Hitwise today published figures today showing that in the UK Social Media sites received more visits than Search Engines in May. The Twittersphere has predictably picked up the news as a sign of some sort of victory for Web 2.0, and some eBusiness voices are starting to voice concern about the impact this milestone will have on their acquisition efforts.
My own view is: not much. Social Media sites are fantastic resources and having a presence in them is no longer optional for most businesses, regardless of their distribution model. But Social Media sites are primarily about engaging in dialogue with prospects and customers, about providing added value by being accessible and extracting value from allowing your customers to contribute to your products’ development. Social media sites are great at helping people decide whether they want to buy a product of a certain category (say a new camera), and whether they should consider any particular brand; as well as to get support from their contacts when their purchase goes wrong.
Search sites, on the other hand, are best are directing people to the best place to fulfill their concrete intention, as declared by themselves in the search bar. Once you know you want a new camera, Google takes over and shows you what cameras are out there, how much do they cost and where to buy them. As a source for new business Search will remain your most important source of business for years to come.
There is a final comment to be made about the measure used to somehow imply Social Media’s supremacy: visits. If a higher number of visits were a measure of value, we’d all be creating sites that were difficult to use or full of distractions. Visits are relevant for media sites, both social and of the traditional sort, as they provide engaging content for the user. Search and eCommerce on the other hand must provide efficient services that reach the visitor’s desired outcome every time. Google receiving more visits could be a sign of a great problem indeed, if those visits were a symptom of poor search results forcing the user to try again over time. The fact that Google gets it right most of the time, and customers reach your eCommerce site to buy your products is another sign of the healthy position of Search as a key channel for your acquisition efforts, one that you should keep investing in and developing your capability for.
It’s great to see Social Media visits go up. More and more people are finding more and more reasons to go online, and that will in the end benefit us all who run online businesses. But you would be ill-advised to blind yourself with these figures and do too much of your Marketing on Social Media sites. That’s not what they are for.