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Social Search: The Promise & The Problems In The Way
One of the reasons people clamor for good social search is their pre-purchase desire to access user-generated reviews — information from people who know the product or service and can offer a useful opinion.
With Facebook graph search going live for all (using US English), we’ve learned a lot about how it works, and what it does. Still, a couple of big questions remain. Why do people need to spend more time searching for stuff, and how is that going to help marketers determine intent, awareness and desire?
Here’s a couple of good reasons why this is a positive development.
Equally Corrupted & Dense
The online review process for products and services was supposed to be the great equalizer, giving products and services a chance to compete on merit alone — but it’s entirely too easy to corrupt. Publishing a book? Don’t worry; all your buddies will leave positive reviews for you. Get a bad review on anything? No problemo; argue the review is a violation of terms of service – if you even have to go that far — and get it pulled.
Naturally, the “getting the review pulled” part is far easier when you throw a little ad money around, but we’ll leave that part of the equation out for the time being since it’s one of those dirty little secrets in the digital business no one likes to talk about.
Still, online reviews have done wonders for the world. They have opened our eyes to the plethora of amateurs offering their expertise about everything from crayons to fine wines. That leads us to the other little problem with user-generated reviews; the overwhelming need to filter through ten tons of crap to find something useful. Is it a good thing to turn every single purchase into a heavily considered one?
The online review process has delivered unto us a pile of clutter, riddled with editorial reviews from writers aspiring to produce the great American novel. People fill reviews with 1,600 word opinions about dish soap in desperate attempts for some level of acknowledgement or affirmation. In case you were wondering what 1,600 words looks like, it’s about twice the size of this article.
What on earth am I supposed to do with a 3-star review for steel wool pads? Unless it’s a 5 or 1 star review, there’s not much anyone can do with it. And, unless the review comes from someone I trust, I have a hard time believing it. However, review quality isn’t the only problem facing those trying to create meaningful social search.
Theory Vs. Practice
The effort of moving social search forward is also hindered by erroneous public perceptions, many of them created by the media. Each day, I conduct a search for the phrase “digital marketing tools” and hope I see a list of analysts waxing poetic about digital marketing theories. Recently, I found a badly composed New York Times editorial that took pot shots at graph search; one analyst was actually quoted saying that hotel brands were scrambling to add Facebook pages for each of their properties in response to graph search. (Later, the piece was updated “to clarify that companies like hotel chains were improving their Facebook presence even before Facebook introduced its search tool.”)
I tend to favor practicality over living in the theoretical fantasy land occupied by some journalists and analysts. It’s smart to recognize change and prepare for the future. But it’s not smart to have a knee-jerk reaction to every technological development that comes along. The theoretical approach fails to acknowledge that most companies can’t really staff enough community managers to create meaningful interactions with a customer base — especially when the brand has hundreds of locations/Facebook pages — and it’s silly to adopt a new strategy that can’t be sustained over the long term. To “scramble” in response to a technical advancement like graph search would seem like a foolish waste of brand equity and valuable resources in the long term.
I guess that’s why those analysts get the big bucks. It’s fun to tout theory without ever having to implement anything.
Building On Better
But eschewing a knee-jerk reaction doesn’t mean that we do nothing. As efficient as search has become, we still have a long way to go in making accurate connections to intent. Sure, simple queries like where to find the post office and library are easy, but try to find a local restaurant with a bottle of Taurasi Radici and you’ll be, how do they say, SOL.
So far, the consuming public has sopped up the rapid-fire changes of their Facebook pages with a biscuit. Add a feature like “describe my mood” and bammo, I start getting updates on who’s “eating dinner” and who “feels frustrated” along with a parade of banalities that would make reading the rest of this column so boring no one would ever click “like.” Will graph search be adopted as readily?
When people ask me about the success and failure of search marketing initiatives, I often defer to a line from comedian Steven Wright, “There’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot.”
Right now, we have a lot of idiots standing on the shore with bad bait. When search and social actually come together in a meaningful way, we’ll be landing marlins like nobody’s business. Facebook graph search isn’t quite there yet, but it’s another meaningful step in the right direction.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.