Our latest research report delves into The Future of Social, unveiling four defining themes shaping this ever-evolving landscape. This article explores the third theme, "People-Powered Search," and its implications for brands in the present.
“As search engines let them down, people are using social media in creative ways to help each other find information that they can’t get from a search bar."
In this moment of cataclysmic change to internet communication, Big Social and Google search are facing similar crises. Like other tech giants, Google prioritized ad revenue over user experience for years, leading to noticeable user dissatisfaction as the quality of search results deteriorated. Google’s market dominance meant it could afford to sacrifice functionality in favor of ad revenue without losing its user base — until recently, when users began to turn to social media platforms for answers instead.
Over the last few years, these social media workarounds have gradually but significantly cut into Google’s search traffic. Just two years ago, TikTok ended Google’s 15-year streak as the most popular web domain. Today, up to 40% of young people choose TikTok or Instagram over Google Maps for discovery. And as 30% of users redo searches by refining or extending their search queries, adding “Reddit” to the end of a search has become such a popular hack that the effects of Reddit’s blackout were discussed in an all-hands meeting at Google.
Clearly, social media platforms are stepping up as unexpected competitors in the search space, with TikTok aggressively adding new features to grab its share of search traffic and Pinterest gaining trust through its compassionate search and anti-misinformation efforts. The key strength of social media as a search tool lies in its capacity to address open-ended questions without straightforward answers, often driven by human interaction.
IMPLICATIONS + HOW TO TAKE ACTION
To adapt, brands must understand this shift, align their SEO strategies with the open-ended discovery users seek, and engage with creators and advocates to foster organic brand support. Ultimately, people are creatively using social media to help each other find information that search engines can't provide, forming online communities dedicated to addressing these needs.
- Proactively Listen + Learn: Employ social listening strategies to identify common questions and queries users ask about your brand. Understand the emotion and human need behind these problems before creating content to solve for it. Social listening and sentiment analysis can reveal your audience's unique motivations, emotions, and behaviors that you can leverage to inform your content and campaigns.
- Don’t Tell, Show: Users often turn to social for search because they are not looking for cold, hard facts but rather want to understand how things will look, sound or feel. For example, they don’t want to read a restaurant’s dress code as “smart casual”; they want to see in video or photos what recent diners wore so they can match the vibe. Use social media as a tool to provide the immersive information they’re looking for.
- Act as Curator: Borrow inspiration from subreddits like r/tipofmytongue or r/ifyoulikeblank to assemble a reliable community of loyalists, creators, and brand advocates who can tailor personalized suggestions for your audience. It's not about offering a single "correct" answer but customizing recommendations to meet specific desires or requirements. This is user-generated content 2.0.
For more on “People-Powered Search” and the other seismic shifts transforming The Future of Social, download the full report.