I just attended Citi's 21st Annual Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference in Phoenix, and a major topic among the financial analyst community is the potential impact of Facebook on Google and whether the social network will take share from the leading search engine or generate added search/query volume for it. A lot of this discussion has come up because of recent reported data points that show increasing participation and time spent on Facebook versus Google and other digital media. The tipping point came in August, when comScore reported that U.S. Internet users spent 41.1 million minutes on Facebook, surpassing Google’s 39.8 million minutes.
It is a great topic that requires further thinking for marketers as they plan their future digital marketing and media investments and priorities. From my perspective, both scenarios will prove true. Facebook participation will drive Google search volume, AND Facebook will offer an alternative to Google and the way customers find products and services going forward.
How Facebook will drive Google search volume
With over 1/2 billion users worldwide, Facebook has become a dominant Web property. Increasingly, it is the starting point for Internet users and where many spend most of their time. Everyday as part of the conversations taking place, Facebook users ask each other about and share detail on events, travel, pets, family issues and, of course, the brands/groups for which they are fans. Simply stated, as part of their social discourse, socializers are naturally talking about the things they buy and want to buy.
This upper funnel dialogue will lead to many Facebook users seeking more information on the products or services they consider and hence searching for more information. In this case, Facebook is and will be a query generator for Google/search engines as participants move down funnel towards making a purchase. It should be viewed as an integrated part of a brand's marketing mix and looked at within a holistic model contributing to engagement and acquisition with the rest of a brand’s investments.
How Facebook will take Google search volume
At the same time, Facebook is an alternative means to the same end provided by search engines: searching and learning about products and services people need and buy. Within our Facebook worlds, we have a closer circle of friends. If you will, these are our main influencers/confidants, and we do pay attention to what they post and support. These influencers may live in your city or be colleagues from around the country. There are many types of queries where pinging these friends becomes just as relevant as pinging an algorithm. In some instances, these could be highly local like finding out about restaurants, concerts and bike shops. Or they could be long distance like getting a list of 5 things to do on my next trip to Phoenix. These friend-driven finds could spur more direct transactions or reduce the number of search engine searches needed to make a decision. In this case, Facebook changes the definition of a search.
What to do about this duality
The growing presence of Facebook and the dominance of Google require marketers to understand and invest in both domains. Capturing digital demand requires it and, by doing so, you stand the best chance of finding the customers who want to find your business. In support of this approach, it is essential to conduct thorough attribution analysis to understand how searching influences social and vice versa for your brand and within your category. To be successful, marketers must gain an understanding of the way these worlds interplay and optimize their campaigns accordingly.