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Social media searching on the web ‚ companies beware

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With Google’s integration of real-time social content in its searches, companies need to start paying careful attention to what is being said about them. This is according to DIANE CHARTON, managing director at Acceleration Media. She believes that this new functionality can work both for and against a company. If your company receives positive exposure on a social network, you can sit back as the news gets disseminated from customer to customer. If it is bad news, you need to act quickly and sort the problem out before the news spreads too far.

Following the addition of Google’s new capability to the Google South Africa search engine, this may turn out to be one of its most important search innovations: the option for users to search for real-time social media content from across the Web. With that move, two worlds that many online marketers still treat as separate environments suddenly converge into one space.

Google launched this feature internationally in late 2009, but it is now available to anyone who does a search on google.co.za.

Users can get live updates from social networking sites such as Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and FriendFeed, as well as headlines from the latest news reports and blog posts published when they do a search. Importantly, the new feature is also designed with mobile platforms such as iPhone and Android devices in mind.

The implications for South African marketers are profound. Suddenly, social media is integrated into search, one of the most basic features of the Web.

Changing behaviours

Google’s addition of the real-time search feature to its search engine is a tacit acknowledgement of the way that social media is starting to change the way that users search for and consume Web information. Consider the fact that the stats from Hitwise show that visits to Facebook eclipsed visits to Google in the US during March.

Users are increasingly seeing the social media space as their link to everything that matters on the Web. Twitter, blogs and Facebook drive massive amounts of traffic to news sites and other content providers.

Users are increasingly hungry for real-time information, as evidenced by the popularity of Twitter and other up-to-the-minute information sources. And what’s more, users are increasingly depending on their smart phones to stay linked to this information wherever they are. Against that backdrop, it makes sense for Google to offer its search engine users access to real-time information from social media sources.

With new threats and opportunities for marketers, this changing landscape is ripe with promise and peril. Savvy companies will be able to capitalise on the convergence of search and social media in all sorts of interesting ways. But that does depend on them having experience in tracking and optimising natural search results as well as managing social media.

For example, you can start looking at ways to drive search traffic to your Facebook page through search engine optimisation, or ways to track with and engage brand-relevant conversations that emerge in real-time search results.

But, on the other hand, integration of blog posts, social media and other real-time content into search results places marketers under far more pressure to respond to events quickly. You’ll feel like you have less control than ever about what is said about your brand.

If it’s good news for your brand, you’ll welcome the rapid dissemination of information from one of your customer’s social networks into the wider web.

But if it’s a complaint, criticism or untrue rumour, you’ll need to act quickly to respond to it before the multiplier effect takes hold. To track social media and take part in the conversation, companies will increasingly need to invest in dedicated resources and automated tools.

Closing words

Perhaps the most important thing to take from Google’s launch of real-time social media search is that the search engine giant has recognised the central importance of social media in the future of the Web. Marketers who haven’t yet included a social media component in their online marketing strategies need to sit up and pay attention because it’s a space that they ignore at their peril.

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