Group Vice President, Client Services

The Growth of Social Media as a Search Engine

Speed, authenticity, community, and personalization. These are just a few of the reasons more and more customers are using their favorite social media platforms as search engines to find products, services, information, and local business recommendations. 

But what does this shift in behavior mean for brands aiming to optimize their digital marketing strategies? Advertisers can no longer ignore the growing social search opportunity. Below, we explore the significance of the social-media-as-search phenomenon and how you can continue to thrive in this new era of digital marketing.

Why Social Media has Evolved into a Search Engine

As consumer behavior evolves and AI booms, social media platforms are no longer just for connecting with friends. These apps have transformed into multifunctional hubs where users can discover, explore, and even make seamless in-app purchases.

Per Statista, the amount of internet users ages 18–64 who used social media to research purchases has grown 20% between 2019 and 2022. By contrast, the number of people who researched purchases on Google fell from 69% to 54% for the same group. That decline is a direct result of rapid growth by ad sellers such as TikTok, Amazon, Walmart, and Apple, as well as changing consumer feelings about search. 

1. Content Discovery: With highly curated algorithms for suggested posts based on user preference and behavior, users can easily stumble upon the most relevant content shared by friends, influencers, or brands. This makes social search a more spontaneous and engaging experience compared to traditional search.

2. Visual Search: Social media in general relies heavily on photos, videos, and aesthetics, but visuals-dependent Instagram and Pinterest make it easier for users to find visually appealing products and ideas, as well as previously difficult-to-identify items.

3. User-Generated Content: Social media is driven by user-generated content, which lends a sense of authenticity and diverse ideas and identities. Consumers also feel they can trust the information they get from comment sections, reviews, ISO (in search of) posts, and testimonials.

4. Mobile-First Mindset: More and more users are spending their online time on mobile. The convenience of staying in a single platform from search to transaction can’t be beat. Most social media apps now open up a product page or browser within the app, and many offer their own shopping pages for brands.

Generations, Researching

Social search is not just for Gen Z. Roughly a quarter of US millennials (ages 27 to 42) in a 2023 Jungle Scout survey started online product searches on TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook, and 34% did so on YouTube. Among Gen Xers (ages 43 to 58), 20% started on Facebook. However, younger users, specifically Generation Z (people born between 1996 and 2010), are turning to social media more frequently to “cut through the clutter of the internet” and quickly find answers for anything from where to eat or shop to what to wear or how to do something. 

According to a New York Times article on the topic, Gen Z feels a greater sense of trust in real people giving them the answers and inspiration they’re looking for. They also feel like social media delivers results faster — especially when it comes to niche topics. 

While TikTok may be the most popular social media app for search among Gen Z, overall Instagram is among the most popular apps when it comes to purchasing products. Daily, Gen Z spends the most time on YouTube (67%), followed by Instagram (65%), TikTok (58%), and Snapchat (55%), according to a 2022 Afterpay report.

What Does that Mean for Ad Spending?

Social media platforms have taken note of these trends and many are updating advertising capabilities so brands can keep up with this changing consumer behavior. Instagram rolled out its paid search ads in May 2023, and TikTok launched its Search Ads Toggle for brands in August 2023. Snapchat is testing sponsored links in chats with My AI, its chatbot.

Google still dominates search, with 77.5% of search in the United States and 83.5% globally. Despite this, Google and Meta will account for less than half of all digital ad spending in 2023 (48.7%) and 2024 (47.7%). This is down from 55.2% before the pandemic as more and more people of every generation spend more time on social media.

What Does this Mean for Your Brand’s Digital Strategy?

This is not to say you should ignore Google or other traditional search tactics (you should not!). However, leveraging social search can increase your brand’s reach and website traffic because social media is capturing attention spans and keeping users on their apps longer and longer.

That means a growing importance in optimizing your content for social media search algorithms. Here’s what we recommend:

1. Lean into short-form video content: Social media delivers bite-size content that gravitates users toward discovery and conversion. Video content typically performs better and increases engagement across social media, from Snapchat to Reels. Google even offers a short video result type, which YouTube Shorts as well as social media videos can show up in.   

2. Use keywords strategically: When a user enters a keyword into the search bar, ads will appear in the search results grid and or feed. Make these ads relevant to strategic keywords, ensuring your ad is delivering the personalized results social media users are after. On Pinterest and TikTok, you can even add “negative keywords” so that your ads will only appear in search results that align with their brand.

Rise Can Help

Optimizing your social media for search as part of your marketing strategy doesn’t have to be intimidating — and you don’t have to approach it alone. Rise’s proven Team + Technology approach combines deep industry expertise with the power of our proprietary technology and dedicated partnerships, to deliver next-level performance. Let us elevate your brand's social media presence to new heights of success as our strategy captures attention, engages your audience, and drives tangible results.  

Want to learn more about how to shop and sell on social media and across digital marketing? Reach out to Rise today!

01/03/2024 at 11:58