We’ve looked at search versus social for experts from a few angles: paid ads based on your product’s goals and for info products sales funnels, purchasing mindset of users on search and on social, with consideration to where your audience is, and most recently for amplifying content.
Maybe most important to consider in the great debate is your personal strengths and ability to not just sustain, but thrive with an audience-building regimen built on one or the other.
For many it’s not an either or, its a both. But I’d still argue it’s like having a dominant and non-dominant hand. You’ll lean towards using one more.
Being deliberate about what you ignore and what you focus on allows you to ultimately be in control of that growth.
Let’s look at how search and social differ as engines for audience building for different people with different strengths and situational considerations.
I’m assuming you are taking the traditional route of building an audience through content, by seeking to serve and share looking for nothing immediately in return.
The idea with this approach is that you will generate visibility, traffic, and ultimately influence by attracting people to the value of what you produce and freely give, and coming from that place of helpfulness will guide you in the right direction.
Your job creating content for search
In search, you start with considering what people… search.
You want to discern what it is they really want based on the psychographic intent of their query. Your job is to understand and meet that underlying need better than anyone else.
Pro Tip: What satisfies the intent can be counterintuitive. Maybe there are lots of long guides but people actually just wanted a quick answer. Maybe that’s an opportunity to organize a what for who and when type piece of content.
With this method, you start building an audience by helping users in their moment of need. You include some congruent call to action for them to subscribe. You trade some value for an email.
Momentum comes when you do this over and over again.
If you’re consistently showing up in results with helpful answers, that starts to compound for a user new to subject matter you cover.
After a couple visits on different posts, brand recognition kicks in resulting in higher click through rates in Google results even if you aren’t on top.
The more they click your content, the more Google personalizes results putting you higher than you would be by default.
It starts looking like you’re everywhere. It’s hard to be the authority without looking like you’re everywhere.
Getting there is a long road, so it’s important you enjoy the process.
Your job creating content for social
Meanwhile in social your job is to be helpful in context of the current conversation or landscape, engaging in a natural way.
Typically, value is provided by consistently sharing relevant (often not your own) content to a relevant audience. It’s more of an ongoing conversation around some interest, problem, or journey your target audience has.
Momentum is found in through having a perspective and making points that resonate with those people consistently. Social algorithms reward consistency of engagement.
If you enjoy spending a fair amount of time on social media and can “work” on social without your attention getting high-jacked, that’s great.
How feedback, benchmarking, and signposts work on each
On social you get rapid feedback
The feedback is almost instantaneous. You’re not going to spend a long period of time talking to yourself meaning you cannot do social poorly for long.
You share, comment, like, retweet, with the goal of participating, contributing, engaging.
The response or amount or quality of engagement become your signposts guiding the way, showing you what is or isn’t working through the (imperfect) measure of interaction.
It’s more collaborative.
On search feedback is delayed but it’s easier to compare your content to competing content
Competing results in search are competitors in the game of getting traffic to your site for a given topic/intent/query.
Once you get to a point where you pass some threshold to rank for a topic (which can take a while), you’re in a situation where you still have to earn satisfying the intent or satisfying the need of the user in a way that is measurable and visible to both users and search engines.
It’s a longer road in that regard, but it’s doable to look at what other content is ranking, some of the key signals associated with competing content, and compare yourself.
You can’t really do that on social. Someone posts something and gets 1k retweets. You post something similar and get 1.
It’s more competitive process. It’s also collaborative, but that process is less direct. You’re looking for partners in adjacent, not adjoining, areas.
The value ladder is different
On social, you’re creating potential energy
In social, you start with, “I want to participate in these conversations,” with the intent of developing expertise, authority, and peer recognition.
You move up to, “I have something to say on this topic, I want to start a conversation.” The better you get, the more traction, followers, and engagement.
You are creating potential energy that, when ready, you can unleash by announcing a new project with a call to action. You’ve built up capital and now it’s a matter of figuring out and then reducing the friction in using it.
With search, you’re creating kinetic energy
In search, you start with, “I want to learn and document my learning process through content in a way that helps other beginners.”
You move up to, “I want to create a lens or filter that makes it easier for others to get where they’re going. I understand the pitfalls and key considerations. Here’s a framework you can apply.”
You are creating kinetic energy. Traffic on that content already exists, so you know where the friction points are, but further wrangling it while it’s in motion can get tricky.
Your personality matters
Social is easier for extroverts
A secret about social media I learned late was that it’s just people being people. We grow up being social. Post-millennial generations grow up in social media.
If you act like a person and you treat other people like persons on social media and you recognize that social is the same as the physical world in terms of interactions, it’s a lot easier to manage.
That said, speaking from personal experience here, if you struggle in real life with that kind of thing, you’re also going to struggle on social.
I’ve never felt particularly confident that I can consistently have interesting things to say to large groups of people and not put my foot in my mouth.
The process of trying or wanting to get better at that reminds me too much of middle school to want to push through that sentiment yet.
Search is for introverts
This is a big fat loaded claim with lots of caveats and counterexamples. For example, the best link builders are the ones willing to pick up the phone to get a link. And plenty of introverted academic types prefer social to search.
The point I’m making is, putting aside bias against one or the other, where does your strength come from and what can you sustain over a period of time?
Personally, I love waking up, sitting down and writing in the morning. I do my best to schedule my calls for after 11am and would be perfectly happy not talking to anyone who isn’t in my family before then.
When you can sit for long periods of time, do research, enjoy being a bit reclusive or churn out large amounts of content in single sittings, that can really serve you in creating content that accounts for lots of valuable search intent.
Other personality characteristic considerations
Meyers Briggs is good here:
- Energy: do you gain energy being alone (search) or from other people (social)?
- Organization: Do you like deadlines and structure (search)? Are you better off the cuff, more flexible (social)?
- Interaction: Are you focused on possibilities, big picture, how things fit together? (search) Or are you more focused on the current reality, how things are now, and detail-oriented? (social) – You could make a case the other way here though.
- Are you more interested and confident as an advisor? (social) Or better at analyzing, planning, refining and distilling content? (search)
Where is your knack? What’s easier to sustain?
If you’re spending a lot of time on search and not getting the traction you wanted AND you’re the former, eg. off the cuff, advisory type, take a look at that.