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Are shifting search habits changing the face of consumer tech PR?

Posted by Megan Hill on 13th June 2024

Back in the days of dial-up modems, there was only one person any self-respecting web surfer asked for help — his name was Jeeves.

Yes, there were others like Archie (the original search engine launched in 1990) and Yahoo! (which beat Jeeves to the World Wide Web by one year in 1995) but in my household, we were firmly Jeeves users.

Homework issue? Ask Jeeves.

Recipe conversion? Ask Jeeves.

Settling an argument? Ask Jeeves.

He may have been slower than digging out an encyclopaedia at times, but we soon reverted to using Jeeves for all our queries.

Of course, Google is the star of the search engine show now, with Ask — formerly Ask Jeeves — having retired many years ago (and lost the foothold on searches long before that). But new data reveals that even the mighty Google is on uncertain ground when it comes to brand awareness…

Different generations, different search preferences 

I was only a one-year-old when Jeeves came on the scene, so although I remember the search engine fondly as my main source of help for homework growing up, for my parents it was a new and exciting source of discovery. And that fondness for search engines appears to have continued decades later.

Born in the late 1960s, my parents count as Gen X, AKA the generation (alongside Baby Boomers) who are most likely to rely on search engines to discover brands (36%). That’s according to data from market research company GWI.

But when looking at the same data for millennials and Gen Z, the numbers tell a slightly different story. While 28% of Gen Z and 31% of millennials do discover brands via search engines (like your Gen X and Boomers), discovering brands via social media has the edge in these demographics. In fact, ads seen on social media are now the main source of brand discovery for Gen Z (31%).

Social is king

Social media is increasingly the go-to information source for potential buyers, with GWI’s data also revealing that Instagram is the main social platform the majority of people aged between 16-64 years will go to for product research (47%), followed by TikTok (22%). 

These social platforms have become a place where consumers can discover, research, and purchase products without ever leaving the app or closing a tab.

Even two in 10 Baby Boomers (20%) are discovering brands through social ads. So while it is the younger generations that are using social media more, liking the convenience of an all-in-one solution is not unique to one age group.

Now, that’s not to say that Google is about to go out of business tomorrow, but clearly, there is a trend here of socials nipping at Google’s heels. So, what does this mean for companies wanting to raise brand awareness through marketing and PR?

Take consumer tech PR as an example.  Data shows that online reviews are still key to the customer journey with 66% of consumers consulting reviews before making a purchase — and 88% stating that product reviews are the most important factor in deciding to purchase.

But if, in the not-so-distant future, key demographics no longer open search engines at all, do online reviews and feature write-ups become less important? Does social content become even more critical than it already is and if so, how do we as PRs adapt our approach?

Re-imagining the sales funnel

Generally, the kind of detailed, long-form reviews that help inform purchase decisions are discovered via search engines — users search for a product and are pushed towards consumer tech publications’ online write-ups and longer-form video content on YouTube.

Traditionally, this action of searching for a particular product forms the second phase of the sales funnel ‘interest’, with other marketing efforts and social media sitting at the top and ticking the ‘brand awareness’ box.

The idea is you see a product on social, search it on Google, read a review and are, hopefully, pushed further towards making a purchase.

However, if social media starts fulfilling both the ‘brand awareness’ and the ‘interest’ sections of the sales funnel, PRs will need to consider how to impart the extra information that would traditionally be in a longer-form review into a shorter social media video. So how do we do that?

Key elements for successful social content

To be completely honest, I don’t have a foolproof answer. And I do think that a world in which search engines are completely obsolete is unrealistic. But, there’s no denying that as social media increasingly becomes a go-to for people’s search needs, PRs need to adapt to the changing tides.

A few ways we can do that is by utilising linking tools that already exist on socials like TikTok and Instagram. A few thoughts on how to do this are:

  • Use the swipe-up functionality on Instagram to push people towards full review write-ups of your product. This would work better on owned brand pages and publications would likely be appreciative of the promotion.
  • Consider asking influencers to create TikTok-friendly reviews instead of — or in addition to — YouTube content. Ten minutes is now the max. length of a video on TikTok (longer than on Instagram), which is a decent enough length of time to get into at least a few of the key features of your product.
  • Utilise in-app shopping methods. Whether it’s selling on the TikTok shop or using swipe-up links on Instagram — people are buying on the social platforms themselves. You need to be available for purchase in the place people are shopping.

So there you have it, my download on tackling the rising importance of searching on social media. And if you’re interested in finding out more info on succeeding on social media — TikTok in particular — check out my previous blog.

Megan Hill