Internet | July 27, 2022 8:37 am

Is Social Media the New Google?

Young people are using social media for everything. Where does that leave search engines?

two hands holding phones on pink background with speech bubbles between them
People are turning to social media over search engines, how has that changed how we search?
We Are via Getty

Video killed the radio star and social media is killing traditional search engines. 

Google’s Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan said in a conference this month that “new internet users don’t have the expectations and the mindset that we have become accustomed to…In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search, they go to TikTok or Instagram.”

Raghavan also explained that younger people were generally interested in more “visually rich forms” of search and discovery.

TikTok has been a powerful mobilizer for young people to learn about trends and share information, with everything from bringing about the return of yoga pants (or, if you’re Gen Z, flared leggings), to selling out various kinds of headphones to food trends of the moment all connecting back to videos going viral on the platform. 

It makes sense that TikTok, like the longer form YouTube haul videos and vlogs of yesteryear, is a major catalyst in the spreading of trends. Videos of normal people (or a favorite influencer that seems normal) recommending what they like has a more personal appeal for younger internet users, instead of more corporate methods of advertising. One account, @theviplist on TikTok, went viral during the pandemic and has now garnered almost 17 million likes on their videos reviewing New York City restaurants, while the tag #restaurantreviews itself has close to 850 million views. 

This visual focus has made search engines change their methods of showing information; now when you search on Google, videos show up towards the top of the feed. Google is also allowing for TikTok posts themselves, with thumbnails, to come up when you search instead of traditional webpages. 

For Raghavan, Google is still trying to see what transitioning to visual results on search look like, but he said that “getting that level of deeper understanding is a journey we’re still on.” Maybe they can look up the direction for that journey on TikTok?