You may have seen over the last week or so Google and Bing launching Social Search Result updates to include comments, posts and likes from a user’s social network into their search results.
Bing users in the US will now see Facebook ‘Likes’ from their friends list appear in search results and this is likely to be rolled out in the UK in the near future (See previous blog Bing Updates Social Search Results… Bing ‘Likes’ Facebook
Sign into your Google Account and you will now see things like Tweets, blog posts and Youtube videos from your social network appear within search results (See previous blog Google Update Social Search…but Facebook still isn’t invited
Now a buzzword that’s been kicking around for a while now as the ‘next big thing’ online is Social Commerce and these updates from Google and Bing could dramatically influence where customers now choose to shop online.
What is Social Commerce?
The term Social Commerce was originally introduced by Yahoo way back in 2005 and although the concept today remains the same, the potential use of social interaction to influence a purchase is now becoming visible on the sites we use most… Search Engines.
Social Commerce is the use of social interaction and social platforms online to influence a purchase. How many times has a friend recommended a restaurant you should eat at, a film you should see or a new brand of food you should try? Chances are a trusted recommendation from a friend will result in you doing just that.
UGC (User Generated Content) such as product reviews already play a massive part in purchase consideration online. Take hotels for example; is there any point in them having star ratings anymore? Sure the brochure photos and hotel write up says a lot, but sites like Trip Advisor will give you unbiased reviews based on first-hand experience from previous guests.
Social Commerce is already in use and has been for a while online, but the latest updates from Google and Bing suggest this is now going to play a much bigger part in how we shop online, before we even visit a website.
How Search Engine’s could now influence where you shop
Now that Google and Bing have gained access to your social networks in Facebook and Twitter they can start displaying information publicly shared by your friends online such as which retailers they like and what they think of them.
Bing can now show where your friends like to shop by how many of them like a brand’s page on Facebook. A customer is more likely to shop at a retailer online that several of their friends ‘like’ or recommend than a competitor site which none of your friend’s rate publicly.
In Google’s case feedback shared by your friends on Twitter about a brand or product could now appear in your search results. So if one of your friend’s was to tweet.
“Went into ‘retailer name’ today to buy a pair of trainers, none in stock and the sales staff were clueless.”
This could now appear in a search results page for a term related to that retailer and potentially put you off shopping there. For retailers this could be disastrous with big brands relying heavily on customers typing in their brand name to drive the majority of their traffic from Search Engines. There is now a real risk that customer feedback (from someone the Search Engine user knows) will start appearing in search results for their core brand terms.
This threat could now see retailers rethinking their Social Media strategy to use channels like Twitter more for customer service and utilising buzz monitoring tools to source and alert them of negative sentiment as soon as it appears online.
Dealing with negative shopping experiences through channels like Twitter is essential. Reactive customer service will potentially prompt a positive Tweet or comment by the same customer and hopefully remove a negative comment appearing on their brand terms when someone in that person’s network searches for their brand. Ideal scenario being:
“Can’t believe it. ‘Retailer Name’ saw my tweet and has just sent me a £10 voucher. Now that’s customer service!”
So how will Social Commerce Evolve?
Search Engines have now opened up Social Commerce in our everyday use of the internet but I predict this will soon become part of our overall shopping experience, with retailers also using information shared by your contacts online to influence what products you buy.
Let’s say you were going to buy a pushchair/stroller for your first child. You know nothing about pushchairs and there are literally hundreds to choose from. Before you can even narrow your search down to a preferred brand or style to read customer reviews you are likely to spend a long time researching pushchairs online.
Imagine if you could visit a retailer’s website and they could immediately tell you what friends and contacts in your social network had bought from them. If 5 people in your network had bought the same pushchair/stroller and all rated it highly would you still spend endless hours trying to choose the right one? Or would you make a purchase based on the opinions of people you know and trust?
Only time will tell how Social Search Results will effect how we shop but one thing is for sure, these updates by Google and Bing could impact how customers shop online than many retailers realise.
About Chris Ailey
— Chris Ailey is the founder and Managing Director of iThinkMedia. Learn more about Chris Ailey
on LinkedIn or follow him on twitter @chris_ailey