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The Buzz on Search and Social Signals: Building Informed Cross-Channel Strategies

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The consumer path to purchase has become much more complex, with various starts, stops, influences, and opinions along the way. Touchpoints in the buying process can span various channels, making it harder (yet more critical than ever) for marketers to make meaningful connections.

To see the full picture, marketers must leverage channels such as search, where there is stated intent, and social, where there is stated interest. Activating and integrating these channels is step one. Cultivating a sophisticated cross-channel strategy requires the same type of TLC gardeners use to tend their budding blossoms.

Like flowers, digital channels can thrive with a bit of attention, pruning and cross-pollination. Marketers need to be the bees of online advertising – swarming to the data of our campaigns, looking for signals that drive consumer activity, taking the standout signals from one channel and understanding how to apply those to another.

As a marketer who sits at the intersection of search and social, I have the benefit of seeing many of the world’s top brands realize the positive results of a well-informed cross channel strategy. Although search and social elicit different behaviors, they have a strong impact on one another. The exact nature of the impact depends on the marketer, the customer, the product, the vertical, the situation and many other variables, but marketers should be aware of some of the most consistent signals from these powerful channels.

Search Signals

The Query. What the searcher actually types into the search engine is a very clear window into intent. If I search for Black Rain Boots, it’s obvious that at this time I wouldn’t be interested in a pair of sandals or tennis shoes.

Branded vs. Non-branded Terms. Let’s go back to my rain boots example. If I search on a brand name, like Hunter Rain Boots, as opposed to a generic term, I have indicated a particular brand preference. What if I search for a specific product from a particular brand? The narrower my search becomes, the more it reflects my intent.

The Device. How a person searches can be just as telling as the query. Suppose I perform my Black Rain Boots query on my mobile phone as opposed to my laptop or desktop. This change in device often indicates more localized purpose. I may be out shopping and interested in trying on a pair right now, or a rain storm could trigger my immediate need.

Behavioral Data. Information collected through cookies can help marketers piece together a consumer's path to purchase and provide insights into a searcher’s actions. For a marketer, understanding that I searched for Black Rain Boots, clicked on a Product Listing Ad (PLA) for a particular brand, then two days later searched on that same brand name, is vital to optimization and valuation of actions. A customer's unique path to conversion can reveal telling insights, such as what messages he or she responds to on which devices and so much more.

Social Signals

Interests. In social advertising, the most readily available signals are based on a consumer’s social activities and declared interests. On Facebook, for example, a user’s personal profile information (such as age, gender, marital status), engagement with brand pages and stated Interests can be used to target specific audiences.

Likes, Re-tweets, and Comments (Oh my!). Earned media activity can be an excellent indicator of high performing messages for brands to amplify in market. It’s likely that organic posts with high engagement will produce similar results when amplified to the right audience.

Hashtags. Not only do these handy marks help us to see the hot topics of the day and what’s #trending; more importantly, they enable marketers to track specific topics and conversations that can be used to inform the activities of community managers and overall social content strategy.

Connections. It’s all about who you know. Your online connections are at the core of your social graph. Tapping into a fan, follower, or influencer network can exponentially grow a brand’s reach and exposure.

Let the Cross-Pollination Begin

Now, consider some examples of how signals from one channel can apply to the other:

Location Targeting. Since device type and local search can be compelling signals, find ways to harness this data in social. Set up local searches to trigger social promotions that offer discount coupons for in-store purchases. Tie together channel activity to create a closed-loop experience.

Retargeting. Here’s where that cookie data comes into play. Leverage user-level data to remarket to consumers across channels. For social, the Facebook Exchange (FBX) represents a great retargeting opportunity and can be improved by layering in intelligence from your SEM and PLA campaigns. Advanced technology platforms can drive dynamic ad creation based on demand and intent signals from search, to automatically create ads on Facebook for products that are performing best on Google.

Keyword Expansion. Identify the audiences performing well on social channels. Is there a pattern in Likes or interests that sparks inspiration to test some new paid search keywords? The same thing goes for hashtags; if an audience engages heavily on a specific topic, consider how that topic can be leveraged in ad copy or through new keywords.

Multi-touch Attribution. Purchase decisions typically aren't made in a single instant, but over the course of various stages and interactions with a brand or product. As marketers, our goal is to make an impact at each touchpoint in that process, so it’s crucial to understand location and role of each ad or keyword and how they relate to one another. For instance, you may find that some of your Facebook ads are not leading to an immediate conversion, but are playing a key role as an introducer or influencer. Be sure to give proper credit to each channel and each ad, updating budgets and bids accordingly.

Start by Tearing Down Silos

The biggest step towards finding signal synergy and optimization opportunities is to open up the channels of communications. It’s easy to get caught in a channel silo, as obstacles like separate team structures and varying platforms reduce cross-channel visibility.

Even if the search and social team sit apart, find a way to bring the data together and begin to grow your garden.


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