What is Social Search?
Fast on the heels of the introduction of Sidewiki, Google has rolled out yet another new feature in Google Labs called “Social Search.” This offering, in the experimental stages, showcases public content from each user’s personal social circle in search queries when signed into his or her Google account. This means that when a user conducts a search online, results will include information and updates from that individual’s connections on sites such as Gmail, Flickr, Twitter, Picasa and blogs, to name a few (Facebook has yet to sign on to the program). Google uses this example to illustrate how it will work:
“A lot of people write about New York, so if I do a search for [new york] on Google, my best friend’s New York blog probably isn’t going to show up on the first page of my results. Probably what I’ll find are some well-known and official sites. With Social Search, Google finds relevant public content from your friends and contacts and highlights it for you at the bottom of your search results. When I do a simple query for [new york], Google Social Search includes my friend’s blog on the results page under the heading ‘Results from people in your social circle for New York.’ I can also filter my results to see only content from my social circle by clicking “Show options” on the results page and clicking “Social.”
(Click here for a video demo)
In order to make this program work as advertised, a person’s account must be actively connected to other social networks so that Google can detect and pull from these outlets to make the user experience more personalized. Social search is not to be confused with real time search. Think of it as more trusted results made readily available in the search process.
So how “personal” are the results?
According to Google, there is a specific method to gathering content that will ensure the results are most relevant to the user. “The way we do it is by building a social circle of your friends and contacts using the connections linked from your public Google profile, such as the people you’re following on Twitter or FriendFeed. The results are specific to you, so you need to be signed in to your Google Account to use Social Search. If you use Gmail, we’ll also include your chat buddies and contacts in your friends, family, and coworkers groups. And if you use Google Reader, we’ll include some websites from your subscriptions as part of your social search results.”
What it means for Consumers
Due to the fact that the authors of the content being viewed in Social Search will be familiar and trusted voices, these results could reasonably be perceived as more valuable to the individual end user. 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations while only 14% trust advertisements, according to socialnomics.com. With these staggering statistics in mind, imagine how much higher the level of trust is from peers within one’s tight-knit social circle, not just random peers scattered across the vast Internet. Even though the results are located towards the bottom of the search results, users may begin to actively seek these queries as they get more familiar with the new functionality. In order to gain greater trust and confidence in adopting Social Search, Google may need to provide clear privacy guidelines to ensure consumers that certain information, such as personal emails and pictures, will not blur the line and be publicly displayed on the results page.
What it could mean for the travel industry
While this offering is still in an experimental phase, Social Search could have a huge impact on the travel industry. Rather than seeking out review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, consumers will be able to read reviews, blogs and even view pictures and videos from trusted sources who have published relevant content, directly in their search results. The effortless nature of this Google addition places an even greater emphasis on the importance of a hotel or destination’s social media presence. Managing your company’s online reputation requires a much deeper strategy than the typical reactive steps of responding to reviews. Having a social media presence that is both proactive and valuable to a variety of people and can go a long way in capturing more natural search results and increasing presence in the most trusted category of results; the individual’s elite social circle. Check back for updates as this program continues to grow and develop.
(Click here to view a video tutorial on how Social Search works behind the scenes.)
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