Social Media Will Not Replace Search

Do You Trust Strangers More Than Search Results?

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Nielsen has shared some interesting findings from its research on how Internet users discover content. The research mainly focused on how content is found through search, portals, and through social media.

"In a nutshell, there is a segment of the online population that uses social media as a core navigation and information discovery tool — roughly 18 percent of users see it as core to finding new information. While still a smaller percentage than those who use search engines or portals like Yahoo! or MSN, it is a significant figure," says Nielsen. "And as social media usage continues to increase (unique visitors to Twitter.com increased 959% YOY in August) I can only expect this figure to grow."

If you were still questioning the possibilities of getting traffic from social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., perhaps this information will help ease your doubts. While the traffic may not always be as significant as what comes from search, additional traffic is additional traffic, and the viral potential offered by social networks shouldn’t be ignored.

The following graph from Nielsen shows how big of a role sites besides search engines play in actual searches for new information online.

Nielsen - Where do you start your search?

"At the root of the changing nature of content discovery is the sheer amount of information that is available on the Web," says Nielsen. "If you want to learn more about the latest smartphone released into the market, your favorite search engine is sure to provide you with hundreds, if not thousands, of articles about the device. But with the increasing number of resources available, it’s difficult to know what you should believe or take at face value."
Get Him to the Greek (2010)
Fair Game (2010)
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
The Ghost Writer (2010)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Last Airbender (2010)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (2010)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Robin Hood (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
The A-Team (2010)
The Spy Next Door (2010)

According to the firm’s findings, 26% of "socializers" or those who spend over 10% or more of their online time on social media, feel that there is too much information online. Nielsen says, "So are social networks replacing portals or search engines? Perhaps. Regardless, if we don’t understand and address people feeling increasingly alienated by the amount of information on the Internet, and the need for a human guide, yes, your favorite social network (or something like it) will become the next great content gateway."

Of course the search engines are built on a cross between human and mechanical elements. Google’s search quality team has been discussing this very process. Personally, I’m all for social media, but I don’t usually have too much trouble finding the information I seek using search. If anything, I think the information overload simply stresses the need for the continued improvement in search quality.

Your friends may not have all the answers you seek. Furthermore, if you are asking people you don’t know, why would you trust them any more than search results?

Search and social media are not completely separate entities. Social networks have search functionality and search engines search through social networks. It’s all intertwined.

Do you think social media could ever replace search? Share your thoughts.

Social Media Will Not Replace Search
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  • http://www.hasoffers.com Peter Hamilton

    AK! it always annoys me when people say things like “twitter is going to replace Google.” They are completely different beasts used for completely different types of searches.

  • http://www.kherize5.com Suzanne Vara

    Interesting statistics here. One would think that social media would be a bit higher. Your point about information overload is real as trying to researching something can take time when going to the stranger on twitter and asking for information is easier and faster. Having someone else already done the research and being able to provide feedback is convenient and I would have to say in a way trustworthy – or at least a good starting point.

    Really good article.

  • http://zahidlilani.com Zahid Lilani

    Times have changed and Nielsen research reflects it. News seems to find consumers rather than consumers finding news. If it is newsworthy, your friend on FB or Twitter will post it otherwise it was never newsworthy.

    The thing is, I trust my friends over some computer generated search query.

    • Chris Crum

      While search is certainly broader than news search, there is certainly something to be said for social media’s impact on how information is retrieved. Social media will (and does) take away from search in many instances, but it will never replace it as a whole (in my opinion). Search is search. Socializing is socializing. They’re apples and oranges. They may taste great together in a fruit salad, but you can’t make an apple pie with oranges.

      You may search on a social network, but you’re still searching. And there is plenty of information on the web that people will seek and not want to have to rely on their friends (or strangers) to point them to.

    • http://www.liveambitions.com Steve

      But, not everyone is looking for news. Some are searching for news, some are searching for information, and others are searching for products.

      Search engines will never be replaced by social media sites. Search engines bring the best that the internet has to offer. Social media is limited to its users and writers.

  • http://www.tonyorme.com/ Tony Orme

    This is one of those pointless arguments. They are 2 different things, that’s why they are called separate things. One is for investigation and the other is to communicate.

  • http://www.ppcsoft.com/blog Atle Iversen

    Interesting, but I think it is more blurred in reality. Increasingly, when you search using Google today, one of the first results is a Wikipedia article (which I don’t think is “social media”), and also more often you actually get Twitter-results from Google.

    If you search for something that you expect one of your 20-30 friends know about, you will maybe use social media. If not, you’ll use Google to get help from the millions of people around the world who has shared information online.

