I asked a room full of marketers the other day, “do you have a search strategy” and as you’d expect, the answer was 100% yes. I then asked the same people “do you have a social search strategy”. Interestingly, over 90% said no and asked what it was. I’m not surprised by that answer; social search has been lurking around the periphery of digital marketing for the last few years.

Social search is search within a social media platform that generates results based on the behaviour and activity of other users. It provides users with up-to-the-minute content based on trending, relevant topics. Consumers can discover new brand content just by searching via hashtags and trending topics and businesses can now publish relevant and timely information, all within the newsfeed of a potential consumer, and at no extra cost.

But times are changing and lately we’ve started to see a more aggressive play for local search among big social media platforms, such as Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Considering what people want from search – advocacy from friends, reviews, recommendations, images etc it’s no surprise as these platforms have a vested interest in keeping users within their feed.

But what does this mean for brands and can social platforms really compete with the traditional search players such as Google and Bing? Let’s look at the recent improvements in search functionality from Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.


Snapchat has recently announced a revamp to the way users can search. ‘Search for Stories’ is a new functionality which enables users to browse through Our Stories (the public story arena of the platform), whereby, latest algorithms scan content, including captions, visual elements and time of the posting, to group stories by theme. This means Snapchat users can discover real-time content about a topic in a similar manner to how they consume Twitter content. And they don’t have to go to Google to search for the information. For more general social searches, content which pops up will be based on time and location of the search, again making it a far richer, personalised experience.

Facebook & Instagram

Facebook has encouraged its users to geotag their experiences to assist in indexing for local search; integrated Interactive maps to local search to enable accurate search results for business listings; and added suggested search terms to the search box and a business category indexing tool to help users discover relevant businesses.

Facebook is also transforming the Messenger platform to the style of Yellow Pages, where users can contact businesses directly from the platform without needing a phone number and is beta-testing the combination of social media data with local search results—a functionality which will enable its users to see locations where their social network has checked-in or posted so they can discover the opinion of their friends and family as they search for nearby businesses.

Facebook-owned Instagram too has also introduced ‘Story Search’, which enables users to search through stories labelled with specific hashtags, hashtag stickers and locations stickers.

This social search capability should push brands to think differently about consumer behaviour; to understand that subject matter is now a proxy for a search term. For example, if I were to type “Pizza” into Facebook search, it will surface brands and pages which I have liked, suggestions, photos, and friends’ posts etc. This content is retrieved through Facebook’s algorithm, determined by the data with which you and your social network browse and engage.

If I was to then visit a Pizza restaurant and interact with the location on Facebook — check-in or geotag a post — it will now be more immediately searchable amongst my social network. Users can therefore now gain relevant search results combined with their friends’ opinion; a truly powerful combination of brand referral and recognition.

To make the most of the increased opportunity for visibility within social media do three key things:

- Make sure that the published information that’s surfaced about your business is correct at every consumer interaction
- Ensure the information is rich and contains deep facts and attributes about the business from the location to the type of customer access, latest menu’s, reviews, promotions, dietary information, images, and videos
- Be in control and the single source of truth for all information and content published about your business, rather than rely on social media platforms or search engines for accuracy.

Social search can generate an enormous amount of natural traffic towards businesses. Businesses can capture and convert organic social traffic into customers—essentially a free form of SEO.


By Jon Buss, UK & Northern Europe managing director at Yext


Image: Christiaan Colen

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