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Social is the New Search Engine: What Brands Should Know

As AI transforms Google and Bing, a new form of search takes hold of younger adults.

young coworkers in the office

Social media is now a search engine

Recent data from ForbesAdvisor shows that social media is rapidly overtaking traditional search engines like Google and Bing as the first choice for product and trend discovery among Gen Z and Millennials.

Interestingly, only 64% of Gen Z and 35% of millennials use search engines for brand discovery, a significant decline compared to 94% of Baby Boomers.

Instead, popular social platforms are becoming primary search tools, with 46% of Gen Z and 35% of millennials preferring them over traditional search engines. A whopping 44% of Gen Z discover new brands on social media daily!

So what does this mean for brands?

For starters, prioritizing your presence on social media is no longer optional if you want to connect with younger audiences.

1. Approach your social media strategy with SEO in mind.

Keywords in captions perform better than hashtags to meet searchers in discovery mode. Principles of SEO even apply to TikTok, which is ripe for expanding reach and influencing viewers, particularly on its For You page and in search results. Imagine yourself as your target consumer. What are they watching, searching, seeing on Instagram or TikTok? Build your content strategy around that.

2. Optimize your content for mobile and video formats.

YouTube's significant search usage highlights the increasing importance of video content. And don't just tout a product, build a community. Research suggests that as many as 60% of millennial purchases are driven by FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Build the perception that owning a particular product means belonging to a larger community, and young adult customers will loyally align themselves with your brand.


3. Create new paths to purchase from social platforms.

Our award-winning Premier Protein & Dymatize campaign for October 2023 Prime Day did just that. On TikTok and Instagram, we served up the kind of influencer content our target enjoys to create awareness; nurtured consideration and urgency with TikTok’s timer features; and attached shoppable links from the social videos directly to the Amazon product pages with excellent deals to follow through with purchase. Learn more below:

Exverus Wins WARC Path to Purchase Award

Why the shift to social for brand discovery?

It largely comes down to trust.

Social networks like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok have given voice to influencers and creators who have credibility with younger generations, which traditional marketing efforts lack.


Micro and macro communities have been built around these individuals, creating a sense of authenticity and connection that search engines (and brands) simply can't compete with alone.


Ads are nice, but it's amazing to have a creator who fits the demographics of your target buyer and talks about your product.


That's why partnerships, influencer marketing, and user-generated content are vital to today's campaigns. Brands need to be welcomed into these spaces, not interrupt them.


We’re not writing the obituary on search yet. But social is making enough noise for us to realign our priorities.


This piece originally appeared in our weekly Paid Media Insights newsletter. For more tips, research, and analysis; subscribe for free here.

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