Search, both paid and organic, is an indispensable digital marketing channel. Search signals substantial user intent. Someone who searches for "women's hiking boots" is probably in the process of looking for a pair of hiking boots to buy. Someone who searches for "web design company" is most likely trying to find a web design company to do work for them.
For a long time now, we digital marketers have been accustomed to thinking of search as the discovery mechanism. And while there's no denying that search is a critically important means of discovery, it's worth noting that it isn't the only one. Increasingly, social channels are becoming destinations where product and brand discovery happen.
The other thing we digital marketers are accustomed to thinking is that social's main functions are branding and encouraging loyalty through customer engagement. Social is, in fact, a great way to for brands to accomplish both of those goals, but it is also a worthwhile avenue for discovery.
In a survey done last year, 29% of respondents said they use social networks during the discovery phase of the purchase process:
With that in mind, below are some of the key ways social channels are being used for brand discovery.
Instagram has pretty much become the go-to social media
platform for influencer marketing. The curated images, personal approach, and elevated feel of the platform make it particularly well-suited to showing off products in visually-appealing and apparently authentic ways. Instagram is a platform where lifestyle brands flourish, and influencers and lifestyle brands go together perfectly.
Part of the tremendous power of influencer marketing is its ability to introduce your brand to a new audience that may never have heard of you before. Influencers have large and engaged audiences who respect and actively seek out the opinions of those influencers. Simply put, influencer marketing will help new users discover your brand, and Instagram is one of the best channels on which to launch such a campaign.
The rollout of in-app shopping capabilities for certain apparel, jewelry, and beauty brands also goes a long way to increasing discoverability of specific products on Instagram. The rollout of this feature means that users can discover products and learn about them within the app itself, and then be taken to the brand site to complete the purchase if they wish to do so.
Since its inception, Pinterest has consistently been one of the best social discovery platforms. Discovery ideas and saving images that are representative of those ideas is pretty much the platform's purpose in a nutshell. So it makes sense that an active presence on Pinterest helps users discover new brands and products.
In fact, finding and shopping for products is the second most frequently listed reason users give about why they engage with the platform. Over half of survey respondents reported using the platform to find and shop for products. That's pretty significant when you think about it.
The introduction of Buyable Pins went a long way to bridging the gap between discovery and action (ie; purchase.) Buyable pins are just what the name suggests -- pins that are shoppable directly from the Pinterest platform. In an interview with eMarketer, Michael Yamartino at Pinterest said, "One of the most exciting things we hear from marketers is that they're seeing a lot of new customers come in through Buyable Pins. They're not just reaching out to their existing base-they're able to expand their audience through Pinterest." If this is true, it indicates that Pinterest, and Buyable Pins in particular, are a powerful mechanism for discovery -- one that brands may have previously ignored or undervalued.
We all know that Facebook is the giant when it comes to social platforms. Facebook's reach is unmatched by any other platform. Not only do they have a huge audience, but they also have a huge volume of searches taking place on the platform every day. As of July, 2016, Facebook reported seeing 2 billion searches per day. That fact alone indicates that Facebook is an active hub of discovery.
Facebook also rolled out Facebook Live, its live streaming feature, to all businesses and users in 2016. This move marks an investment in video, and live video specifically, as well as an investment in the generation of even more content to keep users returning to the platform again and again. They're also offering ways for users to find live videos with features like the Facebook Live Map. The takeaway is that, increasingly, live videos are becoming a way for audiences to discover new brands who are producing engaging content.
Finally, from a paid perspective, lookalike audiences are an effective way to increase discoverability on Facebook. These aren't new, but they're still worth mentioning. Lookalike audiences allow advertisers to prospect new customers who are similar to their existing customers, thus likely to be high quality leads. It's a great targeting option for brands who want to get out in front of new users while maintaining campaign efficiency.
A Shift In Search?
We're not saying that search is going away anytime soon -- or even that it's less valuable now than it used to be. Paid and organic search are both highly effective and critically important discovery mechanisms. But you're missing out on valuable opportunities if you aren't considering the ways that social channels can also impact brand discovery.