Social Media represents the end of Search – The Debate Rages On At #smc_mcr

Social Media represents the end of Search  - #smc_mcr

As promised on Twitter, here come my notes from last week’s incredibly enjoyable Social Media Cafe Manchester event.

Regular readers of the Real Fresh TV blog will know I’ve been blogging about Social Media Cafe Manchester, the monthly meet up and networking event for any one into social media in the Greater Manchester area since the first event in November 2008.  You can read all my blog posts by checking out posts tagged #smc_mcr.

Last Tuesday’s event, the second at the BBC on Oxford Road saw record numbers attending, many from related industries like web marketing, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and broadcast media.

It really does feel like the Social Media Cafe Manchester has grown tremendously this summer, perhaps due to the BBC Bar being used as the venue for the last two events.  The attendee list for Tuesday’s event had at least a hundred names on it!

Present were a lot more people from other fields than social media and internet marketing which can only be a good thing.

Debating Social Media vs Search

A few days before the event, David Edmundson-Bird, Director of Exective Programmes at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School decided to add a debate session to the Session list on the Social Media Cafe Manchester wiki.  It is normal practice to signify your intention to speak at the free to attend Social Media Cafe events by adding the title and a brief description of your talk to the wiki.

Provocatively titled “This House believes that Social Media represents the end of Search”, it was to take place at the end of the two informal presentations that happened concurrently at the event.

The debate had a couple of interesting features.  Taken from David’s notes it was:

“A debate between search professionals and social media professionals.

Using the 140s House Rules, each speaker has 140 seconds to put his or her point across. At the end of both sides speaking, the debate will open up to the floor with questions – these can only be 140 seconds long, and responses from each side can only be 140 seconds long. After all question, one person from each side makes concluding remarks lasting 140 seconds. The house then votes.”

I decided to volunteer myself to speak ‘For’ the motion and I’ll post my thoughts about the debate now, after which I’ll blog my highlights on the “Digital Games and/as Social Media” talk by Ben Light, Professor of Digital Media at the School of Media, Music and Performance, University of Salford.

The 140 second rules did trouble me slightly, it meant I had to have my points all ‘bullet-point sharp’ and concise.  I’ve been known to ramble.

In the end it turned out that I didn’t have to worry too much about timings, all my responses fitted well within the ‘2 minutes and a bit’ time constraint.

Arguing For the Motion

As it happens I was first to speak.

I opened up the debate by prefacing my argument with two provisos:

  • that I was arguing about a time when social media would be prevalent for all media, specifically 15-20 years away
  • that I was referring to ‘search as a function’ and not as a filter or, as some may have imagined, a search engine

My core argument was that when it was as easy to consume content as it was to create it, one had an interesting problem.  How does discovery happen?

I argued that it was already happening, via social media.  Stuff finds me, via hashtags and trending topics on Twitter. Twitter’s trending topics outline the most talked about things in the web-universe at that particular moment.

And I personally think that this is how much ‘content’ discovery will take place in the short to mid-term future.

Consequently, my closing point was thus:

Marketing professionals specialising in search will increasingly need to create pages and profiles for their client’s products on the main social media sites to be relevant to a digitally-native population.  To be found, they need Social Media and not Search.

Taken to its conclusion, my last point suggests that Search professionals are doing a lot more optimisation for social media, moving away from their core world expertise in Search.  Would any search professionals care to correct me if I’m wrong?

To be honest, as it transpired both sides of the debate recognised both functions (social media and search) would happily co-exist.  In the end, we all settled in to coax the light-hearted banter into a fully fledged ‘debate’.

Social Media Turns The Web Information into Intelligence?

On the ‘For’ team, I was joined by Adrian Slatcher, Senior Digital Development Officer at Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA) who postulated that the social web was “turning information to intelligence”.

Adrian argued that librarians and database developers were as unlikely to ‘rule’ the web as it was that the British Library would ‘write’ Karl Marx’ seminal work.  He felt that it was the network of people collaborating on the web that added real value to the web.

The two people arguing ‘Against’, Dave Mee of design and social media agency Tandot and Julian Tait of creative solutions company Littlestar put forward very interesting arguments about how social media tapped the wisdom of the crowds.

To be fair, neither were Search Professionals and must be commended for taking part when no-one from the Search industry seemed willing to get involved.

Julian made the very good point about what happened if your network didn’t know anything about the things you wanted information on.  He felt that social networks were “a scatter graph of user opinion” whilst Search provided a diversity of results.

