The Pond vs The Stream: The Difference Between Marketing on Search and Social

Fishing in a Stream

One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when comparing search engines and social media for their marketing is assuming that since many of the basic activities are the same that the same strategies will work on both. While a unified approach to managing campaigns on search and social is recommended, one must understand the distinctions in not only the platforms but also the mindset of the people using them.

The fishing analogy works well, here. I don’t believe in calling potential customers “fish” but for the sake of understanding, it’s easier that way for now.

The Similarities Between Search and Social

Zooey Deschanel Katy Perry

The fact that they’re both almost entirely defined by how the real world interacts with people online means that some similarities are clear. Both are used to:

  • Gather information and have questions answered
  • Learn more about companies and other people
  • Find alternative perspectives other than a company’s website

When we want a specific piece of information, search or social can be used. We might search for “Mustang vs Camaro Reviews” on Google, or we may go to Twitter and ask, “Which is better, Mustang or Camaro?”

We search for companies by name on search engines to find their blog, their social networks, and articles or press releases about the company. Conversely, we may visit that company’s Facebook page to see what they’re doing and how they’re communicating.

Reviews – the alternate perspective – are growing on both search and social. We trust our peers more than we trust advertisements or marketing pieces.

Those are the basic similarities. It’s easy to see why we recommend consistency in theme and message, but the differences in a person’s mindset when they use search or use social are often completely different. It’s like fishing in a pond versus fishing in a stream.

Search Engine Marketing – Fishing in a Stream

River Fishing

For most businesses, search engines contribute a large portion of the traffic to their websites (at least it should). Consumers go to the search engines to find stores, services, pricing, and inventory. They do so with a purpose – rarely do people do random searches in hopes of landing on something that interests them.

Like fishing in a stream, marketing on search engines is based upon location. As the fish go about their business traveling down the stream, a good fisherman will be positioned well along or in the river so that their bate is found. In many forms such as fly fishing, the bait as cast and brought back in constantly. You don’t normally keep your bait dangling in a single spot. Similarly, you don’t focus on a single keyword and accept it as the only traffic driver.

Social Media Marketing – Fishing in a Pond

Lake Fishing

Lakes are serene. They are confined. A good fishing pond does not see new fish coming into it naturally. Instead, they are born in the lake. New fish don’t find their way in unless humans put them there.

Social media acts in much the same manner. Your Facebook likes and Twitter followers are the fish in your lake. They can create more fish or we can add more fish to the lake. The bait is subtle and meant to attract. You cast it and wait patiently for it to attract attention (but not too much attention) and get a nibble or a bite.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the difference between search and social from a strategy perspective is a key. Those successful at both know when to get aggressive (search) and when to be patient (social). They know that in search, you find the spot where the fish are swimming. They know that in social, you bring more fish to your spot.

The differences are subtle, but as long as you can understand the mindset of people when they’re searching versus the mindset of people when they’re social networking, you have the opportunity to craft your messages and create your style appropriately.

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  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to help me. I spoke with Dave at SEO Seattle this morning on the phone and he was very friendly like you said. Dave told me that by adding search engine optimization to my seattle site he could get me to the number one spot on Google.

  2. Search Engine Marketing is powerful way to reach out to your prospective customers who are actively searching for products you offer by placing sponsor links on pages displaying results of keywords relevant to yoru business

  3. Search Engine Marketing is powerful way to reach out to your prospective customers who are actively searching for products you offer by placing sponsor links on pages displaying results of keywords relevant to yoru business.

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  5. interesting both search engines and social networks provide a large amount of traffic knowing that if things do personally use both and one of the things that I have alluded are more platforms videos and pay per click google though lately much has changed its policies.

    thanks for the support!

  6. That’s a unique way to put things. Going along with that analogy are more able to cast nets in social media than into search. Aye!?

  7. I love the analogy. Whether it be Search Engine Marketing or Social Media Marketing, going at either without a properly considered strategy is akin to going fishing without a rod… And there’s a whole lot of people and organisations who have already thrown in their line without one!

  8. I’ve had a lot of recent success marketing on social media sites

  9. fikb

    Great visuals!
    The parallel’s you draw are super close to right on the mark and I bet if you new a bit more about fishing you’d see them too.

    Their are an infinite number of “baits and lures” available for the would be search / social fishermen to use. Like my dad told me and I’ve passed along to my son “90% of the bait and lures you see are to attract the fisherman not the fish” To me this is why most fisherman are confounded when the come up empty trying to “catch a fish” or execute a successful campaign!

  10. Great analogy, JD! Knowing your audience and how they search and socialize can really help you craft a more targeted, successful marketing campaign. Thanks for the insight!

    Brittany Morse, Sprout Social