Social search is the use of social media as a search engine. Social media has transcended its role as a mere hub for following and communicating with friends to become a key player in how individuals search for information. Instead of using traditional search engines, users increasingly turn to social platforms to find everything from the latest news to shopping recommendations.

This shift signifies an evolution in user behavior, highlighting a preference for the immediacy and relevance of social media’s dynamic content ecosystems.

Traditional Engines vs. Social Platforms: A Growing Rivalry

The shift to using social platforms for search (social search) began many years ago when people started using LinkedIn as a search engine to find people and companies in specific industries and with particular skills. LinkedIn is also used to find and consume information from industry experts, with LinkedIn articles showing up in Google SERPs (search engine results pages).

Today, the shift in search preferences continues as young people prefer getting information from platforms like TikTok and Instagram over traditional search engines.

Although search engines like Google remain a powerhouse for detailed queries, the integrative search experiences on social platforms offer a more personalized and social context to the discovery process. Users are drawn to this seamless integration of search and social interaction, where recommendations from peers and influencers are readily available.

Yet, this doesn’t signify the obsolescence of traditional search engines; instead, it reflects an environment where both forms of search must adapt and overlap to meet diverse user preferences and behaviors.

The Statistical Landscape of Search: Social Media vs. Search Engines

While there’s a palpable buzz around social search and the rise of social media search capabilities, traditional search engines are far from facing extinction.

Statistics reveal that 88% of people still rely on search engines as their go-to information retrieval tools, underscoring the deep-rooted dependence on engine searches. In contrast, about one in three consumers uses social search to find answers, indicating significant use but not supremacy. For example, AI chatbots like ChatGPT are emerging as valuable tools, utilized by 12% of individuals seeking information. This landscape paints a picture where traditional and social searches coexist, each catering to different needs and moments in the user journey.

Device Preferences: Smartphones as Catalysts for Change

Smartphones have emerged as the cornerstone of modern digital interaction, catalyzing fundamental shifts in search habits.

The convenience and immediacy of mobile devices significantly influence user preference for information retrieval methods. Studies have consistently highlighted the growing importance of mobile search optimization.

Currently, just over half of consumers report using their phones most frequently for online inquiries. However, this mobile-first inclination is even more pronounced among younger generations, with startling figures such as 80% of Gen Z and over 60% of Millennials and Gen X preferring their smartphones for searching online. Hence, optimizing web experiences for mobile search platforms is paramount to align with these shifting user preferences.

Generation Z and Social Search

Generation Z is at the forefront of this modern revolution of social search, reshaping the traditional discovery journey with a clear preference for social platforms. They have grown up in an era characterized by the ubiquity of social media, which has influenced their communication patterns and search behaviors.

The instant gratification in search results with platforms like TikTok and Instagram provides quick, curated, and visually engaging content. Brands must recognize Gen Z’s penchant for authenticity and connection, understanding that their search preferences veer towards relatable content and trustworthy recommendations instead of the more anonymous and algorithm-driven results traditionally served by search engines.

A Deep Dive into Gen Z’s Search Habits on Social Media

Members of Generation Z are redefining the landscape of online search, often bypassing traditional search engines in favor of social media platforms for their inquiries. Let’s take a closer look at how this generation uses social media to search for information and what drives their unique search behaviors.

  • Shift from Standard Search Engines: According to information by Google, approximately 40% of young people, notably those from Gen Z, opt for TikTok or Instagram instead of conventional search engines like Google when searching for everyday things, such as the best lunch spots. This pivot highlights an essential shift in how information is accessed and trusted.
  • Frequency and Platform Usage: Data provided by Afterpay illustrates that 88% of Gen Z individuals engage with at least one social media platform multiple times a day. Furthermore, 74% are frequent users of at least two platforms, showcasing an ingrained habit within their daily routines.
  • Time Spent Across Platforms: Regarding daily usage, YouTube leads with 67% of Gen Z spending the most time there. It’s closely followed by Instagram (65%), TikTok (58%), and Snapchat (55%), as revealed in Afterpay’s Gen Z report. These figures reveal significant engagement levels and offer insights into the most influential platforms among younger audiences.
  • Preference for Video Content: TikTok’s rise underscores a preference for engaging video content. These formats cater to the Gen Z audience’s desire for rapid information consumption. Educational, how-to videos on TikTok, ranging from entrepreneurial advice to language learning, are viral among Gen Z users for their quick, interactive learning experiences.
  • Demand for Authenticity: The inclination towards user-generated content on social media platforms suggests that Gen Z favors authenticity and peer recommendations over traditional advertising. This demographic seeks real experiences and relatable narratives from users instead of polished brand messages.
  • Content Variety: While product and service recommendations remain popular search content, there’s a growing trend for searching educational and instructional content on social platforms. This includes topics traditionally sought on Google Search, such as cover letter writing and cooking tips, highlighting the diverse range of inquiries on these platforms.
  • Brand Opportunity: Even when not directly seeking products, there is ample opportunity for brands to intersect with Gen Z’s search journey. By creating relevant, valuable content, brands can position themselves within the social search ecosystem, being present at the moment of inquiry and potentially influencing decision-making processes.

