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Digital Essays 2022: Is social media taking over ZMOT? – by Fusion5’s Natale Panella

As the market share for discovery and search shifts from search engines to social media, brands are finding new ways to get noticed, says Fusion5’s Natale Panella

By Natale Panella, head of digital, Fusion5

Would you have imagined a few years back that brand discovery and web search would move to social media? Recently, Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice-president at Google, stated that 40 per cent of youngsters who look for a restaurant online do not go to Google Maps or Search. Rather, they look up information on TikTok or Instagram. This is a strong statement, considering Google coined the narrative of ‘Zero Moment of Truth’ (ZMOT). The concept acknowledges that consumers perform research on a product and consult information sources before making a decision to purchase.

While online search engines maintain their leadership in the domains of discovery and organising information, social media is beginning to play a significant role and is expected soon to take a larger slice of the discovery market share. What is driving this shift and what can brands do to leverage their content strategy?

Video over text

Gen Z-ers prefer social video content over walls of text since it is shorter, more interactive and easier to find. At a time when attention spans are dropping, short content is more relevant than overcrowded paragraphs of text. This holds true not only for products and business discovery but also for publishing content such as ‘how-to’ instructions and concept-descriptions. 

Ensuring authenticity of information

Content verification is a tangible risk: How can we verify the authenticity of information and avoid misinformation? Given the nature of social media algorithms, consumers rarely feel a need to click outside the app. As a result, users do not tend to look elsewhere for additional sources of information for fact-checks. 

Monetising Gen Z 

Some may argue that millennials are not an easy target to monetise. However, it is the same audience that will tap into a disposable income in the future. Hence, the opportunity to access Gen Z today for brand discovery purposes is concrete. In the always-on game of relevance, it is necessary to make brands discoverable on search platforms in all the evolving channels to sustain brand equity.

The Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, is an e-commerce powerhouse in the country. It created a successful model by connecting local and retail businesses with customers through categorisation of services and video content. Businesses can share basic information, waiting lists and coupons or discounts – all while being supported by local creators’ video experiences. The effectiveness of its discovery can be seen across all demographics and not just across Gen Z. It emphasises that early adopters can quickly turn into a majority if brands use a highly relevant content ecosystem.

Diversify brand discovery based on industry

This leads to the question of how businesses should diversify their brand discovery in their customer journeys. Should they divert more resources to social media, use creators’ content or supply relevant and accessible discoverable content through an updated SEO strategy? 

The answer lies in the type of industry the brand works in. Users are keen to see a visual representation of the information they search for. They want the result and content to be short and concise. Highly visual industries such as travel, beauty, luxury, fashion and food have a tangible advantage over the others and should be the first to drive transformation. 

From a creator-economy standpoint, the opportunities for brands and creators to collaborate and monetise are endless. Brands currently choose their creators based on factors such as audience affinity, reach and engagement level. This is gradually shifting to the capability of the creators to be found and rank high for specific topics or queries. 

At present, the SEO industry is worth more than $80bn and Google holds 90 per cent of the search engine market share. As TikTok and Instagram are gaining a higher market share in discovery and search, we are at the cusp of a decline in SEO and content marketing. 

While brands work towards delivering high ranks and satisfying users’ demands, search algorithms and content creation on social media will soon be driven by a higher level of customisation and optimisation. Social will ultimately become part of the SEO discipline.