There are a handful of examples that showcase the power of branded social content. In recent history, Oreo’s iconic “you can still dunk in the dark” 2013 Super Bowl tweet garnered 10,000 retweets and remained in popular consciousness for months thereafter. Google Trends gives the search phrase “Oreo tweet” a ranking of 100 out of 100 even into August of the same year. The value of social content like Oreo’s is going to increase this year.

In February 2015, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo confirmed reports that his company is partnering with Google to make tweets appear in search engine results in real time. In addition to being beneficial for Twitter, which is likely to see a bump in traffic from appearing in search, the partnership highlights a broader trend related to marketing: the need to bridge gaps between all of the channels consumers use to conduct research and make purchases.

What’s the value of social media marketing, anyway?

For the consumer, search and social are already closely related. data from Mintel’s Social Networking US 2014 report shows that conducting a search is the second most popular direct action taken after seeing branded social media content, just behind visiting a company’s website. Further, the popularity of search extends beyond social marketing. According to Mintel’s upcoming Internet Ads: Search, Banner, Display and Video US 2015 report, 20% of internet users aged 18+ conducted a web search after seeing an online ad.

Yet there is a certain ambivalence when it comes to using social media as a promotional tool – both from consumers and companies. From a brand perspective, it’s difficult to quantify the value of social media because a small fraction of social network users leverage social media directly before a purchase. According to Mintel data, just 9% of consumers made a purchase by clicking on a social media ad, and 11% purchased a product that was advertised on social media without clicking directly on the ad itself (Social Networking US 2014 report). This is consistent with 2014 research from GigaOM, in which more than half of marketers surveyed agreed with the statement, “it is difficult to prove [return on investment] for social media marketing.”

However, when considering engagement that extends beyond direct conversions and ad clicks, the value of social media looks much better. In June 2014, the overwhelming majority of networkers (79%) reported some engagement with branded content, which includes actions such as viewing or sharing brands’ posts or liking and following a company. Even if most consumers aren’t thinking about branded social content right before they make a purchase, the majority of social media users do see what companies have to say, meaning that social media is impactful in building awareness and in continued engagement with existing customers.

Deeper integration between social and SEM

It is already possible to search tweets via Google. However, as with traditional web pages, it takes some time for Google to index and include them in its search results, thus negating the real-time benefit that Twitter provides. This partnership places even greater value on real-time and relevant content for marketing. More importantly, the partnership highlights the value of connecting the various ways consumers have for interacting with businesses.

In the near term, successfully leveraging this trend will be defined by the ability to unify messaging across social, search and other channels as well as ensuring that content in one area augments brand positioning in others. However, some organizations are taking this a step further by also making social a key part of product development and customer support.

One such company is General Motors, which monitors social media data to detect flaws in its products faster than it otherwise would be able to. As AdWeek reported in December 2014, the company monitored social media conversations surrounding the Cadillac Escalade, released in September last year, and was able to identify a problem with the backseat cooling system. This allowed the company to fix the problem before the next large shipment of vehicles a few weeks later. It is that kind of incorporation of social that will likely define brands’ social media success in the long run.

Bryant Harland brings almost a decade of experience working in the tech arena, most recently as a Senior Technology Writer with Brafton News, where he oversaw the editorial team, wrote as a trade journalist and prepared a range of industry white papers.

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