Searching for answers? Don’t tell Gen-Z to just “Google” it.

Jeff Culliton, President | The Adcom Group

There is a changing behavior in the way people search for answers to their questions and it’s an interesting view into changing user experience. Especially for members of Generation Z, a generation (born between 1997-2012) that has grown up deeply native to social platforms, Google is not the only search engine on the block. Not to say that Google is losing its relevancy, but Instagram and TikTok are forcing Google to make user experience updates to meet the new ways that people like to uncover information. 

For Gen Z, they’re more likely to start their searches first on TikTok or Instagram instead of Google. Why? They’re doing this for two main reasons: 1) they don’t want to have to sift through advertisements first; and 2) they want to find results beyond websites that have been optimized for search. They’re using TikTok for searches on lighter topics, things like recipes, fashion tips, and quick how-to videos. Meanwhile, they leave the heavier topics, like COVID or election news, to Google.

What’s making these users turn to TikTok over the tried-and-true comforts of Google? In short, they want a different user experience. This generation has grown up fully immersed in the digital world and knows how to customize their online experience to get exactly what they’re looking for. With TikTok, the search result is a 360° experience. They can see people experience how delicious a recipe tastes or get an immediate vibe from a restaurant. Users are validating the results of their search by reading the comments on the videos.

Anyone who has worked with the concept of content and search knows that this is the main goal – getting the right result in front of the right audience at the right time. And the search engine giant is starting to make some changes and adapt.

  • In 2019, Google started including TikTok videos in search results.
  • In 2020, Google launched YouTube Shorts – short-form videos of < 1 minute – and included them in search results.
  • Google is incorporating a new feature, dubbed “Multisearch” which lets users search with a combination of text and photos.

Ultimately, the takeaway here is that the landscape is changing. there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to search and how people get their information. What is clear is that it’s going beyond the idea of typing a few words into a search bar or focusing on one specific platform. We’re all aware of the algorithms and how they feed content to you that you are likely to engage with, based on the types of content you consume. TikTok’s For You Page serves up a list of results even before you search, with a steady feed of videos that you can watch based on your previous activity. This gives you a pipeline of creators and influencers that you will eventually validate and determine to be credible by liking, following, and sharing their posts.

Love it or hate it, the influence of social media platforms is causing a ripple effect throughout a company’s marketing and communications strategies. Now, we’re seeing the shift from the monopolistic effect of Google into savvy content consumers using a variety of platforms to find more comprehensive search results.

A couple of things to think about:

  • Have you done a 360° look at your audiences recently? Where are they consuming content and information? While a lot of business takes place between the hours of 9-5, that’s not where your audiences are. They’re scrolling social media on their commutes, after work, and on the weekends. Your strategies should consider posting content when your audience is looking for it.
  • Where do you allocate your paid search dollars and paid media budgets? Think about where your audiences are and how you want to get your messaging in front of those audiences. Make audience targeting more effective and reach your audience beyond the traditional 9-5.

It’s often said that the only constant is change, and that’s true for your digital and social strategies as well. What worked and connected with your audiences last year might not strike the same chord this year. If you’re only optimizing for a search engine, you’re missing out on those searching for solutions on social media platforms and that’s a golden opportunity to engage with your customer base.