Monday, September 28

Searching Over Socializing: People Online

Chitika, an online ad network, broke down more than 123 million impressions across a 60,000+ publisher network to determine that search engines remain the primary method for people to find information online. The study is signifiant given predictions that social networks — driven by friend referrals — would eventually replace search engines.

Search engines currently provide 97.82 percent of all referrals while social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Digg accounted for only .55 percent of all referrals. Of those, StumbleUpon (and not the more commonly talked about sites) captured more than half of those referrals.

Top Search Engine Referrals

Google — 76.13 percent
Yahoo — 7.34 percent
Bing — 5.2 percent
AOL — 1.24 percent
Ask — .84 percent

Top Social Network Referrals

StumbleUpon — (#6) .27 percent
Facebook — (#17) .06 percent
Digg — (#27) .04 percent
Bukisa — (#31) .04 percent
LuyenChong — (#39) .03 percent
Twitter — (#44) .02 percent

What It Means For Communication

Currently, most new entrants, especially public relations professionals, tend to favor recommending social networks for their clients' entrance into social media. Many of them do so because it is relatively easy to build a network of hundreds or thousands on these networks (assuming they know what they are doing).

Unfortunately, for many companies (not all companies), relying on social networks does not help the company increase its reach. Instead, social networks tend to build groups with varied degrees of engagement — weak when managed by anyone and stronger when managed by professionals or personalities that have an affinity for real time communication.

As it turns out, the expense is often at the consideration of a blog, which is much better suited for developing subject matter expertise and search engine dominance (especially over Web sites). Or, as often is the case, public relations professionals may be recommending the wrong social networks, making decisions based on media popularity as opposed to actual customer presence.

Social Media Development Consideration

Companies that are deciding how to develop social media programs are always better advised to be conducting research (quantified and qualified over Google alerts alone), determining what potential communication assets they may have, and setting clearly defined and measurable objectives. Not considering these steps could potentially derail a program or cause a company to invest resources in the wrong areas first.

For example, I have to give the Frontier Girl Scouts in-house marketing team props for discovering their scouts were much more inclined to engage on MySpace before launching any program. Facebook, where many would assume the girls participated, was much more used by volunteer leaders and funders. (Many experts I know would have assumed Facebook and Twitter were the best networks to engage.)

While the organization doesn't benefit from a blog (to capture secondary search terms and establish a better Web presence) that could help increase member recruitment, the objective is confined to sharing news for funders and leadership skills for volunteers. It's a better than average start.

Social Media Program Conclusion

While all social media programs are situational with no single solution being a catch all for all organizations, the Chitika study goes a long way in demonstrating why social media programs can benefit from blogs, which are best suited for search engines.

Social networks, on the other hand, cannot be dismissed. They tend to be best suited for community development driven by willing advocates (assuming the professionals handling the accounts aren't out friending everyone), unless there is another objective all together.

For example, my own purpose for Twitter is simply to stay connected with and communicate with colleagues within the communication field. Facebook is mostly personal. Linkedin is mostly professional. And so on. How about you?



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