Paid Search vs. Social Media

Yesterday, my co-worker John blogged about ways one can make the most out of their Paid Search budgets, giving respect to the fact that many businesses are struggling financially during this recession. Being responsible with your money, whether on a personal or business level is something everyone can relate to in times like these.

This morning I visited one of my favorite industry websites, Web Pro News, and found an article titled “Over Half of Online Retailers Decreasing Search Spend.” The article presents the findings of a survey of 117 online retailers, and 56 percent “said they would be scaling back search marketing specifically, indicating a plan to reallocate funds toward other venues like email and social media.”

Social Media is everywhere these days. Avenues like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and dozens of others are very prominent in the popular lexicon. Celebrities using the services make them appear even sexier than just hearing about them around the water cooler. (On a side note, does anybody work in an office that has a water cooler where employees stand around and chat anymore?)

However, those looking to jump on board the Social Media Bandwagon should be careful. It’s not that I’m saying engaging in Social Media is a bad idea; far from it. But in my short time working in the digital marketing industry, I have learned that Paid Search and Social Media are two entirely different beasts, and one should be prepared if planning to reallocate their funds.

Both Paid Search and Social Media can bring customers to your website or get your brand out there, but the methods are extremely different. The level of interactivity is chiefly what separates the two.

Paid Search can almost be described as existing within a bubble, as whoever is managing the campaign observes the statistics and trends from afar, and makes adjustments accordingly. Some businesses do this in-house or hire someone (like Oneupweb) to do this for them. The business can be as involved or not involved as they want. One of the goals of paid search is to specifically target people that are looking for what you have to offer, whereas the target of Social Media is much broader. There’s a level of passivity to Paid Search, as the actual amount of person-to-person connections within a campaign is very little.

On the other hand, Social Media is more centered on person-to-person, or business-to-customer, interaction. It’s not something that can be passively observed and tweaked and tested from within a bubble. It requires constant monitoring and active participation. It also requires a thick skin. For example, if your business or oganization has a Facebook page (like the one shown above), it would be open to the public, and anyone could become a follower. They then have the ability to say anything they want (within the parameters of Facebook’s Terms of Service, of course) about your business, positive or negative. Given the nature of the consumer, there is bound to be some negative feedback about your brand, and one must accept that before even thinking about starting up with Social Media.

But did you know that the Chinese use the same word for crisis as they do opportunity? Yes, Crisitunity! A business actively engaging with in their Social Media presence can take that negative feedback and turn it into something positive. Several weeks ago, a fiber cut in California caused thousands of people to be without broadband, phone, and wireless service for a period of time. Instead of remaining silent, AT&T began to tweet about the problem, keeping people updated about what was going on. People were annoyed about the interruption of service, but were by and large pleased that the company took the time to talk to them and engage them.

The advantages of both Social Media and Paid Search can help reap huge rewards for your company. I advise companies to think about where they are putting their money and really understand both services — and not just go with the new Social Media because it’s hot right now. Perform the research, weigh your options, and invest the necessary time and money into the services that best fit your business.