Making Sense of Social Search

Social search is still so new, it can sometimes be hard to get experts to agree on what it is or, more importantly, what it has the potential to be. "Too often we think of social search as the search box in Twitter or Facebook, but neither represents the true value that social search will bring," says Augie Ray, senior analyst, social computing for interactive marketing professionals at Forrester Research. As even major search engines such as Google and Yahoo! offer social search results and new specialized tools pop up, the face of search may just be changing forever.

"Today, search is merely about finding data, but social search will be about aggregating opinion and insight," says Ray. "Rather than entering ‘Restaurants in San Francisco' into a search box and receiving page after page of links to disparate information, social search will be about ‘finding the best pizza in San Francisco,' and those results will be based on the opinions and behaviors of the people who matter most to you." Could the days of gaming search engine optimization algorithms be behind us? Will asking your Facebook or LinkedIn networks replace asking the massive, all-knowing search engines?

"It turns out that people trust other people that they perceive to be authentic in their opinions and reasonably knowledgeable about a particular subject," says Walter Knapp, COO of Lijit Networks, Inc., which provides social search solutions for businesses. "For example, when someone goes out to purchase a new car, a new camera, or a new bicycle, they might go to a manufacturer's website for the specs and the technical details-but they go to the community for opinion, reviews, recommendations, and other anecdotal information. This information they get through social interactions. Offline, they ask their friends. Online, they read blogs, use their social network, and things of that nature."

Still, it seems that social search means something different to just about everyone, depending on their perspective. Users might think of social search as simply asking a question of their networks. But for companies such as Lijit, it means something more.

Lijit's site search and content discovery tools aggregate social media content sources, including websites, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, and more. All content sources are integrated into native search results, and readers can drill down by social media type to find the most pertinent information. In September, Lijit started offering a Lijit Picks tab, which provides an overview of the top three search results from each content source.

On, users can look for conversations surrounding search topics. Its search and sorting algorithms combine data taken from more than 60 of the internet's most popular social media gateways. On, companies-or individuals-can sign up for daily email alerts about mentions of anything from your brand or CEO to celebrity gossip.

As the public's search habits and expectations change, so too must companies. Simply popping up at the top of Google's results may no longer be good enough. "Companies can prepare for the future of social search in the same way they are preparing for social media-finding fans, encouraging positive dialogue about the brand, generating advocacy, and the like," Ray says. "The more brands can generate positive comments, tweets, blog posts, ratings, and reviews, the better they can prepare for improvements in social search and discovery technologies."

Someday, though, Ray thinks search as we know it could all but disappear. He already sees some changes moving in that direction. "We won't always be needing to search for information because the information we need or want will arrive to us," he says. "This is already happening today, for example, with news. More people are finding the news that matters most to them from their Twitter followers or on Facebook rather than having to visit or search on news sites. This trend will continue to impact how we discover and hear about products and services."