Google’s own social endeavours with Google+ might be more successful than most have initially speculated

By Andreas Pouros | 07 Apr 2012

….Google and Facebook will both be front and centre in 'social search'. So it won't be enough for sites to simply be relevant. They will also need to demonstrate qualities that attract social validation and promotion

For Greenlight's first annual Search and Social Survey 2011/2012, we asked 500 people from all over the world - students, law enforcement professionals, medical staff, accountants, lawyers, the unemployed, and everyone in between, how they engage with online advertising, search engines, and social networks, in the hope that we could gain some insight into how people engage with us as marketers today, and also help us formulate some views on what the future might hold.

Greenlight's research revealed 5% would 'definitely' use a future Facebook search engine if the firm were to launch one to rival Google's*. The other extreme, those categorically saying that they simply would not use a future Facebook search engine, totalled 26% of all respondents. Those responding in the 'Definitely' and 'Probably' camps totalled 17%. Those responding 'No' and 'Probably not', totalled 48%.

These stats therefore suggest Facebook could capture around 22% of the global search market by simply launching its own search engine tomorrow morning (the 'Definitely', 'Probably', and half of the 'Don't know' respondents combined). It wouldn't need to be a spectacular engine either, just well integrated into the Facebook experience and generally competent. This 22% market share would make Facebook the second most utilised search engine in every major market except for China, Japan, and Russia, where it would occupy an uncontested third place.

Fig 1 - If Facebook incorporated its own search engine, would you use it over your preferred search engine?

Source: Greenlight

On the flip side, we found that Google's own social endeavours with Google+ might be more successful than most have initially speculated. We found, for instance, that 23% of Google users have been +1'ing listings in Google's search results, giving Google lots of data about what people like. If you compare this to the 35% of users that we found routinely 'like' a brand or company on Facebook, then that's not significantly more than Google's social signal collection, particularly as we found that 28% of respondents had no idea what '+1' actually meant, which will invariably decrease rapidly over time.

So, you need to be encouraging +1's in Google, as it isn't something that might be important in the future - it already is! It affects your natural search rankings and will have an increasing impact over time across every Google product you utilise - AdWords, price comparison, Shopping, YouTube, etc., and Facebook could be a major search engine overnight, and so your brands performance on Facebook today (likes, visits, etc) will likely have a decisive impact on how well exposed you are on that new search engine.
Fig 2 - How regularly do you'+1' something in Google's search results

Source: Greenlight

Essentially, Google and Facebook will both be front and centre in 'social search' and so it won't be enough for your sites to simply be relevant, you'll also need to demonstrate qualities that attract social validation and promotion.

As an advertising professional, I'm squarely in the David Ogilvy camp, intent on ensuring that research is central to the advertising process. In his words:  "Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals."

 To quote Ogilvy once more,

"You now have to decide what 'image' you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place."

Ogilvy would have achieved great results in this brave new world of social search.

*Facebook already integrates Bing into its search function, but it is a buried option in the navigational side-bar post query, so this really does not constitute its own search engine by any real definition.