Social Search and the Rise of Consumer-Generated Content

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ADOTAS – With more than 1 billion searches a day on Google, it is no wonder marketers spend the majority of their search dollars there. In fact, in 2010, 97 percent of Google’s revenue came from search. Marketers know their consumers are using Google to search and are investing accordingly — however, the rules of the game are changing.

Consumers are sharing more online every day. Currently consumers share 4 billion things on Facebook, 200 million things on Twitter and 1 billion things on Google+ every day, and Mark Zuckerberg predicts that each year, consumers will share twice as much as the year before. In addition, consumers now turn to their peers, and even strangers, for recommendations and information on brands and the products or services they sell. As stated by Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from their friends and 70 percent of consumers trust opinions posted online. This massive shift in consumer behavior has been reflected in the new search engine algorithms rolled out by Google and Bing, and those algorithms now include consumer-generated content as one of the key factors in determining brands’ search engine result placement (SERP).

When we look at the evolution of search engine algorithms, we see that Google and Bing have been neck and neck when it comes to improving and updating their algorithms. Last year, Google’s Panda update reduced rankings for low-quality sites and improved rankings for high-quality sites (sites with content and information driven by consumers). Bing followed suit with its Tiger updates, improving the accuracy and relevancy of SERP. As consumer-generated content moves to the top of the search-engine food chain, brands’ SERP will change.

What’s more, Google and Bing are now serving personalized results based on the data aggregated from consumers’ social graphs. Google launched its new “Search PlusYour World” feature in January, which finds content that has been shared privately along with matches from the public web, giving consumers the option to search via their personal connections or the social web in a single search. The personal results are showcased at the top of the page and are based on consumers’ own behavior and their social connections, but only include content from Google+. This follows the Bing announcement last year that people searching on Bing will be served results that include information or “Likes” their friends have shared on Facebook.

For marketers looking at how they can stay on top of the SERP game, it is imperative they launch consumer-to-consumer (C2C) social marketing initiatives to drive consumer-generated content. If brands can properly harness the power of C2C marketing, they can
create a new, high-value marketing channel. This new channel can not only help brands foster consumer-generated content (such as updates, conversations, recommendations, photos, videos, Tweets, posts, shares or +1s) 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.

Consumers are more powerful than ever and can have an enormous effect on brands, which is why Google and Bing have updated their algorithms to include the content created by consumers. These changes make one thing abundantly clear for marketers: Consumer-generated content about their brand, products and services is not a “nice-to-have;” it’s an increasingly critical element of their marketing strategy. Marketers must implement C2C social media marketing initiatives that facilitate the creation and sharing of consumer-generated content about their brands in order to maintain their SERP.

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