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Social search and the customer experience: The perfect match?

3rd Feb 2012
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Colin Shaw and Eleanor Cheatham explain why social search will take hold and rapidly redefine the nature of marketing, ecommerce and the digital customer experience.

Tech titans like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are finally catching up to mother nature in the race to create an intuitive social search experience. In our recent book Customer Experience: Future Trends and Insights Palgrave, we write that technology is a facilitator of social interaction - not a driver of it. Technology enhances our daily face-to-face moments with our friends, family and other acquaintances.
Going to a friend or family member for a referral for a product or service is an accepted method of “information discovery.” Yet in the past decade, consulting digital search engines for product or service referrals has grown in acceptance alongside “traditional” friend referrals. Taken together, both methods of information discovery (friend referrals and search engine queries) set the stage for a new era of what I call the “social search.” In an interview with the UK Telegraph, Facebook executive and former director of Google social media Ethan Beard also comments that the has come time to combine friend referrals with “traditional” search engine queries.
Let’s look at example of a search engine that embeds “social signals,” to use Matt Rosoff of Business Insider’s turn of phrase. If I want to purchase a new television, I could use Google, Yahoo! or Bing to gain access to several product listings and online retailers. I can learn a lot of information from running this kind of search, but the results still fail to contain a vital element to any potential customer experience: trust.
By contrast, suppose I ask my friends and family which television I should purchase. The responses I receive from my friends and family are probably not as comprehensive as my digital search. Nevertheless, because I trust my friend, the information I collect from them carries a different weight than the results I gain from an internet search engine.
Change is coming
But all of this is about to change. Over the next decade, the social search - Web 3.0 - will take hold and rapidly redefine the nature of marketing, ecommerce and the digital customer experience. The competition for influence is fierce. Facebook, with approximately 800 million users, is leading the way. As early as October 2009, Microsoft’s Bing partnered with Twitter and Facebook to add real-time updates from users to its search results.
Shortly thereafter, Google’s June 2011 launch of Google+ (G+) continued the trend by populating the results of its users’ searches with more personally relevant information. Google uses stored data from Google Documents, geo-location tags from Picasa (a photo sharing platform), playlists from Google Music and even contacts and calendar information from Gmail to offer tailor-made search engine results.
The implications of Web 3.0 are profound. The customer experience will play a greater role than ever before in terms of marketing. Search engine optimisation (SEO) will fall by the wayside as it becomes more important for real people to write raving reviews for their social networks or a community of custom fan page members.
Startups like Lithium are already moving in this direction by helping companies find real users willing to write positive reviews and share them with their social networks. Lithium even offers services that prevent negative comments from spiraling out of control. For an example of negative user feedback can set off a disastrous landslide of acerbic consumer feedback, read about the "Go Daddy-SOPA PR Disaster".
In summary, the sooner your organisation embraces the emotions that fuel a “rave” review - the better. 25% of Google employee’s annual bonus depends on the success or failure of Google+. Soon, Google’s decision to tie employee bonuses to social media performance will seem like a prudent (rather than bold) decision - one that we can all learn from starting today.

Colin Shaw is founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy. Eleanor Cheatham is junior researcher at Beyond Philosophy.

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By kamelia.veskova
04th Feb 2012 15:03

Google’s Social Search Is Too Much and Too Soon.What I dislike about Search plus Your World isn’t that Google has more deeply integrated social data on its search results pages. It’s that the search engine has gone overboard with Google+ in a way that makes me feel like I’m being force-fed a new social network.

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