    • http://www.movie666.com/ Deke Thornton

      The Wikipedia phenomena is interesting. It has become an almost automatic first listing for many Google searches. By referring countless searches to Wikipedia, Google is almost undermining their own usefulness. Why not just start with Wikipedia? Perhaps Google needs a Wikipedia permalink positioned somewhere out of the normal search results.

  • http://www.seoblogwriter.com Michelle Tee

    I write online for revenue sharing sites, and my goal to monetize the writing is through search engine traffic rather than social media, as studies have shown that people using SERPS are more likely to click on ads.

    Thanks for the great article.

    • http://wahyu.com/ Wahyu

      You know that better optimize by SEO than via social media.

  • http://www.fanhistory.com Laura

    While you think this may ease doubts, it does not. There is no discussion about how those links end up on the social networks they do. How is information disseminated? Is it a result of a company putting that company out? (If yes, what is their % of SM traffic vs SEO? If yes, what are differences in time and money spent on each task by a company.) If it isn’t a result of linking done by a company, then it goes back to good content development… which gets both SEO and SM traffic. It means that, rather than focusing on a social media strategy, the focus should be on creating quality content.

    The folks on WebProNews rarely acknowledge that and it is annoying.

  • http://www.tpdesigns.net Troy

    Thanks for posting some information to counteract the massive amount of Twitter hype we have to put up with on a daily basis.

  • http://TheHomePageThatPays.com Grandpa


    Think about it. We, (in my 50’s) grew up watching TV for our brain washing. What are youngin’s watching today?

  • http://www.melmenzies.co.uk Mel Menzies

    My instinct is always to use search for information. This, despite the fact that I have active accounts with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Sometimes that search takes me to a blog. I then use my own judgement about whether it is to be trusted or not.

    On the other side of the coin, I’m the author of a number of books, and I blog regularly on creative writing, writing and publishing a book, stepfamilies, relationships. debt, bereavement and personal growth / confidence coaching. In all those niches I ensure that I optimise search facilities. Consequently, most of my visitors arrive on my website via search engines. My aim is always to provide them with high quality articles. I make sure that I ping URLs to all my social media sites, but little of the traffic on my blog comes from that quarter.

    I can only conclude from this that, like me, most of my visitors “trust” Search over Social Media.

  • http://www.movie666.com/ Deke Thornton

    A reference from a friend on FaceBook easily trumps search results in my opinion. Whatever Twitter is spitting out at the moment, I’m not so sure of… at least Google (and almost-automatic search result Wikipedia) tries to vet out the garbage.

  • http://www.movie666.com/ Deke Thornton


    What really here is the difference between a portal and a search — if I go to MSN, for instance, and search for something, I’m getting my results through Bing. Would that still count as “portal” traffic (at least according to the Nielsen report)? Or are we talking information found from portal newsfeeds and browsing directory listings?

  • http://www.thebookabyss.com.au Australian Online Bookshop

    Since our inception the majority of our traffic has come from SERP’s, that was until we started our blog. I’m finding i’m getting more targeted traffic from the blog each month and although it will probably never rival the traffic from the SERP’s , it is extra and relevant traffic all the same.

  • http://eca.sh/3tY8 Ron Amos

    It’s not an either or situation, technology converges, the things that work are kept and the things that don’t work are discarded. Cross Platform systems are becoming more common everyday, with tech doubling every 18 months or so human social communication skills will eventually catchup. Catch up in the same way as we learned to think, a step at a time but then when our ability to conceptualize became systematized those of us who learned first started to contribute toward the process that brings others into synchronization with the best organized thinkers among us.

  • N B

    I question whether Wikipedia should be considered part of “social media,” Yeah, “anyone can edit” but the dynamic produces a Delphi-like crowd wisdom that is rather accurate. It’s accuracy approaches or exceeds that of the search results you’d get, which is what should count. I sure don’t think Wp should be lumped in with Facebook!
    (Admission – I’m a registered Wikipedia writer/editor.)

    • http://www.platform35.com/ BrandSmit

      I was just thinking the very same thing about Wikipedia. Twitter and Facebook and other sites are places where people gather and, in theory at least, exchange ideas and possibly recommendations. Wikipedia is a site dedicated to information, although not specific information like WebProNews or other industry-specific sites.

  • http://www.GreensladeCreations.com/ Amanda Greenslade

    I’m commenting as a surfer more than a web developer because I am still so new to SEO, but in my opinion, search engines usually provide a more direct route to the information I am after. There are a tonne of websites in my memory that I like and trust. Knowing exactly where to go to get different kinds of information makes my surfing experience more direct and less time consuming.

