Business owners, brand managers, and marketers need to know a few things about how Google’s new social search results work; there are opportunities for gaining exposure for your business or brand that didn’t exist before, and it won’t be difficult to take advantage of them.

For most of the last decade, search engines were the main connection between people and web pages, but that is changing rapidly. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are increasingly driving people’s interactions with the Internet; that’s why Google has taken a big new step to take social media shares into account in its search results.

Here’s the skinny on what Google has done and how you can use it to your advantage.

How Google’s Social Search Works

 

 

 

 

Google Social Search was introduced back in 2009, but the changes made in February, 2011 are significant.

Social Search shows content that has been shared or posted by the user’s friends and social contacts on the social media site Twitter, the photo sharing site Flickr, and the social Q&A site Quora, along with Google’s own social properties. Previously these were shown as a separate list, below the regular search results.

With the 2011 update, these results are integrated right into Google’s main list of results, alongside normal websites. Google produced a promotional video demonstrating this, which we’ve placed above. Watch it and you’ll see what we mean.

How to Leverage Social Search

There are two scenarios in which you can leverage this for exposure for your brand. In the first, you need to already have loyal customers following you on Twitter and Flickr. To gain repeat business from them, you can create and share content on Flickr and Twitter that might be related to the products or services you offer.

So let’s say you’re a travel agency, and a customer is following you on Twitter. Tweet about your deals and offers for trips to New Zealand, and even if your follower misses or forgets about your message, he or she will see your offers figure prominently when searching for information about New Zealand trips.

In the second scenario, you have less control, but it just goes to show you that attracting followers on Twitter can be a big boon for your business or brand. Here goes: You might gain exposure through Social Search to some people who don’t even follow you, and who have never even heard of your brand.

That’s because those who do follow you might feel compelled to tweet about your services, or take photos of your products or retail location. When their friends perform a search related to your products or services, they’ll see those tweets about what you have on tap — and those results they see will carry special weight because they come from a friend.

So encourage loyal customers to connect with you online, and give them incentives to tweet about your business, either through contests, location-based deals on Foursquare and Facebook Places, or just good old social engagement.

Another Social Search Tip: Realtime Results

 

 

 

Social Search isn’t Google’s only foray into social media-based search results. The company offers another search tool called “Realtime Search,” pictured above.

Realtime searches return results from public posts to Twitter and other websites that deal in real-time news and social sharing. Advanced users often use it to learn more about events as they unfold, since Google’s main search tools give priority to pages that are already well-established as authoritative, not results that are fresh.

The best way to take advantage of this is to use your business or brand’s Twitter account to post tweets that contain search terms that interested customers might use, and to engage and relate your brand with the hot topics of the day. For example, if your business is a digital music store and the new Lady Gaga album just came out, be sure and post tweets with the terms “Lady Gaga” and the name of her new album to gain some Realtime Search exposure.

As always, you should run this through a “is this still relatable to everyday people” when making tweets targeted at search engines and other such tools. Your first priority is to connect with real people. Once you’ve touched that base, then you can start thinking about search engines.