Why Social Media Is a Battleground for Prompted Search

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communication and promotion in social media

In a world of omnichannel search, a business’s social media spaces are places where consumers can find what brands have to offer at a local level. Consumers are using Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social platforms to figure out where to go nearby to shop and play. (Google famously labeled these moments of exploration as micro-moments.) As consumers search across a larger palette of devices and channels such as social, a brand needs to view its social spaces as battlegrounds for prompted search.

I introduced the concept of prompted search in an October Street Fight column. As I discussed in the column, prompted search happens when an event triggers a surge in search activity, both branded and nonbranded. Two types of events typically create an occurrence of prompted search:

  • A business engineers an event, such as a product rollout or a sale, which prompts consumers to search for a product, business, or category.
  • An external event over which a business has less (or no) control, such as a major sporting event, creates a spike in search activity.

Savvy brands have gotten pretty good at relying on paid and organic search to capitalize on prompted search. Google published a report that discussed how Red Roof Inn has generated more bookings by capitalizing on an unplanned event that occurs all too often: flight cancellations that strand travelers overnight at airports. Red Roof Inn monitored flight patterns at airports close to Red Roof Inn locations (and there are many of them). When extended flight delays happened, Red Roof Inn ran paid search ads promoting its convenient locations, capitalizing on the surge in searches for “lodging nearby” prompted by a flight delay that strands travelers at airports.

In an omnichannel world, search engines aren’t the only places where people conduct branded and non-branded searches prompted by events. Social media spaces are also critical, as the popularity of the Pokémon GO augmented reality game demonstrated. For businesses that operate brick-and-mortar locations, Pokémon GO is an excellent example of an external event creating a surge in prompted search. When Pokémon GO exploded in popularity this summer, many businesses suddenly found themselves the object of intense search activity because the game prompted Pokémon GO trainers to look for nearby locations, inside or near businesses, to unlock achievements and to battle other Pokémon GO trainers.

Smart brands capitalized on these searches by relying on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to promote their locations as ideal places to play Pokémon GO. Businesses also used other social sites such as Yelp to generate foot traffic with Pokémon GO trainers. Many restaurants and bars used Facebook to advertise drink and dining specials for Pokémon GO trainers. Facebook was especially important because the platform capitalized (and still does) on the social nature of Pokémon GO.

For a number of reasons, social media is an especially effective touchpoint for businesses to create foot traffic and commerce by capitalizing on prompted search. On social media, brands can react much faster when external events happen, as we’ve seen businesses do time and again through their creation of content that ties into major sporting events.

If you live in Chicago, you know what I’m talking about. When the Cubs won Game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland November 2, Chicago businesses turned to social media to congratulate the team and to generate commerce. Social media was the perfect place to do so. Game 7 did not end until late in the evening Chicago time. It didn’t take long for local businesses ranging from Murphy’s Bleachers Bar to the Morton Arboretum to congratulate the Cubs on Twitter. Within hours, Chicago businesses relied on social to generate foot traffic. For example, the Museum of Science and Industry’s Facebook page offered a $7 off admission all weekend for anyone wearing Cubs gear, in a nod to the fact that it took the Cubs seven games to win the World Series. On Twitter, the Cubby Bear, a popular bar located across the street from Wrigley Field, let their followers know that they were open at 9:00 a.m. November 4 for the Cubs victory parade.

Meanwhile, Taco Bell demonstrated how to drive foot traffic while the World Series was in progress. During the World Series, Taco Bell launched a “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco” promotion, the fifth time it has done so. If a player stole a base during the World Series, participating Taco Bell locations would hand out free Doritos Locos Tacos on a designated date depending on which game the stolen base occurred. After Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor stole a base in Game 1, Taco Bell gave away free tacos on November 2. But the promotion wasn’t perfect from a prompted search standpoint: to close the loop with people who were conducting “free tacos near me” searches after Lindor stole a base in Game 1, Taco Bell could have done a better job identifying the names of participating locations and clarifying the date that the tacos were to be given away. Social media would have been the perfect place to do so.

Brands can also capitalize on social to support events under their own control. During the holiday shopping season, retailers are getting more sophisticated with their use of social to capitalize on searches for things to do and buy. For instance, Target usually coordinates multiple channels ranging from Instagram to Snaphat to ensure that its name appears when consumers do near-me searches for holiday deals. And Target is not being opportunistic. Target plans synchronized advertising campaigns that trigger prompted searches through television ads — and then scoop up the prompted search traffic by offering deals and sharing holiday-related content on all their channels, including social media.

Businesses can maximize the value of their social media spaces with prompted search by adhering to a few tips:

  • Be ready for the moment. Chicago businesses knew Game 7 was going to happen. They just didn’t know the outcome or the time the game would end. Smart businesses prepared by making their brands visible when the Cubs won. Doing so meant having a strategy and resources in place for the moment — and being willing to accept the possibility that the moment might not happen.
  • Take advantage of what each social channel has to offer. Twitter is perfect for posting content in real-time or near real time. Facebook is especially effective for sharing deep content such as details about an event you’re hosting or products you’re promoting. Pinterest is great for posting merchandise for sale. Google+ remains important for optimizing searches. Understand how people are searching and why on each channel.
  • Coordinate across channels. I mentioned the Museum of Science & Industry’s use of Facebook to promote an admission discount. The MSI also gets kudos for cross-promoting the deal across other channels, such as email. And, as I noted, retailers such as Target integrate social with a number of channels, especially mainstream advertising for triggering prompted searches.

Of course, on an ongoing basis, you need to make sure you’re managing the fundamental elements of a successful social media presence, such as ensuring that your data is accurate and your content is sharable. By treating your social media presence as an essential touchpoint for prompted search, you’ll be ready to seize the day — and make your own opportunities to make location marketing more effective.

Gib-Olander-150x150Gib Olander is vice president of product at Chicago-based SIM Partners.