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How the Jetsons got it wrong: the relationship between social and search

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Leigh via Flickr

One of the many things The Jetsons got wrong about the future of American life when the show first aired in 1963 was that advances in technology would lead to fewer tasks for workers. (I am also still waiting for my flying car.) George Jetson’s job as a “digital index operator” requires him to push a single button for 3 hours a day, 3 days a week.

To be fair, here in the year 2010 we are only about halfway from 1963 to the setting of The Jetsons, which takes place in the year 2062. But while communications technology is making our lives more productive and, in the case of public relations professionals, broadening our reach to new audiences, at the same time it is requiring us to push more buttons than ever before. Or at least, that’s how it feels.

The first major battleground in online reputation management was search engine optimization (SEO). Had The Jetsons predicted the rise of Google, George Jetson’s boss, Mr. Spacely, would certainly have been concerned about whether Spacely Sprockets ranked higher in Google search results than its rival, Cogswell Cogs. While SEO continues to be extremely important, communications professionals are increasingly turning their focus to social media outreach. For many people, that feels like pushing two different buttons. In fact, they are increasingly merging into one.

That brings me to the research of Tauqueer Ali, a graduate student at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta. (Like several other students from the US, Italy and elsewhere, Tauqueer and I crossed paths because of my involvement with the Influence Scorecard group, leading me to realize that online reputation management is a growing research focus and area of expertise globally for business students.)  Tauqueer has found through his research that what people are talking about on blogs and social sites today is an excellent predictor of what people will be searching for tomorrow.

Check out this graph where he tracks both social activity and search activity surrounding the diplomatic standoff involving Google and China. He used search data from Google Insights for Search and social activity data I provided to him using the Cision Social Media Dashboard powered by Radian6.

Source: Tauqueer Ali comparison of Google Insights for Search and Cision Social Media Dashboard data

You can see that in the 2 to 3 days after a flurry of discussion on blogs, Twitter and elsewhere, search activity begins to pick up. It makes sense when you think about it: if you see people talking about something online, you may go search for more information about it. “Social Web activity increases awareness of an event or news among people, and more and more people start searching for related topics,” Tauqueer says.

I’ve been writing about the convergence between social media and SEO a lot lately; for me it’s one of the most important trends of 2010. But does it mean that a strong presence on the social Web for your brand guarantees strong search engine results? Not necessarily, but it helps a great deal. If done well, it may mean you don’t have to push the SEO button until your finger gets sore.

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