Social’s Impact on Search – It’s All About Content

Consumers are sharing more online every day. In fact, Facebook data reveals consumers share four billion things a day and Mark Zuckerberg predicts that every year, consumers will share twice as much as the year before. From photos and videos, to status updates and recommendations, consumer-generated content is increasingly common and incredibly powerful.

Consumers now rely on their peers – friends, and even strangers – for recommendations and information on brands and the products or services they sell. As stated by Nielsen, 90 percent of consumers trust recommendations from their friends – 3 times more than that of online ads. In response to this shift in online behavior, search engine giants Google and Bing have updated their algorithms to now incorporate consumer-generated content into search engine result placement (SERP). What’s more, Google and Bing are now serving personalized results based on data aggregated from consumers’ social graphs.

Data shows that between 75 and 90 percent of the top 10 search results on any given SERP have at least one Facebook like or Twitter tweet. For brands looking to preserve or improve their rankings, social marketing initiatives will be a necessary element, as they influence and affect consumer behavior online. There are a number of different initiatives brands can launch in order to tap into the power of their consumers and improve their rankings.

Setting up and moderating Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages are the most obvious social marketing initiatives. Brands should create editorial calendars to keep content fresh and encourage consumers to create dialogues and share information.  Ongoing social referral programs are another initiative that enables brands to tap into their existing customer advocates to produce consumer-generated content, increase customer acquisition and sales.

While creating branded pages on social networks are important, social referral programs are one the most effective ways brands can influence what consumers are saying and increase their SERP.

Social referral programs, by nature, tap into consumers’ need and want to share information and content with their peers, resulting in consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketing. If brands can properly harness the power of C2C marketing, they can turn their existing customers into social advocates, creating a new, high-value marketing channel. This new channel can not only help brands foster consumer- generated content to increase their SERP, but also produce highly qualified new customers and sales, boost traffic and awareness and give them deep insight into customer behavior across their social graphs.

An effective social referral program starts with a brand’s existing customer advocate base. These are customers that have already raised their hands and become fans of the brand either by opting in or becoming fans or followers. By asking these advocates to refer their friends and incentivizing them to do so, brands can easily facilitate and track their online word of mouth (WOM) initiatives. Brands can invite their current customers to participate in their referral programs via e-newsletters or through their owned channels; corporate website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.  Tying in an incentive helps propel the referral programs reach, as current advocates will want to share the program and get rewarded, especially if their referred friends are rewarded too.

Once launched, a referral program should include easy-to-use share tools, allowing advocates to share the program with their friends based on their preferences. The social referrals from advocates are more effective, as the referrals come from trusted friends. This gives brands the unique opportunity to foster consumer conversations within the content areas of their social graphs vs. pushing messages out to their consumers. This also allows brand messages to be carried via advocates as consumer-generated content, which are weighted differently and heavier in terms of search engine algorithms and can improve a brand’s SERP.

Social referral programs are most effective when ran on an ongoing basis, thus resulting in customer advocates constantly referring and sharing brands with their friends, new customer acquisition and a continuance of consumer-generated content created around the brands. This content will continue to fuel and improve brands SERP.

The bottom line: social referral programs that drive consumer-generated content are a must have as social and search continue to converge.

This is a guest post by Angela Bandlow, VP of Marketing, Extole

Image: Angela Waye via Shutterstock