Day 3 of the Search Insider Summit brought a keynote with Chris Copeland of Group M and Graham Mudd of comScore on the interplay between search and social. They covered the key findings from research released in October.
When I first read the press release about the study, I was struck by how much the results seemed like no-brainer (even potentially misleading) material and posted an admittedly hasty response -- Search and Social: Wherein Lies the Truth.
So I was excited to have the opportunity to see the research presented live and share some of my thoughts on how the data was interpreted. Sure enough, as he took the stage, Chris (justifiably) called me out for the hasty post -- although, in my defense, at least I was transparent about it -- and assured me that he'd leave 5 minutes at the end for my questions.
The data Chris and Graham presented was certainly compelling. I won't rehash it all here as it's available through Group M Search. The basic gist is that they saw significant lifts in search query volume and click-rate when consumers were exposed to both search and social media vs. search alone. These lifts were more pronounced when looking at campaign brand terms (32 point lift), brand product terms (42 pts) and general product attributes (21 pts). Chris pointed out that this demonstrates the impact social media can have on influencing the consideration phase of the purchase funnel.
A few times during the presentation Chris suggested that marketers may be investing too much in their paid search programs to maximize coverage on top-of-funnel terms when siphoning some of that budget off to social media could more effectively drive consideration and, in turn, marketers could capitalize by buying lower funnel (typically less expensive) terms.
After the presentation, I began my comments by applauding the research and recognizing that there's not enough research about the interplay between search and social so any data is good data. However, as I mentioned in my previous post, it seems like you could replace social media with any other marketing tactic or media channel and find the same results -- that the combination of Platform X plus search drives a lift over search alone. After all, people need to be motivated by some external stimulus to search.
In fact, a few years ago, iProspect put out a study that showed that 37% of all searches were influenced by TV and 30% from print. Accordingly, I asked Chris if it might make more sense to reallocate dollars from search to other media channels besides social if the end goal is driving a higher search response (which was the only metric measured in the Group M/comScore report).
Chris acknowledged there are a number of different directions they could've taken this research and reiterated that they plan on releasing a phase 2 report with deeper analysis into conversion activity. But he reminded me that, when it comes to budget allocation, this is not a zero sum game. Most clients aren't maxing out their paid search opportunity, much less fully-funding other channels. As Chris sees it, the data from this study should help justify increased investment in social media but where that budget should come from will depend on each marketer's unique situation.
Other areas that they plan to dig deeper into for the phase 2 report include categories beyond auto, CPG and telecom. Comparing the lift relative to other channels is not on the docket but something they may explore down the road. I also asked if they'd be able to break down the components of "influenced social media" futher to see what impact things like FB fan pages have vs. iPhone apps but Chris pointed out that it's tough to isolate these platforms because they don't really have a 1-to-1 relationship with the consumer. In other words, they all work together to influence the consumer and not independently in silos.
All in all, I was satisfied with the rationale Chris and Graham provided for how this study was set up and what they set out to prove. It's more about just understanding the impact of social on search and less about making sweeping recommendations and advocating for specific budget reallocation decisions. In this context, I certainly agree that the mission was accomplished and look forward to seeing how they build on it for phase 2.
I'll be getting into this topic again on Monday in my SES Chicago panel -- more info on that session in my post, SES Chicago Preview and Shameless Self-Promotion. Look forward to continuing the dialogue there and in the blogo/twitter-sphere.
Update 12/16: Just posted the 4 decks from my SES panelists. Great stuff from Marshall Clark of Organic, Tobias Peggs of One Riot, Brian Boland of Facebook, and Bryan Simkings of FedEx. See "Search and Social: See You at the Crossroads."