Does Search Produce Better Customers Than Social Media?

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Social media has been an albatross for most companies. People have become accustomed to receiving discounts and deals on social networks, but discounts rarely create loyal customers and adversely impact the value of those customers.

A recent study by Custora measured the purchasing habits of 72 million online shoppers and found that customers who discovered an online retailer via organic search spent more money and shopped more frequently than customers who originated from other channels, like Facebook or Twitter. Surprisingly, in 2013, Facebook and Twitter were collectively responsible for less than one percent of customer acquisitions.

Does this mean you should give up on social media? Of course not. Your best customers are far more valuable than your average customers and they might originate from channels like social media.

If you’re already investing time and money in social media, you should consider rebalancing your activities to maximize returns. For example, you may want to focus more of your social media efforts on Facebook rather than Twitter since, according to Custora, each Twitter lead produces only 75 percent of the value of a Facebook lead, and only half the value of an organic search lead.

While there’s great insight in the Custora report, the findings about social are incomplete because they measure the customer’s last-touch before a purchase. Social is rarely the last touch. A customer will often hear about a brand on a social network and then search for that brand online. It’s not surprising, then, that search would nearly always be misleadingly credited for finding that customer.

Smart companies blend all of these channels. For example, the content on your company’s blog can create search leads but also help engage and convert prospective customers on social media. On the other hand, social media can help draw customers to your blog and create conversations about your company. Few companies can effectively pursue a single channel strategy.

Remember too that social media influences how we search. Before we search for something, we might have seen references to that product or service by friends, colleagues, and other influencers. In fact, the major search engines are increasingly considering and weighting relevance, authenticity and trust when delivering search results. Social media provides an important measure of these factors. When people read compelling content, they are more likely to socially share that content. Such social sharing is an important sign of relevance, authenticity and trust, which increases the visibility of that content in search.

You can see this most clearly when searching on Google. Google knows that users are more likely to click links favored by their friends and connections. Google fine-tunes search results based on a user’s social graph in Google+ and the authority of the content author. Since people are more likely to buy products and services recommended by their friends, it’s not surprising that search delivers more customers who buy more often.

Organic search and social strategies are converging. It’s not enough today to focus on one and ignore the other. The most successful marketers will integrate their strategies and tactics to leverage both.


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