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Google real-time: potential PR disaster or opportunity?

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 8th December 2009

It’s been coming for ages and yesterday Google finally announced the introduction of real-time search. This will allow you to see ‘real-time’ results from social networks in normal Google search rankings (see the video above for a detailed look and how it will work.

I already think ‘real-time’ will be the big social media trend in 2010, so this move by Google is significant.

However, it also feels slightly rushed; I don’t think the user interface is particularly slick or intuitive (or useful), but the company had to do something to respond to Bing’s efforts and Twitter’s own search platform, and this is the first attempt (though it certainly wont be the last).

But what does (or could) real-time search mean for brands and PRs? Is it an opportunity or a disaster waiting to happen?

The potential opportunity

There is a clear opportunity here for brands that are active on Twitter or other social networks with ‘real-time’ interaction at their core. If you are tweeting about a certain topic, trend or incident, then this will potentially come up in search results, giving the searcher awareness of your account. Obviously for popular searches the amount of noise suggests that it will be almost impossible to be heard. But as the service matures and real-time results are included in less popular searches, the potential of being found becomes far greater, especially if influence becomes a ranking factor (or one option at least).

The potential disaster

But on the other hand, the risks become greater too. Imagine how real-time results in searches could severely escalate crisis management situations. If you think of incidents like the Habitat fiasco, real-time results takes this beyond just a Twitter trending topic into a totally new sphere. This is not a bad thing in itself – it is yet another example of media democratisation – but could potentially be very damaging for brands if not handled correctly.

How to prepare

It’s usually impossible to totally predict what disasters might occur, but in terms of real-time search, making the most of it and staying on top of it when things go wrong, relies on having a presence there in the first place.

By using these social tools to engage with customers and prospects – empowered by real-time search – brands will be able to learn about problems or issues quicker, build strong relationships with users and broaden the reach of social media interactions.

Danny Whatmough