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As social media has grown in popularity over the past few years, it quickly found a match made in heaven. Never was there a better suited partnership than that of SEO and social media.

The social floodgates burst wide open with sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pintrest, and keeping up with customers via social outlets is a constant struggle for both large and small businesses. Either you are neck deep in tweets, pins, shares, etc. or you’re watching the river run by. If you are properly engaging your customers through social media, you might be frantically trying to keep your head above the water. So while searching for that life boat, try to swallow this — According to The Social Habit, the percentage of social networkers who followed a specific brand online, jumped from 16 to 33 percent in the past two years.

(Cough- Excuse me…double?)
Matthew Peneycad, a blogger for SocialMediaToday, laid it out best with these research statistics:

  • Nearly all consumers (97%), now use online media when researching products or services in their local areas (PRNewsWire)
  • 91% of respondents have gone into a store as a result of an online experience (Marketingland.com)
  • 81% of US respondents indicated posts from their friends directly influenced their purchase decision (Forbes)

What this tells me (and what should be painfully obvious) is that the way people search out information about products and services has changed drastically. It’s evolving even as I write.

Because social is a driving factor in this change, Google and other search engines are incorporating social activity into their search results. So, what exactly are those driving factors and how do you better realize social activity to maximize your online exposure?

Social Capital Stems from High Quality

In the search for high-quality information, search engines are capitalizing on individual social networks. The pages coming up first in searches are determined, to some extent, by behaviors and social activities online. In short, every move we make (queries, shares, likes, and dislikes) helps establish what we see for specific search results each day.

That’s right; Google has changed the way we search. Using personal data to suggest content and consumer options before it’s even asked for. In line with studies done on gaining compliance (in social groups), trust, and credibility factors of influence (Gass & Seiter, 2011), Google has found a more effective way to communicate with the average consumer. People are simply more willing to comply (or purchase) when they feel the source is credible. They are more apt to trust an online review over a simple ad and are influenced largely by their “norm.”

So what best describes how this information will be utilized? Author Alyssa Adkins suggested that “advertisements will become less like ads and more of a suggestion from a friend” while describing Google’s evolution to search and the idea that our computers are learning what we want and how we want it.

Run for your lives! They’re watching you!

We’ve all heard the playful warnings about the “rise of mobile and social media” and what that means to us as private consumers. And well, OK, so they weren’t really playing, but I don’t see everyone high tailing it for the hills. Privacy issues really have been a major point of concern among online consumers, but the interesting thing is that the ones complaining keep tapping away at their keyboards.

While privacy is, and will always be, a point of concern, some people are ecstatic about immediately being able to identify with the results of a search query. Most won’t even think twice about how the search engine gained such insight into their lives. Either way, if you are online and social, your experience is about to become one of behind the scenes art and precision.

Evolution in the works

A great example of this would be one of Facebook’s most recent moves. Graph Search, recently launched July 2013, is essentially another competing search engine, but this one has gone a step further. Not only can we search for people, information, photos, friends’ likes and dislikes, as well as follow our favorite establishments, Facebook has now made it possible to ”explore” for local restaurants or hang outs. And the results? Well, needless to say they are more deeply personalized to our social patterns than ever before.

The data behind it all

Now, this is where the vision began. According to Google’s annual search statistics, in 2013 there was an average of almost 6 billion searches per day and over 2 trillion made in that year on Google’s search engine alone. We would have been fools to not recognize these patterns years ago. And that’s not all. According to Socially Aware, a social media law blog, recent studies suggest that 18% of time spent online is devoted to social, so there’s a whole ton of information that can be shaped for a more personalized experience online.
(Source: Mashable.com)

What does this mean for SEO and online business?

Suppose we ask another a question – the same question that we’ve been asking since the downpour began: who/what are Panda and Penguin and how do these updates affect social? The details are broken down nicely in one of SEO.com’s latest infographics entitled Google Panda Update up Close Infographic. Put simply, if you’re a website owner with a mission to provide valuable content, or a business striving to bring quality products and information to consumers, Panda and Penguin are your best friends. If not, well, then you‘ve probably seen nothing but black and white flying at you from all angles for quite a while now.

The most powerful form of marketing hasn’t changed

The best way to gain and keep loyal customers is, and always has been, word of mouth. Only now, instead of coming directly from a mouth, it comes directly from your fingertips. It doesn’t travel through sound per se, but through the intricate fastenings of the web. The destination is still the same, and the driving force behind it all is still satisfaction.

People don’t refer someone to a barber who mutilated their hair (unless they secretly dislike that person) or to a restaurant that gave them food poisoning (again). They refer people to places of quality. They share articles that resonate with their beliefs and desires, push content of value and truth, and trust the opinions of friends, and even strangers, over a random advertisement (is this news everyone?).

How do we get aboard as businesses?

Let’s keep it honest, people – blasting emails and content with links won’t do the trick anymore (and it’s really lame). No, it’s time to earn your keep and jump into the river of social. There are steps to take to make the most out of social media, and an important one is good old fashioned hard work – though it doesn’t have to be as hard as you may think. You need to view this competition differently – it’s not becoming the biggest, it’s becoming the best that matters, right?

  1. First, you need to make a plan. Jumping into social media marketing without a plan is like jumping into the ocean when you don’t swim. Outline your goals, whether its brand awareness, conversion, or traffic, and what you are going to want to accomplish in order to measure your social media ROI.
  2. Once you have established your goals, focus on content. Content is king, and if you have the right resources to create interesting, quality content, you are on your way to success with social media.
  3. Once you have drawn out (in detail) your content ideas and set them in motion, you need to have a plan set forth for promoting this content. Map out dates, content creators, follow up posts, and re-purposing deadlines for each piece of content you want to gain traffic on.
  4. Earn your links. If you are creating quality content, and you are presenting good calls to action, the links will follow. It never hurts to have a few other outlets on your side to help push the content along, and you should always be looking for ways to gain industry links, but for the most part, if you aren’t earning them, you don’t deserve them anyway.
  5. Throughout this process, you will need to keep an eye on your competition. As always, benchmark your successes. Learn more about your competition’s tactics and where they are successful, and then establish a plan on how to do it better.

Reaping what is sewn, believe it or not, is really what Google has been trying to show. In order to keep the position of “best search engine in the world,” Google needs to make sure it is giving the best experience imaginable. And it so happens that what follows quality of information is actually personalized results.

How Star Trek fits in…

It’s only natural that people want to share their experiences. It’s also only natural to have questions and a desire to search out new things as well. Society will continue to trust credibility over “the new guy” any day, and this goes on and on.

It won’t be long though before we reach our final frontier, to courageously “…explore strange new worlds… boldly go where no man has gone before,” but until that time, search will continue to evolve and try to understand what it is that people want, how they want it, and the best way to get it to them. Social is here to stay and will continue to play an important role in these ever-evolving search engines. My advice – let the river take you where you need to go.