•   22 February 2011

Social networks? Watch out for friends’ posts while you are searching for information online

Last week Google announced that it was planning to implement changes to its Google Social Search platform to include posts from people’s online friends into its standard search results. The social search results, which previously appeared at the bottom of the page, will now be mixed throughout the list of results based on their relevance. Another interesting change in the search engine functionality is that users will be prompted to connect their social networking accounts any time Google’s algorithms find a public account that might belong to the same user.

As social networking profiles become more interconnected, people will be able to see publicly shared links posted by online ‘friends’ and connect their Twitter, YouTube, Flickr or Quora accounts. However, the upgraded social search engine will not include posts from the social networking giant Facebook. This does not come as a surprise as the two companies have a long history of trying to ‘steal’ each other’s market share with Google tapping into social media and Facebook developing its own email platform.

Despite excluding Facebook, Google’s Social Search platform will offer access to much more information about users than it was previously available. Some people will question whether this is entirely a good idea. Google seems sensitive to the privacy issues and allows users to opt out of the social sharing service by not connecting their online accounts to the search platform. However, if any of your online friends is ‘connected’ and shares or retweets your posts, they will become publicly available in the search results. Moreover, it remains uncertain how you would be able to control who sees to your online posts once you have connected your social networking profiles to Google.

Overall these changes highlight a number of trends which will potentially impact social media PR and marketing. As social networks are increasingly woven into online search engines and online profiles can be easily linked, businesses will be able to reach wider audiences and niche customer segments. SEO practices will be adjusted to take into account the rising importance of social networks for placing content in the top ranking of people’s search results. This will result in more intricate and subtle integration of social media tools into PR and marketing campaigns and will place higher importance on online networks.