Homo digitus

Over the past week or two, I’ve been putting the agenda together for the Search Insider Summit in Park City, Utah, this December. Traditionally, we try to look for a common thread or theme to tie the show together. As I was looking at the sessions, the common denominator in them all was not surprising. It’s the same common denominator that underlies all marketing: what do people do and why do they do it?

At this Search Insider Summit, Avinash Kaushik is going to be talking about a number of things, including maximizing the long tail, the challenges of attribution and how to effectively use competitive intelligence. All of these things depend on a fundamental understanding of behavioral patterns. I’ll be joining Lance Loveday from Closed Loop Marketing and Scott Brinker from Ion Interactive talking about improving the site side experience. Again, this depends on understanding what it is your prospects want to do on your site. The entire Day 3 of the Summit is devoted to Social Media and Search, which is as embedded in the behaviors of people as you can get.

This is a topic that has dominated the better part of the last half decade of my life. Understanding how people within organizations made buying decisions in a newly evolved digital marketplace is the foundation of the BuyerSphere Project. And taking that to an individual level will be my winter project (likely with another book as part of that). Enquiro has amassed a substantial amount of research about how humans are still humans online, despite all the whiz bang technology that tends to steal the spotlight.

Let me give you one example. A few weeks ago I was in New York for SMX. There, Jeremy Crane from Compete gave a fascinating presentation on the social and search patterns that played out online after the death of Michael Jackson. The presentation was full of charts and graphs showing where people turned to find out the news. But beneath these charts and graphs was a human story that was as old as our species. And it was that story that fascinated me.

Jeremy’s graphs showed that the first place people turned when they first heard the news was a traditional search engine, primarily Google. And from there, they tended to go to an authoritative news portal. Shari Thurow, a SEO and usability consultant (and yes Shari, you’ll notice I put SEO consultant first) who was also on the panel reported that her client, ABC News, found that their traffic spiked dramatically that day, due to some very healthy organic rankings for “Michael Jackson” terms.

But over the coming days, people started interacting with other types of sites. They started conversations on Twitter and Facebook, looked for old videos on YouTube, and as the rumors started to swirl, they used real time search engines to catch the latest gossip. In an interesting anomaly, the only major engine that ran counter to this trend was Bing. Rather than spike in the first day, people used Bing more over the coming days, possibly looking for audio and video of the King of Pop.

Search marketers being what search marketers are, the presenters and attendees all quickly turned to what people where doing: going to Google, then Twitter, then YouTube, etc. But for me, there was a why buried in here that was far more interesting. People were going through the classic stages of mourning, but they were doing it online:

  • First, we need to accept the news, so we need to find a source we can trust. Online, that meant Googling and looking for an authoritative news source like ABC news
  • After we accept that the news is true, we need to participate in the grieving process. We need to remember the person. In the real world, we’d look for a photo or listen to their voice on an voicemail message. Online, we look for a video on YouTube
  • Next, we need to join others in grieving. Humans heal themselves through communication and bonding. Funerals are never for the departed, they are for the ones left behind. And in this case, we did that through Twitter and Facebook.
  • There now comes the darker side of social bonding: gossip. We need to use the event as an opportunity to jockey for position our social circle by circulating privileged information. With Michael, we did this too, again through Twitter and real time search engines.

When you layer on an understanding of how humans behave (something that hasn’t changed for thousands of years), the patterns that emerged from Compete’s data aren’t all that surprising. Humans are still humans, but now those behaviors also play out on an online canvas.

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