It’s an unfortunate question:
“Should we be spending money/time on search or social media?”
I’d like to answer that question with some data from recent surveys that address how consumers use search and social networks in terms of small and local businesses. And I’ll make the point that, since consumers use search and social so differently, the answer to that question is BOTH!
2012 Local Search Study
Here are the slides/data that stand out to me:
What kind of local business info do people SEARCH for?
(click for larger version)
When people search online for local business information, they want the basics — phone number, address and hours. Those three things are way above the other types of information they could need — website URL, directions, etc.
They’re also way above the social aspect, which is ratings and reviews. Search is primarily fact-based, not social/opinion-based.
How many people search on social network sites?
Not many. It’s a growing number, according to the Local Search Study, but as the image below shows, only 15 percent list social networks as either their first or second choice for searching local business info.
BTW, of that group, 91 percent say they use Facebook to find local business info, 37 percent use Twitter, 25 percent use LinkedIn and 14 percent use Foursquare.
So… very few people use social networks to search for local businesses, and many of the ones that do are using Facebook. They probably have “liked” their favorite local businesses, and search for their Pages on Facebook to see if there are any deals or specials, or to find their address/phone number quickly (as shown above on the first chart).
There was a Pew Research survey that recently made the same point: Very few consumers use social networks to search for local business information.
Why are so few searches done on social networks?
1. Because social networks are not search engines.
2. Because habits are hard to break. If you’re searching for something, you go to a search engine, not the water cooler.
3. Because social networks don’t typically offer the kind of info that people are searching for. Refer back to the first chart — people often want basic contact info. Twitter, for example, doesn’t specifically have profile fields for that. (My friend Gary at Mid-Columbia Insurance could add his phone/address in the main business description, though.)
Why is social media still important for small/local businesses?
Because … brace for it … search isn’t everything. There. I said it.
But search is mainly about discovery. After discovery, consumers want confirmation. And that’s where social comes in.
The Local Search Study showed how social networks influence consumer business decisions: 63 percent of those surveyed are more likely to use a local business if it’s visible on a social networking site. That number is down a bit from last year survey, but it’s still a big driver of consumer decision-making.
In the same study, 72 percent said they’re more likely to use a local business if one of their connections recommends it. The power of personal recommendation is strong, and that happens most successfully on social networks right now.
You could go to Google and search for “jewelry store,” for example, but sometimes you’d rather have the recommendations of friends that are not based on SEO, but on real-life experience.
I’m not suggesting local businesses have to throw all of their time and energy into social media. In fact, I’ve specifically suggested that Facebook and Twitter should not be your primary online asset. But I do think local businesses have to at least be visible and available on social networking sites — even if it’s just to reply to customers when they reach out.
So, to the original question — “Should we be spending money/time on search or social media?” — the correct answer is BOTH!
It’s not an either/or proposition. Search and social are so different that a successful online presence demands both.
(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)