Could Social Media Be the Google Killer?

Much discussion has been made of where the David to the Google Goliath will come from. The ongoing growth of social media may indicate that we should look beyond a Yahoo-Microsoft merger and other algorithmic-based search engines and explore the possibility of search becoming less important.

If people started using social media more, and advertisers thought they could get better results for their money in that arena, search engines would be impacted by the loss of income. Even if they just moved away from content search advertising, the loss of income for the big three would have a major effect.

Social media is becoming more popular. As Reuters reported this week in a review of Bill Tancer's book "Click: What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why It Matters," social media has surpassed porn in search queries. Porn searches have dropped by 50 percent in the past 10 years, when it used to represent 20 percent of all searches.

The millions of people who have signed up for various social media applications, such as Facebook apps, the millions who are using mobile connections to Twitter all reflect a shift in how people interact with the Web these days.

People are starting to move away from being satisfied with search results. They're starting to develop trust groups with social bookmarking tools and other community or social networks. If this behavior continues, we may see a change in the way the majority of people use the Web.

People like Patrick Sexton, who started concentrating on widgets and other non-search ways people participate online, may be the early adapters of this new Web.

As I mentioned in reply to Chris's article on SEO reporting last week, search rankings aren't as important as traffic. If social media has the traffic, then advertisers will follow.

Twitter has yet to monetize its popularity, and Facebook is just starting to play in the advertising space. YouTube and MySpace have gained traction and other social networks will follow in their footsteps.

There may not be a need for a new search engine to topple Google from the mountain top. The advertisers may just choose not to continue making the climb.

I make sure all my clients get involved with social media. It's hard to pass up the traffic, especially in an area that is growing so rapidly. And, if used properly, it can also improve your search positioning. Nothing like a double-edged sword!

Chris Boggs Fires Back

Frank, I don't think social media as an aggregate entity can ever be a Google killer, even from an advertising perspective, let alone from a traffic perspective. Don't get me wrong, I certainly look forward to the first time a client that we've worked with on the social media front can claim even a small percentage of the traffic that search delivers on a consistent basis. The question really comes down to how sustainable the traffic is, and how much true value it delivers.

As an advertising medium, there's much more opportunity for some verticals to benefit from social media than others. This footprint of beneficiaries from the medium will probably further diversify as adoption rates increase.

But as many social media communities have found out, there's a high likelihood for abandonment of testing in this arena by a number of top brands. As Wagner James Au pointed out in 2007: "To play in Second Life, corporations must first come to a humbling realization: in the context of the fantastic, their brands as they exist in the real world are boring, banal, and unimaginative."

This problem is true for many brands when it comes to social media. Until there's widespread adoption of social media platforms by the "right" target market, Google need not worry much about losing revenue. Besides, they'll probably buy up all the platforms with a decent chance of success, such as YouTube and others to come.

About the author

Frank Watson has been involved with the Web since it started. For the past five years, he headed SEM for FXCM -- at one time one of the top 25 spenders with AdWords. He has worked with most of the major analytics companies and pioneered the ability to tie online marketing with offline conversion.

He has now started his own marketing agency, Kangamurra Media. This new venture will keep him busy when he is not editing the Search Engine Watch forums, blogging at a number of authoritative sites, and developing some interesting online community sites.

He was one of the first 100 AdWords Professionals, a Yahoo and Overture Ambassador, and a member or mod of many of the industry forums. He is also on the Click Quality Council and has worked hard to diminish click fraud.