Google’s Social Circle & The Trust Network

Social search… interesting development. Or is it.  Google have been including social web results in search results for a number of months now. Google’s next development seems (as explained in the above slightly creepy and uber conservative video – count the amount of mentions of security related words) is to use the content from the social sites that you have added to your Google profile into your main web search results.

This creates some level of helpfulness in cross referencing friends, comments and answers to questions across social platforms.  Meaning that if I look up details about where to go on honeymoon I will get trip advisor, expedia and the gang, but also results from my friend Tim’s blog about where he went on holiday last week – a result that would never usually hit page 1 of a search result list. All of this is nice enough and interesting in a slightly geeky, if you’re into that stuff, kind of way.

However what is interesting is the greater trend that has prompted this technology from Google – personal networks of trust. We have known for a long time now that word-of-mouth from friends and contacts is the most trusted source of information to us. The entire public relations industry thrives on this single fact, we trust those who we know more than those who we don’t. Therefore it is logical that when I want honeymoon ideas, or where to rent a Tux for my wedding (which is in June by the way – presents welcome, gift list link to come!) I can use Social Search to check what my contacts and friends across my social circles (the Google terminology for our networks of trust) think about the topics I am searching for.

Of course this has significant ramifications for brands who interact in the social web. The default of most web users when looking for information is to jump into the lap of Google, whether looking for a good deal on a TV or life insurance, and according to HitWise “The proportion of traffic that online retailers receive from social networking websites – such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube – increased from 5.2% in March 2008 to 7.1% in March 2009.”

Brands who don’t currently interact in the social web, or have poor SEO of the content that they currently produce are going to come a-cropper if Social Search moves towards a default. Clearly, if we begin to see the opinions of our contacts displayed right alongside carefully SEO’d content and Paid Search, competition for our attention heightens, and our default will be to go with what we trust – our contacts.

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