in SEO, Web

Social More Like Search and Search More Social

Over at RLHB, O’Keefe suggests that perhaps social networks are (or eventually will be) killing Google search:

Attorneys get their best work via word of mouth and a strong reputation, both built through relationships. Relationships built through social interactions.

The Internet doesn’t change that. Attorneys just need to understand how to use social networks and social media (blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc) to build relationships so as to build a strong word of mouth reputation.

Sophisticated people looking for a lawyer turn to people they trust. Today, relationships of trust for many people are established via social networks.

That’s why it’s so critical that good attorneys learn how to personally use social networks and social media. Search is not going to cut it.

Working with thousands of lawyer bloggers, Kevin definitely has his finger on the pulse of legal web publishing and networking. But I’m not convinced that search is facing an untimely death.

Yes, attorneys tend to get their best work via word of mouth and a strong reputation, and are likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

And no, the internet doesn’t change that. And yes, people turn to people they trust for all sorts of services, including legal services. And yes, social networks play an increasing role in terms of how many people interact.

But don’t count Google and search out just quite yet. It will be a lot easier for search to become social, than it will for pure social to become more like search.

How People Use Them

How do people use the internet, search engines, and social networking platforms to find information? That’s the key question, and it’s also a very difficult one to answer.

The fact is that the way people use these technologies varies dramatically from one person to the next. It also depends a great deal on what information retrieval task a person is trying to accomplish.

For instance, if you want to get a recommendation for a movie to see this weekend, you might go to Facebook and post to your wall:

Anyone have a recommendation for a movie?

And you may or may not get responses from people you know about what you should and should not go see.

But you might also want to know what movies are “doing well at the box office” or what critics think about a particular movie. For these information retrieval tasks, you’re much more likely to either perform a search, click a bookmark to a favorite movie site, or punch a specific website address into your browser.

And when you’ve selected your movie, you’ll probably want to check out show times, and you may even decide you want to purchase tickets in advance. Again, you’re more likely to perform a search or head to a specific site to perform these tasks.

Now let’s look at how people use the internet in relation to getting answers to their legal questions.

Do people go to facebook and post:

Anyone know a good divorce lawyer?


Anyone know a good criminal defense lawyer?


Anyone know a good bankruptcy lawyer?

Maybe some people do. But the overwhelming majority probably doesn’t want to broadcast that they’re in need of these services, just as they might be reluctant to “like” Depend’s facebook page (160 likes at post time).

What’s much more likely to happen, is that someone will privately ask someone they know if they know a good “fill-in-the-blank” lawyer. And that person might either refer the person in need of an attorney directly to the attorney or to someone else that they know that had a similar issue to get the name of their attorney.

And once the person looking for a lawyer “gets a name” they are very likely to use the internet to find out more information about the attorney. Will they go to facebook for this information, maybe, but probably not. More likely, they’ll head to a search engine.

And what about people aren’t even looking for a lawyer or a new lawyer yet? There are far more of these people.

These people are consuming information, news, entertainment, etc, online. They’re doing research. They’re looking up answers to their questions.

And where are they going to perform this research and get answers to these questions? Facebook? I don’t think so.

Intent Matters

And so, it’s much more difficult to change the intent of users of Facebook than it is to add a social layer to search.

Generally speaking, people go to Facebook to look at pictures of their friends’ children, play games, and talk about what they had for breakfast. I’m not trying to trivialize the importance of these online tasks, but they’re generally not performing research.

And the question will be whether Facebook will ever be able to change the fundamental way in which people use Facebook.

On the other hand, people use search to do research and look for answers. And while most of their friends aren’t on Google Plus yet, making it difficult to see pictures of their kids, I suggest that it’s a much less difficult feat to add a social layer to search.

And while a social search layer is a tectonic change to the very fabric of search, it’s not a fundamental change to the intent with which someone goes to a search engine. It’s just an additional way, perhaps a more effective way, to curate search results.

And so, in my view, search, even as it continues to evolve and become more social, will always serve an important role in web-based information retrieval.

Whether they go to Google, or Siri, Wolfram Alpha, or some other type of search-like technology, people are likely to continue to demand access to information beyond what their social networks will be able to provide.

Does that mean that social media is dead? No. It’s really just a matter of intent and how we use these various technologies that really matter.