Social Media: Just idle chit-chat?

Digital

If there's one thing we can be sure of within the online environment, it's that we're in the age of social media. We're at a time and a place where we're finding interesting ways of communicating with other people online - whether they be friends, colleagues, clients, suppliers…or just mere 'randoms'!

But social media is more than just idle chit-chat. Whilst critics will tell you social media is all about letting your mates know what you're having for dinner and what trash TV you're into, they clearly don't understand the power that these simple snippets of information have if harnessed in the right way.

Can you imagine running a service with over 500 million users? Can you imagine the data you'd gather from their seemingly pointless conversions? Just by looking at our very own Twitter stream (@zulucreative), you could quickly work out that we're a Birmingham-based company interested in business, design and all things relating to the web environment - from web design to SEO and social media management.

Of course, by doing a little more digging, you'd quickly uncover all sorts of other interesting things about us - from the times of day we tend to socially engage, to the type of followers we attract.

But this is just scratching the surface.

How will social media platforms affect search?

Search engines still form the foundation of the web. When we need to find something out, we'll hop on over to Google and search whatever it is that we want to investigate. There's no doubt we take this service for granted, and we don't really appreciate just what has gone into the processes used in order for Google to understand what it is we want to find out and how it is able to return the 10 most 'relevant' results to us - in less than a second. In fact, rather than give Google the appreciation it deserves, many will criticise the search giant for an apparent lack of relevancy.

So how should Google, and search engines in general, improve in order to answer the critics? Well, why not start by looking at integrating data gathered through social media channels? If you're searching for something on Google (lets say, an Italian restaurant in your area), would you not consider a recommendation from a friend as a more relevant result than some generic restaurant link? Would you not be more likely to give your mate's recommendation a go? Well Google seems to think so.

You see, the great thing about social media is that recommendations are always taking place - it's not all idle chit-chat. There's nothing simpler than the concept of the Facebook 'Like' button for example. If you like something and you're signed into the social network, you can instantaneously let your friends know exactly what it is that you like, and then they too can watch, read or look at whatever you found interesting. The Twitter 'Tweet' button works in the same way.

With the simple addition of a 'Like' or 'Tweet' button to your website, you open yourself up to a whole new means of promotion. But, as search engines look to make use of social media data to rank websites in their index, this new means of promotion doesn't stop within the social networks themselves. It comes full circle and you'll soon be able to find recommendations from within the Google SERPs.

Social Media Buttons

So what does all this mean? Well, firstly, the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) are set to become much more dynamic and more importantly, personalised. No longer will everyone see the same results when they search for a particular term. Google considers location, social trends and relevant recommendations made within your circle of contacts. But this does not mean that SEO is dead.

SEO and social media should be treated as a package

Websites should still be built in a certain manner which makes it easy for the likes of Google and Bing to understand. The more help you can give the search engines, the easier it will be for them to rank your site appropriately. An ongoing SEO and social media programme should then be executed in order to ensure rankings - whether they be personalised or not - are as high as possible, and your company achieves a respectable ROI from its website.

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