Social Media or Search Engine?

A search engine? Really?

We’re now over two decades into life with social media, so naturally, things have changed a lot since then!

What started out as an online forum used exclusively by Harvard College students who wanted to connect with each other: social media has since snowballed into multiple platforms with different focuses and different audiences – but all still with the number one goal of fostering human connection.

Although the likes of Facebook have arguably stayed in a timewarp with its ageing audience; over the years we’ve seen new platforms emerging quickly and dying out just as fast, whilst the rest of the main contenders scramble to stay relevant against their competitors. But the way that we are using social media platforms is a far cry from what we were doing 5, 10 or 20 years ago. In fact, the way consumers are using social seems to rapidly change every year.  

Yes, social media platforms are still used for human connection, but they are used for so much more now. And no, I’m not talking about immersive video (although I will talk about that shortly), I’m talking about how social media is a search engine!

Think about it, whenever you want to find information on a topic, you search it in Google (or go old school with a book…but that doesn’t work for my blog) but what consumers are doing along with their Google search, is typing those same keywords into the search bar of TikTok, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube.

What are they searching for though?

For ‘Researchers’ (like myself) and lovers of the beauty, fashion and the foodie world (also like me), we know just how important and useful social media is for the discovery of information about products and brands we’re looking to purchase. 

For example, If I was in a shop trying to choose between two new-to-market products; I would open TikTok and search for each of them and type ‘review’ after, so that I can see real-life testimonials and reviews from people who already have the product, which will influence the decision I make for purchase. 

On the other hand, I could be looking for inspiration for a new weeknight recipe, so I’d search #weeknightdinner on Instagram or TikTok, which would bring up lots of results for me to watch, and will show the ingredients I need to buy. If the content features a specific branded ingredient in the recipe, it can passively encourage the watcher to purchase that ingredient when they go to create the dish at home.

This is why working with micro and nano influencers is so good! Your brand can be tagged by the creator in their content, for a low cost, whilst increasing the chance of wider touch points for customers during their purchase journey – it’s not all about celebrity endorsements anymore – but you have to be willing to play the long game. 

And what’s with the big shift in social media use?

Once TikTok came on the scene, immersive video really took off, and led to people like myself adding phrases such as ‘scroll hole’ to their vocabulary (yes I really can pass 3 hours watching it without realising it). Due to TikTok’s rapidly growing audience, Instagram had to keep up with their video offering, and so introduced Reels – immersive video for users who (wrongly) think TikTok is still a dancing app… but you didn’t hear that from me. 

So now we have two huge social media platforms with a treasure trove of immersive video, and real people giving their real opinions and insights on products, brands and topics. With all that FREE knowledge, information and those trustworthy reviews at our fingertips, it’s no wonder that Gen-Z especially, are choosing to use social media as a search engine over Google.

Those Gen-Z searches (and Millennials ahem…) are made up of anything from questions ranging from how to use a branded product, or if it’s worth buying, all the way to looking for inspiration on food or fashion, and even to gaining more insight about a topic and learning a new skill.

So what?

So the next time you’re planning a social campaign, keep in mind HOW your audience is using the platform to seek information about your brand or type of product… and you might just be surprised!

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