Understanding these nuanced search habits is crucial for businesses aiming to connect with the younger generation. Companies can leverage this data to tailor their social media strategies, ensuring they’re present and providing the type of content that resonates with and assists Gen Z users in their search endeavors.

Brand Interaction and Discovery Through Social Feeds

Social media has unfurled new avenues for brand-customer interaction, with social feeds serving as conveyor belts delivering products and services directly to consumer eyeballs. Brands effectively harness visual and interactive content to showcase their offerings, drawing consumers in with inspiration, education, and entertainment.

This passive discovery through scrolling is a game-changer — it’s not just about seeking; it’s about stumbling upon the new and novel. An interesting statistic is that 60% of Instagram users have discovered new products through the platform, underscoring social feeds’ role in facilitating unprompted discovery and serendipitous brand engagement.

Leveraging Social Search for Business Growth

Like businesses and users began optimizing their LinkedIn profiles and posts years ago for discoverability, the same process is required on other social media platforms today.

Brands adapt to the shift in search dynamics by pivoting their digital strategies to encompass traditional SEO and social media presence. They recognize the necessity of being discoverable across many platforms and are refining their content to be search engine and social feed-friendly. This includes leveraging keywords and hashtags, creating bite-sized, shareable content, and engaging directly with the audience through social channels. Additionally, brands invest in mobile optimization and responsive design to ensure seamless experiences regardless of the device used for searching.

Social listening and analytics have become critical tools for businesses seeking market insights from online conversations. By monitoring social media channels, brands can extract actionable data related to consumer sentiment, emerging trends, and competitive intelligence. This isn’t just about tracking mentions; it’s about understanding the nuances of how the product or service fits into the consumer’s life.

A Glimpse into the Future of Search

Consumer search behavior continues to evolve, with emergent trends signaling the direction of technology and user preferences.

Besides the shift toward social search, there is a growing reliance on voice search, spurred by the convenience of digital assistants and smart home devices. Furthermore, visual search technology is gaining popularity, allowing users to search with images instead of words.

Another budding preference is the search for local and sustainable products, aligning with the rise of conscious consumerism. These behavioral shifts underscore the need for businesses to stay agile and responsive in their digital strategies to cater to tech-savvy and ethically-minded consumers.

It’s evident that search engines and social media are not on diverging paths but are instead finding new ways to interlock. Predictions for their coexistence suggest a symbiotic relationship; traditional search engines may continue to serve as repositories of vast, organized knowledge, while social media platforms may increasingly serve as the starting point for discovery and real-time information.

Additionally, integrating AI and machine learning in both arenas is poised to further personalize and refine the search experience. Brands and marketers that embrace and adapt to these predictions will likely gain a competitive edge.


Why is social media becoming more popular as a search tool?

Social media’s popularity as a search tool is driven by its ability to offer personalized, timely, and social-context-rich information. Users appreciate the interactive nature of content like videos and stories and the authenticity they perceive from real people and influencers posting about their experiences. The platforms’ recommendation algorithms also deliver content that aligns closely with users’ interests, making the search more natural and engaging.

What impact does the rise of social media search have on traditional SEO?

The rise of social media search is compelling SEO practitioners to broaden their strategies beyond traditional search engines. They must now consider social signals, such as shares and engagement, and optimize content for these platforms. Additionally, the importance of video and visual content has grown, as the need for brands to maintain an active, responsive social media presence ensures visibility in a social search environment.

What are the advantages of social media over search engines?

Social media offers advantages over search engines, including real-time updates, personalized content feeds based on user behavior, and a more interactive experience with brands and content creators. It also facilitates a sense of community and trust through user-generated content and influencer endorsements, which can be more persuasive than traditional search engine results.

Is social media becoming a search engine?

Social media has been used as a search engine for a long time, starting with LinkedIn and Facebook.

While not replacing traditional search engines, social media platforms are increasingly functioning as supplementary search tools. Thanks to their real-time nature and user-generated content, users often turn to them for discovery, recommendations, and to gauge public opinion. Social platforms are enhancing search functionalities to meet this growing user behavior.

What is social media search (social search)?

Social media search uses search functionalities within social media platforms to find information. It involves actively entering queries to seek out specific content rather than relying on algorithm-driven feeds. It caters to users who prefer curated, scrollable results from trusted brands and creators.


While traditional search engines maintain their authority for comprehensive queries, social media platforms are carving out a niche for more personalized, communal, and real-time search experiences.

Businesses that wish to thrive in this changing ecosystem must adapt to this dual search environment by utilizing social search strengths and the evolving nature of traditional search engines, crafting strategies that leverage each.

Therefore, the future of search is multifaceted, requiring brands to be nimble and consumer-focused to stay relevant and discoverable.

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