Search engines, social media platforms or messaging apps? The future of brand engagement…

Jul 12th, 2017

When it comes to making sales and winning new business, the way that brands interact with their audience is vital. But how are they interacting? Is it through search engines, social media platforms or messaging apps and what does the future of brand engagement hold?

It used to be that a customer would consider their needs and pick up the Yellow Pages. They would thumb through the pages until they found the service that they required and then they would usually call the number on the first listing or largest ad that they could see.

This proved costly to those with a smaller budget, whose name didn’t begin with an ‘A’ or who simply had a basic ad. The reality however is that these were the only three things that the business could change and if they improved their chances with a premium print ad, a bidding war would ensue and the larger brands would increase their budget and ad size, repeating a vicious cycle.

Leap forward to today and the methods of connecting with a business’s audience are far greater. They can target performance on the search engines, placing ads and increasing their visibility for keywords specific to their products and services. They can engage on social media, promoting products or events and responding to queries and now, thanks to these platforms and other messaging apps, they can stage a one on one conversation with their customers. All of this is trust building and adds a personal touch to the user experience. So where does this leave the future of brand engagement?

According to social media networks have become the new search engines and have overtaken them in terms of search importance.

They go on to say many consumers skip searching on Google or Yahoo, and instead type their query into social media networks. Some of the scenarios they touch on may sound familiar:

  • If you are watching a TV show or news programme, you may turn to Twitter to search.
  • Looking for information on how to dry and press a flower or decorate a room? Pinterest is probably your go-to.
  • People looking for the best restaurants or garages near them turn directly to Yelp.

Even Statista have covered the rise of Facebook with their latest findings highlighting the increase in referral traffic, especially in certain sectors. The table below highlights this and it would be fair to assume that these sectors will see increased search queries and brand interactions over the months ahead.

Even Facebook’s homepage now has a “trending on Facebook” section where you can see headlines and search for Facebook posts based on certain topics. All of this leads to the argument that social networks are more valuable in terms of fact finding. There is also a strong case that you are creating a bespoke search engine by selecting your friends, interests and groups when setting up your profile.

On the back of all this Facebook has now announced plans to push this message home and to roll out a new ‘Discover’ tab for Messenger. The thinking behind this is that it will make it easier for users to find and engage with brands and chatbots. Messenger bots are already en route to revolutionise the way consumers interact with businesses and opening dialogue in this way might signal the end of users looking for a website and a contact us form.

Speaking at the latest Facebook conference, David Marcus, Head of Messenger at Facebook said: “Facebook Messenger will act like a whitepaper or Yellow Pages. You’ll be able to search for people in Messenger and you won’t need a phone number. People will be able to contact businesses straight through the platform.”

He added: “One key property for Messenger is the ability for brands to reach customers who are registered on Facebook. Customers can actually engage with the brand and be sent relevant content.”

According to Business Insider the Messenger update will amplify the value and usage of its channel in three clear ways. They are:

Ensuring high-quality, compelling and easy communication for users and brands.

By enabling users to search for their favourite business or look through categories and select bots that suit their needs, more and more people will be instantly connected with their favourite brands, fostering enhanced communication via the platform.

Serving as a directory for locating people and businesses.

With one of the largest social networks powering it, Messenger is well placed to seriously threaten Google as the primary mode of online discovery. The high engagement rates of chat apps as well as Messenger’s massive reach positions it as a Trojan horse for overall online discovery. This threat is further compounded by Messenger’s perceived convenience; it provides a platform through which users can discover local businesses via mapping locations and brands by name, and it supports engagement through its rich communications platform.

Offering businesses added convenience.

Facebook is already an established portal for business discovery — over a billion users visit Facebook Pages every month looking for more information from businesses. However, Messenger provides businesses with a conversational and sticky avenue to reach and engage with customers, such as through the deployment of chatbots as customer service agents or concierges.

So what the significance of all of this and why is Facebook choosing the Messenger part of its platform? Currently the top four messaging apps — Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Viber — now claim nearly three billion monthly active users combined, outnumbering the combined active users on the world’s four largest social networks, which includes Facebook.

This shows that the volume is there in terms of audience and as a result it is only right that the platforms are targeting the masses. It wasn’t too long ago that YouTube was listed as the second most popular search engine in the world. Even Google Analytics added a dropdown menu for YouTube searches.

All of this represents a real shake up in the industry and highlights just how important it is for businesses to match the thinking of their customers in terms of advancing their offering. This suggests that whilst social media and messaging apps are pressing ahead, SEO and optimising your website are still the ‘bread and butter’ of search marketing. You just need to figure out the balance.

Click Consult is an award winning search marketing agency committed to leading and communicating industry best practice, to find out what Click can do for your brand – contact us today.

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