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Can Social Networks Compete with Google on Search?

As part of our Ten Lessons of Distribution in the 2017 State of Distribution, Kristi Kroker walks us through the notion that not all search is done through the channels of conventional search engines:

The advent of technology has produced unlimited digital space, allowing people to answer questions, research the latest news, and search specific inquiries:

  • “How many miles does it take to burn the calories from one M&M?”
  • “How should I invest my money?”
  • “Where can I buy a cheap new iPhone battery?”

Often, in response to these random queries or more pragmatic questions, people rely on traditional search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. to find information. Today, “Googling,” has even become an accepted expression when describing a search. How many times have you heard the phrase, “I’ll just ‘Google’ it” or “let me Google that?” You’ve probably heard these sayings more than you can count. Now, how many times have you heard someone say, “I’ll just Facebook it,” or “let me Pinterest that quick?” I’d be surprised if you’ve heard the latter.

While Google dominates the market with over 150 billion searches per month (maybe more, they haven’t recently published exact figures), social media provides a large footprint for everyday search and use. In fact, YouTube is the second largest search engine accounting for 3 billion searches every month—which is bigger than Bing, Yahoo, Ask and AOL. Specifically, each month,

  • Pinterest hosts 2 billion searches
  • Facebook hosts 60 billion searches
  • Twitter hosts 19 billion searches

While social media greatly influences search consumption and use, people, in general, do not trust this mode of search. People’s trust in social media is lower than search engines, traditional media, and online media. But, why?


People have strictly defined and polarized functions of search engines and social media. Social media is conventionally thought of as a participatory place for people to like, share and comment on daily occurrences—not actively seek new information. Traditional search engines, on the other hand, have been deemed a space for people to attain answers to various questions. Through these constructions of purpose, people have accepted traditional search engines as the most trustworthy way to get information. Additionally, the prevalence of fake news has increased skepticism around social media content.


While social media produces lower trust, many people still actively use and retrieve information from it. Today, it is evolving into a space where people not only socialize with others but also get answers to everyday search inquiries. Search Engine land writes, “Google is the big dog in traditional search, but it would be wrong to think that is the end of the story, as Google faces competition on many different fronts.” More searches are going to be done within social media, and with such a large footprint, this could completely change the way people consume information.

Reconsider social media as a means to deliver search results. While trust may be lower, you might just find more resonance with specific audiences depending on where you put your information.


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