By Eric Dahan
In 1998 the founders of Google set out on a mission to do one thing: organize the world’s information. Google has come a long way since then, and so has digital media.
Until recently, social media content has been somewhat ephemeral, and the more content that’s created means more possibilities to get lost in the noise. But new tools are creating order from the chaos, and turning social media content into a searchable resource.
Social media is rich with user-generated content from digital creatives, as well businesses and brands. The effect has been an overwhelming deluge of information–about the world, but more specifically, what people around the world are talking about. This data can be particularly useful for marketers looking for timely consumer trends and new ways to engage with online audiences.
While there are certainly platforms that aggregate and index social media content, and Google is still the king of all Internet search engines, each social network has its own strengths and nuances. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest, new and improved social search tools highlight those qualities and while there is some overlap, you’ll find each network useful for different types of research.
As already noted, one of the most powerful ways to use social media for research is for identifying and tracking trends. At any given moment, social media users are talking about a multitude of topics; however, the most engaged conversations bubble to the top and become trending topics. More niche networks like Tumblr may have trends unique to its community, and sometimes trends converge across networks.
Twitter: Real-Time Trends
Twitter is perhaps the best network for researching real-time trends and conversations. This is true for a variety of topics, but especially for sports, news, and entertainment. In fact, the average Twitter user is most engaged in conversation around live large events; the hashtag system turns keywords into search results. Journalist, media personalities, and publications are very active on Twitter, which makes it an excellent resource for collecting real-time commentary from publishers big and small.
The caveat with Twitter is that its strength is also what makes it challenging. Its real-time nature means a constant stream of updates that has been likened to a fire hose of data.
Facebook: Trend Evolution
Facebook hasn’t always been the most searchable social network, but it recently announced an improved search tool with suggestions and results from public posts and posts from friends. Where Twitter thrives in real-time, conversations and trending topics seem to have a longer life span on Facebook. This makes it useful for researching how a conversation shifts and evolves over time.
Remember, though, your Facebook search results will only show public content, or content from your friends. So while it’s the biggest social network, most of the public posts will likely be from publications, businesses, and public figures, while the regular users likely have their posts set to private, rendering them unsearchable.
Instagram and Pinterest: Trends in Pictures
Pinterest and Instagram are both image-based platforms, which means they’re most useful for finding images related to certain topics. While Instagram’s search is mainly powered by hashtags, Pinterest has become a well-organized archive of visual content made searchable through careful user curation and smart infrastructure.