Real-time search is bringing social media to search engines. And that means a whole new dynamic for businesses using the social web.

With Twitter and Facebook updates appearing in Google search results, many businesses are trying to figure if this is good or bad—and what to do next.  Ziff Davis featured this blog post a while back.  It got me thinking about the implications of the real-time web and how businesses can navigate through these rough waters.

The Business Upside to Real-Time Search

Here’s what real-time search means for you:

  • Increased reach of your messages:  With Facebook and Twitter appearing in the search results, branded social properties will now have the opportunity to share their messages to a broader audience on the social web.
  • Growth in social equity: Businesses now have the opportunity to increase their Facebook fans and Twitter followers by strategically posting at optimal times and authentically engaging in conversation.
  • Potential customer acquisition:  Google is a trusted source.  When it lists content on the first page, a lot people click.  It’s a fact. By actively participating and strategically posting content, you’ll have the opportunity to convert and/or upsell via social media messages.

Here is a quick video highlighting real-time search to get you up to speed:

Now the Dark Side of Real-Time Search

The business challenges are clear. Not only do brands (small or large) need to be ready to engage online with their constituents in real time, they must also be willing to relinquish some control of their marketing messages.

The good news is you don’t have to give up full control as long as you are willing to participate. Participation can mean listening, watching and monitoring all the activity that happens on the social web, and in this case, Google search engine results pages.

You need to be ready to use Twitter Search to monitor trending topics, branded terms or any other keywords that may apply to your brand or business, and engage in the discussion.  Common reasons to engage include:

  • Having something of value to contribute
  • Intercepting a ticked off customer and changing his or her attitude
  • Correcting false information

The caveat is that the technology today is still not fast enough to monitor live conversations.  Real-time search requires “real-time” monitoring which translates to “boots on the ground” brand participation.  If a brand is highly engaged and savvy with Twitter, it will be ready to respond when issues arise on the fly.

A great example of a missed opportunity is when Motrin released the Babywearing ad (see below); and didn’t notice the negative groundswell in Twitter until it was too late.

With Facebook updates now appearing in search results, brands must be more strategic when posting messages. It’s going to require marketing and PR to work collaboratively with search engine optimization (SEO) or web teams within the organization. If that’s a challenge, there are tools like Google trends which display how often a particular term is entered into Google relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world.

Use Google Keywords

Another important data source is the Google Keyword tool that will determine the competitiveness of keywords and how many times that term is searched in Google in a given month.

Google keyword data is significant for many reasons. Marketers can use this data to strategically post messages on Facebook that can be indexed and eventually appear in the search results. Take the following as an example of the latest update from the Adobe Photoshop Facebook fan page:

adobe photoshop facebook fan page

A more effective status update might be to include the keyword phrase “Photoshop tutorial” instead of just “Tutorial” as seen above.

Now don’t get me wrong, this status update is really good. It’s concise; they are providing value to their readership by giving away free tutorials and they are empowering the community to share their work on the wall (disclosure: Adobe is an Edelman client).

However, by simply adding “Photoshop” to this update, Adobe would have the opportunity to have this particular update appear in Google real-time search results when someone searches for “Photoshop tutorial.” A brief look at the data in the keyword tool shows that the term “photoshop tutorials” yields approximately 301,000 monthly searches.

A Few More Concerns

Some may view the indexing of Facebook status updates as a threat of disruptive technology.  And while this may be true in some cases, there are definitely things that brands must think about and prepare for:

  • Spam:  Spammers will continue to use Twitter and status updates by placing links within messages in hopes of their messages also appearing in the search results. This happened when the Skittles home page redirected to Twitter search for the term “Skittles.”  See
  • Increased Facebook participation: In order to capture mindshare and search engine real estate, brands must now use Facebook status updates more often; especially around product launches or important announcements.  It’s just as important, if not more, than traditional website copy and blog posts.  Just be careful not to spam the community as balance is important.

So what are your thoughts about real-time search? Do you see it as an opportunity or a threat to businesses?  Please comment below.

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  • Google’s business is to provide their customers with the information they are looking for, real-time search is an effort to do this. That being said, social media is one of the best places to get real-time info, it’s what’s happening right now. As you have stated – there are pros and cons with this – over time Google will probably find a way to weed-out the spammers, just like they have done in other areas. Providing good, valuable content will eventually rise to the top of r-t searches also.

  • David, I agree and great insight.

  • I agree and think this article is very informative. Being a small business however, I find the challenges to be the speed in which we can keep up with real-time posts/tweets, etc.

  • I’m not sure I completely understand this. Every time a person updates their status it could appear on Google depending on certain criteria, limits etc.? Sounds like more clutter and time to allot to FB & Twitter. For a small business who is not yet able to hire someone just to manage social media I’m not too crazy about this. A lot of the status updates people post would not even be beneficial to someone searching on Google. Perhaps I’m missing something?

    I think time is better invested in reading blogs and commenting. You actually connect with someone, learn, help, grow traffic. All of which seem to be more challenging to accomplish with FB & Twitter.

  • Absolutely agree with you on all points. What I particularly like about this is even the smallest business has the ability to make an impression on a shoestring budget. The key is going to be finding cost-effective ways to manage their social media presence without taking them away from their “real” job. 🙂

  • Kay,

    You are exactly right. It’s much more difficult to scale as a small business owner. The good thing is that as long as you “naturally” participate on the social web, your content will begin to appear in the search results.


  • Jennifer, excellent point. Reading, commenting on blogs is also an effective strategy to engage with potential customers. I would also say that both Twitter and FB are excellent tools to not only drive web traffic to your business, but also to build long term relationships with your constituency.

  • Very informative article. I imagine people (spammers) will start keyword stuffing tweets and facebook updates. Although I imagine google has already started working on that. So, far with the real time I’ve only seen Twitter, I haven’t seen any Facebook updates. With Social circle, I see a few blogs and twitter.

  • XCLNT analysis and superb examples – you defintiely nailed the pros and cons of “real time search” Thanks………

  • I reckon you have hit the nail on the head for 2010 companies must embrace social media and also try and incorporate video in their marketing plans.

    Facebook is a great opportunity to deliver your marketing messages but I agree you need to have balance you need some personality in your marketing too. Thats why video will help you connect with your market on a personal level. GR8 post keep em coming!!!

  • Good job pulling this all together. I think many companies look at the cost of putting those “boots on the ground,” but overlook the opportunity cost of not having those “boots on the ground” when a crisis hits. Building that social capital can never start too early. Starting too late never ends well.

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