When you think of online search, the first word that probably pops into your mind is Google.
And you wouldn’t be alone. But, over the past few years, there’s been a growing shift in the way people search online, most notably with Gen Z.
With the increasing popularity of social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest, consumers are finding more engaging and immersive ways to source solutions to their needs. In fact, nearly 40% of Gen Z prefer using TikTok and Instagram for search over Google, according to Google’s internal data.
Social discoverability is on the rise and now is the time for brands to take note.
The increase in search on social platforms is largely down to content still being determined by an algorithm paired with paid media. It results in searches tailored to users’ specific interests and needs. Search results on platforms like TikTok are also socially validated through other users' likes and comments, which can make the whole search experience feel more authentic and trustworthy. Google, however, still sees biases towards big spenders and those most optimised for organic discoverability, despite its efforts to become more personalised and accurate in recent years.
Consumers are on the lookout for personally relevant, authentic results and, ultimately, a more human feel. Here is where we see the direction of travel. Google is actively taking steps to make their platforms fit for this evolution of search behaviour, noting that they are committed to creating more immersive and visually engaging search solutions in order to be desirable. In late 2021, Google even started to feature content from IG, YouTube, and TikTok in their main web search.
And while these platforms aren’t likely to ever totally replace Google as a search destination, they will continue to grow in popularity, meaning brands should have a plan to ensure they capture this new search intent.
Social discoverability is going to be an increasingly hot commodity in the coming years, with Google searches for ‘TikTok SEO’ and ‘social media SEO’ already increasing by more than 120% between January and July 2022, compared to 2021. TikTokers creating content have also started to focus on providing tips on how to be more discoverable on the platform, and leveraging hashtags as a mechanism for discovery has long been used across all major social platforms.
And while best practice will vary between platforms, based on how the algorithm is structured and how content is ranked, understanding the basics of what makes a piece of content discoverable will help brands surface the right content to new audiences. It’s crucial to recognise that social discoverability is not limited to social platforms. Recently, there has been a huge increase in Google search for social content. According to our internal data, as of August 2022, TikTok.com received about 75M website visits from organic search, a 252% increase since August 2020.
So, in short, brands who optimise correctly, won’t only be able to capture search intent on the social platforms themselves, but they will likely be more discoverable on Google as well - a win-win for all generations.
Brands and users alike have long been aware of - and cautious around - the safety concerns on TikTok and social media platforms at large. The spread of misinformation is a constant battle and one which platforms have been trying to address for years. So, when we think about Gen Z using these platforms as their go-to source for knowledge and information, it can be a little concerning.
Platforms will need to continue to build the right infrastructure to eliminate misinformation, and with one in five videos on TikTok containing misinformation, these platforms will need to lean even more heavily into building solutions to prevent this. However, it’s also the perfect opportunity for brands to become a verified, valid source of information and start to create more optimised content to populate the feed with the right authority. That takes both a platform that is designed to dispel misinformation but also a community (brands, creators, users) which is willing to put out truthful, informed content.
We all know that social platforms, and especially Instagram, have unpredictable and ever-changing algorithms, but there are a few smart practices that can be applied which help ensure brands are setting themselves up for success.
In the same way that you would apply keyword research to spot content opportunities on Google, and use third party tools like SEMRush to understand what is driving the most search traffic, you can start here for social discoverability, too. A similar approach makes sense when you know your social content will reach Google.
The next step would then be keyword searches on-platform to understand nuances and patterns in searcher behaviour, what topics are trending, and even what sounds are popular to ensure content is tailored to platform behaviours and needs. Applying these keywords to your content strategy, embedding them into the copy of your posts, the text overlays of your video, or into the concept itself can begin to help ensure you’re creating the most desired content for the community you’re trying to connect with.
There are a multitude of ways to go deeper into social discoverability, but starting with a well-defined keyword research strategy will help you begin to build the foundations and understand how to approach your audience across platforms. Of course, it goes without saying, this will only work if your content is engaging and authentic to your brand and community - even the best keyword strategy can’t make a wolf into Little Red Riding Hood.
Christina Miller is Head of Social at VMLY&R
This article was originally published in shots.