In July 2022, Google shared some surprising new data that revealed approximately 40% of Gen Z shoppers (ages 10-25 and 25% of the U.S. population) now use TikTok and Instagram to discover new products and restaurants, rather than typing keywords into Google Search.
This change in search behavior highlights a larger trend in shifting consumer habits reminiscent of the move from desktop to mobile search in 2016. We predict it will have similar far-reaching effects on a brand’s ability to connect and engage with its customers of any age because visual discovery offers a better customer experience. This new trend will also have a larger effect on a brand’s bottom line as new ways of budgeting things like paid media dollars may be required.
The Impact on Businesses
As Social Discovery grows in popularity, consumers have begun to discover products more from social apps and less from traditionally brand-owned channels. For brands seeking to engage customers at every moment in their journey, this means opening your strategy to include optimizing social channels with this shift in search behavior in mind.
As with all marketing trends, Social Discovery will not stay specific to one user group, in this case Gen Z. Many of Allison+Partners’ non-Gen Z colleagues have already made the switch. For example, our Digital Director, Alyssa, is planning her trip to Spain via TikTok, while our social guru, Cassie, turned to Instagram when looking for restaurants to try in her new neighborhood.
To optimize for Social Discovery, marketing teams will need to rethink their approach to their brand channels, focusing more on areas like:
- Social reach
- Influencer content
- Social word-of-mouth referrals
The data pulled from these social channels could also potentially impact digital advertising priorities, shifting campaigns more toward paid social media ads and influencer partnerships for higher visibility.
Your Trusted Guide in This New Marketing Landscape
Allison+Partners is here to help you shape this disruption to your advantage. Here we have provided a current primer on how brand teams can capitalize on this new migration to Social Discovery.
As we learn more about how Social Discovery evolves, we’ll continue to publish updates as it unfolds. To stay current on all the news and trends happening in the world of Social Discovery, visit our microsite and subscribe to receive updates.
A Better Customer Experience
While not a new phenomenon (e.g., Millennials have been “searching” on Pinterest for years), the substantial increase of search on social apps have made this a significant moment for brand marketers.
All major social platforms — TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest, and even Google itself – are experimenting in various ways with shoppable ads and dynamic new uses of video, 3D imagery, augmented reality (AR) and AI-powered contextual recommendations to create experiences that are more immersive, raw and engaging than text-based searches.
Example: A review of a restaurant on TikTok vs a written review on Yelp. Which gives a better feel for what a customer will experience?
Consumers seeking inspiration and recommendations on apps like Instagram are shown results based on three core areas:
To ensure brands are searchable on these platforms, marketers will need to prioritize certain elements of their social strategy, including high-quality visuals (more on that later), popularity signals (how much engagement your content has) and even keyword optimization in areas, such as usernames, bios and hashtags.
Consumer keywords: skincare routine, workout routine, summer outfits, best Amazon deals, #BookTok
More about how Social Discovery works from BuzzFeed
The Best Visuals Win
Google’s search engine is all about providing accurate information that consumers can trust. And while the next wave of Social Discovery won’t (and shouldn’t) abandon the notion of accuracy, it will present greater opportunities for visual and emotive storytelling.
Visual Search has long been an effective part of brand marketing with Google’s algorithms prioritizing pages that optimize for Google Image search. More recently, Google has experimented with a more visual shopping experience on Search that more heavily emphasizes imagery over text.
With Social Discovery, visuals are taken to the next level with visual quality and visual type being core to customer engagement and retention. This means prioritizing content, such as videos (including TikTok and YouTube) and interactive content, such as quizzes, live streams and even maps on platforms like Instagram.
Case in point, if you seek even more proof of the move away from the text-based search bar, consumers have turned to Google Maps, or Apple Maps, to find locations, consumer reviews, photos and more — all of which inform their ultimate buying decisions (source).
How Social Discovery Impacts Insights and Analytics
Traditional Search Traffic May Be Disrupted
As Social Discovery grows in prominence, you will likely notice a drop in organic traffic for key search terms. Don’t panic. We’ve seen it happen across several brands and industries, particularly those focused on reaching Gen Z and younger millennials. If you prioritize Social Discovery in your strategy, then any drop in traditional traffic will be made up for on your social platforms. But it is not limited to those demographic groups. This trend has spread across all ages, even if some consumer industries are disrupted more quickly than others.
Test New Paid Search Strategies
Depending on your persona groups, SEM budgets may need to be reprogrammed to other channels. Look at your data. But in the near-term, we’ve seen examples that justify a 40-50% budget shift for Gen Z personas and 10-20% shift for older Millennials, Gen X and Boomers. You may find more efficiencies immediately via social or influencer programs, but don’t be afraid to test and learn.
Understand Owned Social vs. Social
Social Discovery is likely to require more paid social to reach and grow your owned channels. Users who like or follow your brand are more apt to be superfans who can advocate for your brand. Or they’re just engaging you on social as a purely customer service channel. Make sure you see the full picture and don’t focus solely only on owned channels.
Expand Your Conversation Analysis
Ensure you capture insights (e.g., emerging trends, influential voices, volume) not only for you and your competitors, but also unbranded conversations that shape perception of your products. This is an opportunity for marketing and customer service to come together to drive product innovation. Listen closely and react quickly.
Rethink Your KPIs
Social Discovery may require a reevaluation of your key performance indicators. Make sure you don’t measure the same things year-over-year out of habit, but rather think through the area(s) where you can monitor and predict impacts to your business.
How Social Discovery Impacts Your Existing Content Marketing Strategy
Shift Existing Content Strategies
Depending on your existing content strategy and digital plan, this new trend in search behavior may necessitate strategic shifts in your approach. For example, if paid search was a previous priority, it may yield more return to shift dollars to advertising or use influencers on social media. This strategy could help expand brand reach on platforms where consumers are expanding or shifting their shopping behaviors.
