How the Lines Between Search and Social Will Blur in 2012

Search and Social Lines Blurred

On Sunday, I will be delivering a mini-keynote (is 30 minutes a keynote?) at the Driving Sales Executive Summit at the Bellagio in Las Vegas for TK Carsites. The topic is “Search and Social in 2012” and I am quickly realizing while I’m putting it together that fitting the topic into a 30 minute speech reminds me of Matthew 19:24:

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

At Driving Sales, it will be easier for me to read Moby Dick to the audience in 30 minutes than it will be to break the surface of the topic selected in the same amount of time.

Search is Getting Social

For the last 3 years, Google and Bing have been working furiously behind the scenes and in public to integrate social media into their search algorithms. It’s one thing to index Tweets and note when people like something on Facebook in the search results. It’s another thing altogether to work the signals associated with social media into the search algorithms in ways that will enhance the pages as well as improve the rankings.

In 2012, Google will certainly get it done and Bing will most likely do the same. The veil over social media is starting to become transparent for the search engines as they work towards the ultimate goal of having search results that coincide properly with the two variations: real-time and authoritative.

When someone does a search for a “Steve Jobs”, they will most likely be searching for different things depending on current events. Today, with Steve Jobs passing away just a couple of days ago, people are searching for updates, reactions, tributes, quotes, history – the list of possibilities is huge. Search engines have traditionally looked at onsite and offsite indicators to determine how authoritative and relevant a web page is on a given topic, but today’s searchers are more sophisticated.

How do search engines know when to stop showing tribute articles at the top and to start showing Wikipedia or other resource sites higher up on the page? In the future, the buzz will slow down and people searching for “Steve Jobs” will be looking for information about him and his career rather than current events.

This is where social media steps in. There is no algorithmic way to set a time limit on news versus resources – some news lasts longer than others. Social media is the batch of signals that search engines need to have an understanding about when topics are no longer newsworthy and when permanent, authoritative resources should rise.

Google is clearly going “all in” on social media by integrating Google+ with, well, everything. From Google Places to buttons on websites, Google+ (the social network) and Google +1 (the button) are merging with each other and with everything else under the Google sun. Bing’s partnerships with Facebook and Twitter make it to where they don’t have to create their own network, but expect the integrations to continue to expand in 2012.

We’ll look more into what all this means shortly, but first…

Social (specifically Facebook) will Enter the Search Arena

It has been speculated for some time but there have been roadblocks that have kept Facebook from entering into the search engine field. Those roadblocks are:

  • Identity – For Facebook to become a valid search engine, they will not want to “become” a search engine. They are attempting to redefine what search is and play on their unique strengths to encourage people to get their knowledge through Facebook rather than through Google.
  • Google+ – They saw it coming, but it still blindsided them a bit. Google’s new social network is taking off and hitting Facebook on its own turf. While they want to focus on expanding their services, they are tied up with making sure that their core service, social networking, remains at the top of the food chain.
  • MySQL – The original architecture of the site was not built for the bulk they’ve achieved. In many ways, they are building on an original structure by fortifying it here and rebuilding it there in bits and pieces rather than scrap it all and start over; they’re beyond the point of no return on that front.
  • Crossroads – The company is at an extremely delicate period of their existence with expectations set for the company to go public next year. If they get into search and fail, it will hurt them in the short term. If they don’t get into search at all, it will hurt them in the long term. Timing is crucial and they are in a strange position of having to go full-force in one direction or the other.

It’s in the last roadblock that we have to make a prediction. As most analysts, advisers, and their own egos will dictate, Facebook will become a search competitor in early 2012. The only question that really remains is in how they will keep their stronghold secure in social networking and still engage on a multi-front war with Google (as well as partially alienate Microsoft, who owns a piece of the company).

The Bold Prediction of the day would be that Facebook integrates completely with Bing, possibly even buying it outright with an increased stake in the company given to Microsoft. For Microsoft’s part, they would welcome a deal that was lucrative enough. Bing has not been as successful as they’d hoped and powering Yahoo! search has not yielded the expected returns. They have a core competency in software that they hope to capitalize upon through mobile devices while maintaining their share of the PC software market.

Facebook has a better chance of making Bing a true Google competitor than Microsoft does.

What it All Means

From a business perspective, we could post an eBook on the subject and what companies need to do to prepare for the upcoming changes. The key point is this: your search and social strategies must consolidate. The way that we handle search and social today is not nimble enough to keep up with what’s coming. As search integrates social and social enters into search, the best unified strategies will be the ones that produce the best fruits.

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  1. It’s definitely a big topic JD. Good luck squeezing it in to 30 min. You are right about “the veil lifting”, the question is whether the users/consumer will tolerate what’s behind the veil? My thought is that the masses are basically apathetic regarding this… unfortunately.

    I appreciate the scripture. I wrote (and recorded) a song called “new kind of me” that has this line derived from the same source,

    “Look at you, saving your pennies for the rainier days
    And if the ground stays dry until the day we die
    What of that, what’d we get?
    And it’s true, you know some paupers wear a crown on their heart
    And the eye of the needle’s so hard to fit myself through, how about you… what of you”?

    Good luck in your keynote… hope it goes over better than my album did! -Wont be hard šŸ™‚

  2. I like your bold prediction – but I wonder whether search & social have enough to do with each other to warrant that much “blend.” I think the power of social networks is the concept of being able to crowd-source solutions; whereas the power of a search engine is to reach some sort of agreed-upon “best.” (and by agreed-upon, I’m implying that Google’s algo’s take in to account the whole picture of web traffic & indicators to show the “definitive” answers)

    I definitely agree that social activities and “search/site” activities will need to become more unified, as well as your other theory: That it’ll take a lot longer than 30 minutes to dial this topic home. Good luck w/ your preso.

  3. Well search is getting social and social search is helping alot to people. Social Media is playing very important role these days.

  4. Thanks JD for the kind words you wrote about Wajam on Twitter, “@Wajam I love it. Personalization is the key to the future of search and social and they converge in 2012.”

    Bold prediction indeed, but one that makes total sense. It’s going to be an interesting year where we see search and social converge.

    Alain Wong
    Community Manager at Wajam