How To Market With Google's Social Search / by Chel Wolverton

The past couple days the techiverse has been entertained and/or irritated at Google Buzz, Google's stab at social networking.  This isn't another post about Google Buzz, but rather the hidden gem of Social Circle and Social Search. Combined with their acquisition of Aardvark, Google is amassing utilities to enable social search to take social media to the next level. What are social search and social circles anyway?

What makes up our Social Circle for Google's purposes:

  • People in your Gmail (or Google Talk) chat list
  • People in your Friends, Family, and Coworkers groups in your Google contacts
  • People you're publicly connected to through social services that you've listed in your Google profile, such as Twitter and FriendFeed
  • People who are contacts of those in your immediate social circle

Click here to see your own social circle as made up by these connections. The social circle page also shows Secondary Connections.  These are people we're connected to through our direct connections.

Social Search is based on the idea that we find content from our friends, family, co-workers and other connections to be the most relevant and useful vs. content is spread by people that are unknowns.  Google Buzz has forced us to put up gates to make hearing anything worthwhile possible. Buzz has also made our Google Profiles even more important because we're linking that stuff we want to give juice to, the keywords we use to link those sites are also mapped by Google into search results and may possibly help boost the ranking and reputation of those sites.

How Social Search is drowning out the noise

Google Buzz isn't going to kill Twitter/Friendfeed/Foursquare/Facebook, the new way of social will.  With Buzz, we've been quick to unfollow people, a new way of managing our social circle to get the information we need/want.

Earlier today, Christopher Penn shared his opinion that Google created Buzz as a way to aggregate the best data from content being shared around the web.  A quote from his blog:

Buzz also incentivizes us in a couple of ways. It tells us to prune back our own spewage lest our friends, the ones we care about truly, unfollow us and eliminate us. It tells us that redundancy of information is of no value to anyone using Buzz, since you can get blog posts and status updates already from FriendFaceTwitterFeedBookSquareWallReader service (now with more blatant self-promotion from social media experts!). So we share and discuss only the stuff that’s either super high quality that we just can’t afford to miss, even if it’s redundant, because of the quality, or we share stuff that’s not being shared elsewhere.

We've known for a while now that we're drowning in information.  We're all responsible for what we choose to let through the filters. Clay Shirky got it right, "It's Not Information Overload. It's Filter Failure."  Google is gently showing us the error of our friending everyone ways with Google Buzz.

What Social Search means for business

How do we find new things or new products?  What influences our purchases or the things we share on the web?  With Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIN; our networks have become our places to tap for questions and information.  Google is moving with that social influence and putting the social into search.  By mapping our social connections and networks on the web, searches now provide us with a) more personalized search results (see below) and b) content that our social circle finds interesting and important to share.

Businesses who get the attention of our connections have a better chance of getting our business based on our connection's experience.  We've learned that social provides a different sphere of influence than traditional advertising. We're still learning how it works within our connections.  Marketing has shifted to tap into these social connections and to figure out how best to get our attention when we're quickly closing the ranks to drown out the noise.

Customers are trusting their networks more every day to help them make decisions.  Customers are also quickly finding that there are companies willing to reach out, to listen and to give them what they want in a service.  If someone's not satisfied with your product or service, chances are they'll tap into their network to find a solution.

Social Search and SEO

With social circles within Google giving weight to search result rankings (with personalized results), reputation and relationship based SEO are starting to change the game.  We already know that Google is indexing based on connections and Google profiles (again, personalized search results).  One way of defining relationships within links that we share with others is to use XFN.

XFN outlines the relationships between individuals by defining a small set of values that describe personal relationships. In HTML and XHTML documents, these are given as values for the rel attribute on a hyperlink. XFN allows authors to indicate which of the weblogs they read belong to friends, whom they've physically met, and other personal relationships. Using XFN values, which can be listed in any order, people can humanize their blogrolls and links pages, both of which have become a common feature of weblogs.

As social begins to affect rankings, companies will have to think more about how we're all interconnected online in order to reach us.  While humans are predictable and connections will give companies more information about us, they'll have to use that information in a valuable way rather than relying on being on top of the page of Google.

The era of just good enough is quickly coming to a close and the era of being awesome is ramping up fast.  Question is where is your company on the scale?