Search and Social — Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

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When social media first became a meaningful marketing channel, the conventional wisdom was marketers should use their search data to inform social strategies. For example, a rainstorm might cause rain boot search queries to spike.

The thinking was marketers should then go beyond Google with ads for rain boots and employ a strategy of blanketing the Internet with ads for in demand products. The problem with this strategy is it lacks an understanding of Facebook’s true value as a marketing platform.

The psychology of each platform is critical to understanding the marketing opportunity. People go to Google when they already know what they want. People go to Facebook when they are bored. As such, on Google people are less open to being sold on a new product, but on Facebook people are in discovery mode and open to new ideas because they aren’t there with any pre-determined purpose.

Three years ago many retailers were skeptical Facebook could be a viable marketing channel because they said “people don’t have purchase intent like they do on Google.” It turns out that this is exactly why Facebook is so valuable – it is that very lack of intent that creates an opportunity to win over new customers.

In the rain boots example, marketers were looking to Google to tell them where the demand was – but this is inherently a reactive strategy. By the time search data tells marketers where the demand is, it is often already too late to take action.

Google is the last stop on the customer purchase journey. The question marketers should be asking – is where did that purchase intent come from in the first place? Marketers should be seeking the source of demand (aka Facebook), and going there as a starting point.

For example, when LivingSocial ran a campaign for a Bluetooth Shower Speaker on Facebook, it saw incredible demand for this product with far higher than normal click-through rates and conversion rates. They wanted to know if they just got lucky and tapped into demand for this product (maybe Oprah mentioned it on TV or something), or if the Facebook ads created the demand.

To determine this, they looked at Google Trends to determine search volume for the query “Bluetooth shower speaker” and found a precipitous spike in traffic (in blue) on exactly the same days the campaign ran on Facebook – (ad dollars spent in red). While this does not prove causation, it was clear this was no coincidence. Logic stated people were discovering this product on Facebook, and while many purchased on the spot, many more went off to Google to research the product, comparison shop, or perhaps were transitioning from mobile to desktop and trying to re-find the product. Whatever the reason, it was clear demand flows from Facebook to Google, not the other way around.

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There are certainly cases when search data is useful for informing social. Consider another example where “rain boots” is a highly profitable search term for a marketer yielding a 10:1 return on ad spend. If they try to invest more in their search campaign, that will not cause more people to search for rain boots, it will simply cost the marketer more to reach the same number of people.

But if they are finding they have a competitive advantage for rain boots on Google, the wise marketer would invest in a campaign to blanket Facebook with rain boots, which will in turn create more demand that will flow downstream to their successful Google campaign. Unlike the previous rain boot example where the marketer used a reactive strategy on Google to find pockets of demand, in this case the marketer is pro-actively looking to Google for pockets of efficiency and profitability, and using that to inform their strategy for creating demand on Facebook.

To put this in perspective, consider an analogy to apple farming. An apple farmer can harvest apples from her land year after year and will end up with roughly the same yield. Hiring more help to harvest apples does not yield more apples, it simply costs more per apple. If she wants more apples, she must plant more trees. Similarly, a marketer must think of Facebook and Google in the same way.

If a Google search campaign for rain boots is yielding a 10:1 return on ad spend (ROAS), spending additional dollars would quickly yield diminishing returns – as would hiring more help for a harvest. If the marketer wants more of the 10:1 return, she must invest in building demand as a farmer would plant more trees. This is where the marketer must turn to Facebook to create a campaign focused on rain boots, which will in turn drive downstream search volume to fill the top of the funnel for more 10:1 returns on Google. Even if the returns on Facebook are only 3:1, the marketer should measure the two channels in concert to understand the incremental lift in sales from the joint activity.

Clearly marketers can gain valuable insights by looking at product level data across both Facebook and Google. Sometimes the insights come from Google, sometimes from Facebook. But the key to understanding how to use those insights is to understand which way the river flows from demand to intent. I am suggesting the river flows from Facebook to Google, and that marketers would do well to architect their strategies accordingly.

Bob Buch is the CEO of Manifest.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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