Search vs Social in Category Building

Search and social each function throughout the funnel, hitting awareness, consideration, conversions, and loyalty. However, when category-building, an already confounding question gets a little more stressful: which platform should we focus on? For the purpose of this advice, let us assume that you are working on organic search and organic social simultaneously, something that takes years to strengthen through either macro-channel, but that your questions are around budgeting for paid search and paid social, which, for both platforms, gives you far more tools for targeting and hitting KPI conversion events.


Search is great for bottom of the funnel activity. Think of it this way, if I am actively searching for “red hair dye”, then my interest in red hair dye is not passive. On social, however, I might be a part of a “I Love Blue Hair” group, but it is a passive interest, I am not actively searching for blue hair dye. However, social is a great place for awareness and conversation around discovery, because I might be coming out with a new blue hair dye and want to gauge interest from both people who enjoy blue hair and/or want blue hair.


If you are reading this article, chances are you are building a category. Meaning, you have no other brand or topic to build your business upon, you might have a tangential space you relate to, which is helpful, but there is no direct market on which to build. 

Category development involves a tremendous amount of market development. Neither of which, for the most part, are bottom of the funnel activities. Rather, they are top of the funnel activity, requiring a focus on awareness, the brand lift of which is very brief, and consideration so you may extend that brand lift into something long-term and meaningful.

Both of those activities work best in social for this stage of startup growth. Let’s do another example I’ve made up for the purposes of this exercise. This time, you have invented a Zorbog, a device that measures the temperature of an allele prior to DNA replication. No such thing currently exists and nobody really knows they need this. You know people need this, though, because you found that if the temperature of an allele is below 90°F, then there is a risk of unfavorable genetic mutations — this risk cannot be calculated any other way.

Do we think people are searching for allele thermometers? No. But maybe they are searching for other types of thermometers. That intuitively seems like an over-broad audience to target on search — think of all the people buying thermometers for their first aid kits or looking for an article to see if thermometers for their meat are really necessary. Other search terms might revolve around DNA, alleles, etc., but again it seems over-broad, even if we keep it to the more scientific professional community.

Social, on the other hand, will allow you to find interest groups versus without waiting for them to find you as they would on search. You realize this, so you run an ad to anyone in the group, “DNA Scientists”, with a link to your white paper on allele temperatures and DNA replication. People are now tagging their friends in the comments, “@Joan Hinkton, have you seen this?” and engaging in discourse with you, as well, “do you think this same study could apply to more general mitosis?” People will remember these conversations and while they might not buy your Zorbog any time soon, they are spreading the word to friends and you are getting much-needed, long-term brand lift thanks to these conversations and social’s funnel strength. Eventually, of course, this will leak to search and you’ll find people searching for “allele temperature genetic mutation” more often, leading to deeper category development.


This does not mean you do-away with search completely in the beginning. You will still want to target somewhat relevant terms and affinity groups — search is  incredibly cheap compared to social, mitigating efficiency risks. All of the above is simply strategic guidance for allocating your GTM budget.■