Julian added that social networks and social media in general tended to become “an echo chamber of things”, ending with the point that maybe a mix was the key.

After each team presented their arguments, David awarded each a point, meaning both were level in terms of points after the initial presentations.

Twitter Interaction for the Debate

David then invited questions from the floor via Twitter, picking the first that surfaced to the top of the listings during a search of #smc_mcr on Twitter.

The person asking the question presented it to either the For or Against team verbally, allowing us to put names and faces to Twitter profiles of the folk getting involved in the room.

This Twitter-powered interaction with people in the room made for a very interesting debate.

Someone asked Julian how he found his plumber.  To which he replied, “By Search!”

I was presented with this question:

@totmac How can social media and the opinions of strangers gain credibility and reliability? #smc_mcr

I answered this by saying that by its very nature social media relies on the ‘real life’ credibility of the participants.

You can’t game the system unless you are incredibly good at impersonating people.

It’s interesting to note that this doesn’t stop SEO firms from attempting to boost search engine rankings for their clients by creating anonymous profile accounts for them on social media sites.  This is only a recipe for disaster though as those profiles invite interaction from disgruntled customers.

So Who Won The Debate?

The audience vote saw the ‘For’ team losing to the ‘Against’ team by 24 votes to 13 or so, which is to be expected, I guess.  People vote for what they know and an argument set 20 years into the future is hardly assured!

After the debate, a couple of people told me that the team arguing ‘For’ had some of the better arguments but I must add I haven’t posted all of those here, this is already a very long post!

Digital Games and/as Social Media

Here come my highlights on Ben Light’s fascinating talk on ‘Digital Games and/as Social Media’.

Ben’s talk was media-rich with lots of slides and videos discussing the evolution of computer games as social media.

Starting with a look at the virtual world Habbo Hotel and ending with a presentation on how the Sony PlayStation game SingStar inspired user participation on Flickr and YouTube, Ben provided an interesting overview on how ‘social’ technology, be it computer games or social networking sites, mediates society’s behaviour.

I met Emma Monks, Senior Manager, Moderation and Safety at Habbo Hotel last year at an event organised by Channel 4’s 4Talent network which I blogged about afterwards and so listened intently to his presentations on Habbo Hotel.

Ben is Professor of Digital Media at the School of Media, Music and Performance, University of Salford and director of the university’s new MA Social Media.

Ben’s interests lie in the links between digital gaming and social media: “how people make these games and social spaces work”.

Some of Ben’s research results into how ‘Habbos’ (users of Habbo Hotel) relate to the “real world” versus the virtual space on Habbo were particularly interesting.

Habbos didn’t always see ‘criminal behaviour’ in actions that scam other users of their ‘furni’, for instance.  ‘Furni’ is the slang term for digital furniture within user spaces in Habbo Hotel.  These can be traded within the virtual space with credits that are bought with real money.

Ben’s ethnographic research on Sony’s SingStar unearthed a wealth of user behaviour.

SingStar users were filming and uploading whole videos of their performances to YouTube and creating a whole community around the game.

Sony had envisioned that users would only want to share 5 seconds of performances and provided a much more pared down ‘performance recording’ option for their networked version of the game.

Interestingly, Ben shared that the demographics for SingStar seemed at odds with the community one might associated with it.  SingStar Bollywood was one of the least popular games, for example.

I have to stop now!

I’m looking forward to going through the slides for the other session presenter, Julia Shuvalova who presented on ‘Social Media Actually’.

Hope you enjoyed #smc_mcr.  If you’re interested in discussions about its future head to the event at the Britons Protection tonight at 6:30pm.

If you were there and care to comment on any of the above, please fire away in the comments!

Photo credits:  loscuadernosdejulia on Flickr

Related posts:

  1. Presenting A Beginner’s Guide to Social Media at #smc_mcr
  2. Using Twitter to Raise Money for Charity AKA Social Media For Social Good – #smc_mcr
  3. Real Fresh TV Partners with PUMA On A Social Media Search To Find Manchester’s Most Promising Band
  4. LinkedIn Debate: Web Designers Should Provide Social Media Training
  5. Real Fresh TV’s Monthly Social Media Events Guide – September

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  • Tom Mason

    Some interesting points and a nice write up of the event.

    The debate was very interesting – I would have been tempted to take the stand myself, but alas, as it was my first SMC_MCR I was a little unnerved by the prospect of standing up in front of a host of strangers relatively unprepared!

    An idea which was picked up later by one of the panellists suggested that there was a third way; that search and social media could live in harmony together. I tend to steer to this side of the fence.