We’ve come a long way from 15-minute videos on YouTube to 15-second vertical videos on TikTok, Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts. Make sure your content strategy produces content in as many formats as your consumers need. Spinning off new versions of content is certainly easier than starting from scratch. However, this isn’t all about resizing assets. Make sure to consider the customer’s experience when they see the content and how they interact with it to find the best fit.
Make Content for Influencers
Brands should create content that’s not only sharable, but also designed to help influencers, employees and brand ambassadors share your brand story. Look for opportunities to enhance an influencer’s brand with top-tier content that allows them to tell more engaging stories about you. Fewer consumers are going to reach your brand channels. Help influencers understand your desired look, style and voice.
Find the Speed That Works for You
TikTok happens fast. That can be uncomfortable for many brands. And that’s OK. It’s rare to find a creator who excels at blogs, YouTube and TikTok, and most brands cannot afford to stand out across every channel. Leverage people in your organization on the channels where they’re strongest, and where you think you’ll have the most impact. This new framework will allow your brand to operate at the speed today’s customers expect and to see the best results.
How Social Discovery Impacts Customer Service
Reach Your Customers Where They Are
Many brands still drive customers from social (where consumers ask for help and expect a quick response) to email (where brands buy time to respond). Moving closer to your customers by interacting with them where and when they want (i.e., on social channels) will improve relationships.
Look at New Channels
For brands that do not have a brand or influencer presence on TikTok, this is a compelling reason to consider changing that. Investing in social media, especially in a paid capacity with advertising or influencers, can have an immediate and measurable effect on brand awareness, especially among Gen Z and millennial consumer audiences.
Flip the Script
Many brands outsource customer service or resort to chatbots, which can, at times, underserve a critical part of your business. And while customer service can be viewed as a loss leader, where cost reduction is king, there is a strong opportunity to forge lasting brand loyalty with a solid, and consistent, customer service experience. Taking a closer look at how consumers are experiencing your brand’s customer service, and moving it to newer, more direct channels, can be a boon to your brand’s long-term success.
How Social Discovery Impacts Social
The Consumer Funnel Is Shifting
One main point to consider is the possibility that social has become less about brand awareness and advocacy and more focused mid-to-lower funnel conversions. This is true for a growing portion of today’s consumers, who accelerate through the funnel faster on social apps. Take this mindset when preparing content plans by dedicating social content to these BOTF audiences so you can capture engagement on both ends.
Boosting Posts Is Crucial
With these new consumer behaviors, reach becomes priority on Social Discoveryes. The most direct and measurable way to increase reach across social is through on-platform advertising and boosting. This is an easy way to increase ROI. Just make sure to boost the right content on the right channels to the right people.
Tap Into Paid Social Ads
Brands should consider investing in social advertising, as well as syncing their social advertising plans with their organic content strategy. This can be an impactful way to shift priorities in this changing landscape by reaching more people with creative that speaks to them. It’s also a generally untapped area for niche marketing to increase advertising efficiency.
You’re on TikTok (Even If You Don’t Know It)
Whether it’s security concerns, budgets or resources, many brands aren’t on TikTok. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not on TikTok because your brand doesn’t have a handle. Your brand is on TikTok, you just don’t have a say in the conversation by not including it in your strategy. Even Google has gotten into the game by forging partnerships that allow it to index TikTok and Instagram videos in Google Search results. Our recommendation: Find a way to engage on TikTok, even in incremental ways.
How Social Discovery Impacts Influencer Marketing
Influencer Marketing Is a Big Opportunity
Where brands do not yet have the reach on their owned channels or do not yet have an owned TikTok channel, influencer marketing can be a solution to bring brand awareness among consumers and provide a human voice behind your brand.
Keeps Building Trust
Many social users, especially Gen Z consumers, are more likely to trust influencer content than brand content when doing research online. One example of this is CeraVe in the early days of TikTok trends, where “skinfluencers” boosted brand awareness and sold-out products without any significant marketing or brand product shift.
Foster Long-Term Relationships
Allison+Partners’ 2019 research showed influencers want a stronger voice in their content creation, and this trend will accelerate as content shifts away from brand channels.
How Social Discovery Impacts Employee and Customer Advocacy
Give Power to the People
Empowering your brand’s most passionate fans and employees will become an even more impactful communications asset. Give them the content they need to share across their social channels.
Focus on the Niche
Niche groups of trendsetters will propel consumer changes faster than many brands can react. Brands will want to ensure content creators are armed with timely information and useful tools to share with their networks.
The impact of employees talking to their friends and family is often overlooked, but it will only increase in importance. Gen Z wants employers to have a strong purpose and contribute to something greater than profits. For brands living their stated missions, their happy employees will be empowered to grow the business and their experiences will be relayed.
The New Normal Is Coming
Social Discovery is here and will evolve rapidly in the coming months and years. As you begin to think about how to incorporate Social Discovery into your daily strategies consider your experience as a consumer. What are the brand interactions that bring you joy? The ones that make you cringe? Use that to see your customer with a fresh perspective.
Finally, we’ll leave you with this: one critical difference between traditional search and Social Discovery is that a great landing page with the right keywords could predictably bring in the right traffic to specified brand channels. Then you simply had to get consumers to see your side of the story via ads or ranking within the top results.
With Social Discovery, our likes, interests and locations will have a much greater impact on the content we are served. Content from individuals will be prioritized over brands, and it’s likely the consumer will be much more informed before encountering your side of the story. But not to worry, strong brands with great plans will do just fine.
Visit our microsite or contact us at SocialDiscovery@allisonpr.com for more information on how you can leverage this new trend to your advantage.