Social Media May Be Winning the Search Engine Wars

Social Media May Be Winning the Search Engine Wars

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As the search engine wars heat up and Microsoft prepares to unveil a new Bing powered by ChatGPT technology, a substantive competitor has entered the arena — social media. According to a new report, 82% of consumers prefer to search on social media over traditional search engines, and two in five would rather use TikTok than Google or Bing.

The trend toward using social media to search for information is growing, even as tech giants like Google and Microsoft continue to fight for dominance in generative AI. In a survey of 1,000 Americans, 55% cited Instagram as their top preferred platform for social media searches, followed by YouTube (54%), Facebook (51%) and Twitter (44%). While TikTok came in last place for popularity as a search engine (42%), its core user base of young, affluent consumers is exactly the demographic marketers are after.

“The most surprising stat to me was how much Americans of all generations prefer to search queries for things on social media rather than a search engine,” says James Campigotto, a project manager at Fractl, the digital agency that worked on the report.

Social media platforms are increasingly serving as an alternative to traditional search engines, particularly as ad-based results become more omnipresent. In particular, more consumers are leveraging relationships on Facebook and Instagram to find answers to local questions, like which restaurant serves the best margaritas or which nearby coffee shops are open on Sundays.

Forty-percent of all internet searchers say they’re unhappy with current search results, although their reasons run the gamut from unrelated results to outdated information. Researchers found that 48% of consumers say speed is the most important element in a search engine, followed by content quality (46%) and privacy (43%). 

Restaurants are the most-searched business category on social media, followed by personal care. When searching for a place to eat, the most common initial terms used are “restaurants,” “good,” and “fast food,” followed by “near me,” “popular,” and “best.”

“Social media, specifically Instagram, is becoming more popular for finding restaurants [and] clothing brands … We are already seeing increased use of this platform for searches related to Google,” Campigotto says. “That being said, depending on the industry, marketers should analyze their niche and see how they can dive into this phenomenon a bit deeper this year.”

The Age Divide

Breaking down social media use and search habits by age, researchers found that younger generations are less satisfied with their search results. Baby Boomers tend to be slightly more satisfied with their search results than members of Generation Z. 

“It’s interesting to see each generation’s social media platforms of choice when it comes to using it as a search engine,” Campigotto says.

As far as their biggest concerns, researchers found that GenZers and Baby Boomers care more about privacy when searching online, while Gen Xers and millennials are more about speed.

“This could be a game changer for small businesses and marketers. SEO is massive for businesses trying to sell more of their products or increase their brand,” Campigotto says. “Given how much social media is diving into the mix, it could be the next big step in gaining visibility — maybe even more than Google with paid Instagram ads.”

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.