    The general feedback I get from clients – and one I agree with – is that social media has some great advantages: the opportunity to directly communicate with consumers, highlight new services to a loyal follower base and quickly establishing a brand online.

    However, clients get a little shaky on the idea of moving resources from search – PPC funds, site content – to social media.

    Firstly, the vast proportion of internet users are still finding and buying products using search. Google et al has been established as the norm to find things on the internet. People trust search results – rather than the opinion of relative strangers on social media. Search engines try to present the most relevant, credible information in an ordered fashion.

    True, someone can recommend a product to me on Twitter, but I’ll probably look for a Which? review or the like on search before purchasing.

    Secondly, the option to search in more depth isn’t yet available in social media – indeed, trending topics come and go and finding information a user posted over a month or two ago on Twitter can be incredibly difficult. Unless there is some definable way to sort results on social media (rather than having to wade through a raft of occasionally irrelevant tweets), most users are still going to rely on search.

    True, some companies do use black hat approaches to social media – fake account and the likes – but mainly, the good companies and SEO copywriters are aware that the negatives of this approach greatly outweigh the positives – the infamous Habitat scandal being the most recent example. Most companies are smart enough to see that social media can have an instant backlash which can damage a brand.

    At the moment, social media is a nice compliment to an SEO strategy – directing users to a site or giving them instant access to new products or services. I think it needs to evolve further before we begins to see it as a real challenger to search.

  • Anubis_Anubis

    I didn’t quite understand alot of that article, because it went way over my head. But I did want to request Chi-Chi do another social experiment involving music videos. Is that okay?

  • Chi-chi Ekweozor

    @Tom Mason:

    You make some excellent points, thanks for taking the time to leaving such a detailed comment.

    Your comments regarding clients feeling shaky about committing resources to social media makes a lot of sense, it is still quite a new industry and more time needs to be invested in understanding how it works, which is why Real Fresh TV offers social media training!

    And I heartily agree about trusting a Which? Review over a Twitter recommendation but both are actually forms of social media! They would have both been written by consumers.

    My core argument in the debate was that the web is now inherently social and that {search} marketers needed to allow customers to converse around their clients’ products and services because this gives the customers a sense of ownership in the brand. This sense of ownership is the basis for customer loyalty.

    To do this, a search marketer would probably have to become more of a social media marketer though.

    Yes, search within social media is still fairly rudimentary; there are few directories out there associating Twitter recommendations with products, for example.

    However, as the deluge of social content grows, more companies will realise that a well-rounded social media strategy that encompasses not just accounts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube but copy from carefully managed blogs is the best way to co-ordinate their conversations with consumers, rudimentary developments in ‘social search’ notwithstanding.

    Thanks again for taking the time to speak up for Manchester’s SEO community!

  • Chi-chi Ekweozor


    Thanks for your comment! I’d be more than happy to do another social media experiment involving American bands but why would you want me to do that?

    What are you after? ;o)

  • Chi-chi Ekweozor

    @Tom Mason:

    On your point about search in social media:

    I just spotted that one of the trackbacks on this article is by a company called Topsy who according to their website link search results to social media conversations:

    “Topsy is a new kind of search engine, with a new way of looking at the Internet. Topsy doesn’t think the Internet is a collection of documents. Or even a web of documents. Topsy sees the Internet as a stream of conversations.

    When you search for something on Topsy, such as “free music“, it finds snippets of conversations that match what you’re looking for.”

    Worth checking out maybe?

  • Anubis_Anubis

    Oh wow, I didn’t think I’d get such a quick response. I came across last year’s experiment (Aug 22, 2008)through a google search and I was shocked that I hadn’t heard about it. The blogoshpher, the viral video universe, and social networking in general can be very complicated and hard to figure out, especially if you are just starting out, so I consider it very generous of what you were trying to do. Maybe the Brits are just that cool ;) . Thanks so much, and let me know when your next social experiment is and I will try to pass it around.

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  • Chi-chi Ekweozor


    Thanks for your comment! I’ll certainly consider doing another social media experiment and will get in touch when I do.

    Watch this space.

  • Meet People

    A very interesting debate! Thanks for reporting it so clearly!

  • Not your average Social Media Cafe Manchester event: building the ‘Flickr of Dreams’ and US Corporate Social Media | Real Fresh TV | Social Media Marketing, Social Media Training, Multi-Platform Marketing and Internet TV Specialists

    [...] of blogging my experiences of Social Media Cafe Manchester events, of which there are a few examples on this blog, here come my [...]