    I use different websites to find different kinds of information:

    If I want encyclopedic facts/information, I go straight to Wikipedia. If I want a word definition I go straight to Dictionary.com. If I want to lookup the latest email hoax I go to truthorfiction.com or snopes.com. If I want movie information I go straight to IMDB.com. If I want to ask some random question and hope my way of asking it has been asked before, I go straight to Yahoo! Answers. If I want to see/download images of something specific I use Google Image search. If I want free copyright-safe photos I go straigh to SXC.hu. If I want news, I will use Google Australia search because there is no one news site I know, trust and like over the others.

    Personally, I rarely go searching on social media when I’m looking for information (other than Wikipedia), but I do click links on SM when they catch my eye, much like reading an article in a newspaper or magazine that I did not buy for that article, after glimpsing the title.

    • http://bugged.biz Andreas Krokene

      I didn’t know about this site. Thanks for the tip, Amanda.

  • http://renters.net/default.aspx Steve

    Personally, I don’t think that social media will ever replace a search. Like a business with new competition, it will cut into it’s share of how people find information on the internet, but both serve a purpose that is needed I believe.

    As for Wikipedia, I might use it maybe twice a year just for the fact that anyone can edit it. A lot of colleges don’t even allow a student to use it as a resource because of the potential for unreliable information.

  • http://www.agayomato.com free acne care info

    I don’t think social media will ever replace search engine. Social media is good for opinions or recommendations gathering but search engine will provide the informations we need to analyse, assess and confirm the opinions that we gathered from SM to make our final judgment or decisions.

    • http://www.controldatainc.com/renee Collection agencies

      I would have to agree with the last post. It will probably never replace it. Social media was and is a great idea but it has been over flooded by everyone.

  • http://Paul-Johnson.com Paul_Johnson

    Social media tools are like making the office water cooler portable. The people who gather ’round the water cooler (or coffee pot) are those we trust. But they don’t have all the answers. Search engines do… but we don’t trust them as much. So, when a (real) friend has the experience and the answer, SM is best. The rest of the time (which is MOST of the time), search engines will have to do.

    • http://grellowstudio.com Ryan

      Damn good analogy! I agree – if I want to get reviews of a movie I’m interested in checking out, I’ll check Twitter first for valid coverage. If nothing shows up, I’ll search for it. If I need info on something more reference related, I go straight to search. Could this say something about the type of information people are searching for online? Reference vs Entertainment?

  • http://pravishseo.blogspot.com pravish thomas

    Search engines is like the heart beat, where users run to search for data which users trust more. Social media is great only in niche sectors where u need to get on with marketing, advertising strategies, but i won’t completely ignore it as its a powerful sector which can be leveraged according to ur needs.

    Search engines have vital information which is believed to be refined with relevant data. While social media is a mixture of everything. SEARCH ENGINES – Its all about relevant data and providing the data to the right users at the right time.

    LONG LIVE ENGINES! and yeah Social Media Mktg is a welcome!

  • http://cricket-maniac-indian.blogspot.com/ Cricketmaniac

    I think the quality of visits from Social networking sites are still questioned and applies to regular and retail products only. If you talk about business products, then people still go for search. Then I might be forced to ask the question “Is social media helpful for business and industrial products”?

    I will be waiting for your reply on this.


    • http://www.lexolutionit.com Maneet Puri

      Social media is an excellent medium to build ur brand recognition in the market be it u sell regular retail products or business products. Once you spread out on the internet, people will begin to recognize you and your company and whenever they need the kind of services, you will be the first they approach.

      Its very easy for people to buy products from a known source!

    • ROck

      Good point. Consider, you’re a senior exec charged with making a substantial enterprise purchase so with your job on the line you’re going to….rely on social media? Huh?! Gee, how did we make decisions before social media. Sorry, the blogger/SEO/Net etc. industry is trying so hard to be relevant. I’ve been selling big iron for big blue for years and have yet to encounter a CIO who asked about our Twitter feeds or FB page.

  • http://chitika.com Dan Ruby

    We did a study at Chitika a few weeks ago on this very subject, and found that search is still the vast majority (almost 98%) of all traffic. Social has moved into second place, but at the expense of editorial, not search. In fact, between July and September, search has gained slightly in market share (as has social), while editorial and ISP-based search have declined.


  • Rock

    Insightful article. Seriously, you gotta be kidding. Trust all 6,921 of your FB “friends?” Or better, trust Google’s cooked up search? Way too much net industry PR machine trying to establish legitimacy and relevance.

    Back in the day, “social media” (unverified, National Enquirer blather) was called gossip. Today it is noting more than a PR feed and vanity play. Anyone who relies on social media for anything more than pure entertainment is a fool.

    Of course I rely on my friends more than search but these are real humans who I speak to or look in the eye. Social media is a big video game filled with avatars.

  • http://www.masenka.be Guest

    maybe social media can help improve search results but I don’t think it will ever replace it. Otherwise new websites could never be found, if nobody knows about them

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