McKinsey reports (July, 2011) that the use of Social Networks to locate online content has increased from 13% to 33% between 2008 and 2010, a whopping 254% increase. Their iConsumer surveys show that use of search engines for the same task has decreased slightly, from 69% to 66%. Said another way, for every two consumers that use search engines to find content, one uses Social Networks. That speaks volumes for the power of Social Networks.
Most other means of locating content have declined also, including search toolbars, bookmarks, portals, and links from friends.
We are proponents of spending your budgets in proven media before unproven media, regardless of what the media are. But we also think that social media has reached a point where you need to take it seriously, as this McKinsey survey clearly shows consumers are using social to find content.
Key takeaway: if you have a successful SEM program that is producing sales, revenues and profits, you need to find other money for your social media initiatives, not erode profitable search dollars. You also need to understand that, unlike traditional search, consumers use social media to find content/products/services based on others’ opinions, reviews, feedback, ratings, etc.
While SEM is proven, we have yet to see a viable, scalable, ROI-positive model emerge for social media, so it’s still in the experimental stage. Take it seriously, devote resources to it, and figure out how SEM and social can work together to produce superior results. If you’re doing SEM in-house, make sure your SEM people talk with your social people so you can run controlled tests to determine the impact of each. And if you’re using an agency for SEM, ideally that agency should do your social so that your messaging tests on both will not be tainted.