hype however, social media currently falls short in making such significant gains across all levels of society, with only 43% of adults using sites such as Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. Equally, usage substantially drops off in older age groups with only 50% of those over 50 having ever used social media of any sort. When it comes to planning new and future spends then, the implications should be relatively clear. Search continues to be the more effective means of reaching the majority of internet users for the time being. Of course this shouldn’t mean that investment in social channels should be seen as a waste. Indeed, daily usage of these sites has grown from a tiny 13% of users in 2008 and will undeniably continue to rise over the coming years. It is however a warning for those of us who just can’t help but get caught up in the latest social network or trend, that the newest and most exciting channels aren’t always the most effective. The figures don’t lie. Those who let social become too large a distraction at the expense of search, do so at their own peril. What are your thoughts? Please leave them below or on Twitter - @jhaleseo