Google Social Media Search

The evolution of search, from Google to social media

By James Wright, Head of Insights



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August 10, 2023 | 7 min read

Ready for a bit of history? James Wright of social agency Wilderness takes us on a tour of the gradual transfer of search power, from Google to social platforms.

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How has Google ceded search power to social platforms over the years? / Chase Clark via Unsplash

The way we search for information has transformed over the past few decades. From the early days of basic search engines like Yahoo to the dominant force of search that is Google, the internet has continually evolved to meet our search needs.

In recent years a new force has emerged: social media, shifting power from Google and changing how we discover information.

The new era of personalization

As Google improved its algorithm and gathered more data about users, search results became increasingly personalized. Factors such as location, search history and online behavior began to influence content displayed to users. This personalization aimed to provide a more tailored search experience, but also began to raise huge concerns around privacy and data protection.

While Google dominated the search world, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram grew in popularity across the masses. These platforms had a shared focus on connecting people and curating content. As they grew, an evolution into powerful search engines began.

An early example is hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, allowing users to categorize content and discover related posts with ease. Facebook also introduced a new way of finding information within the platform by allowing users to search for posts, photos, and even friends based on specific criteria. Social media search would now provide a more real-time and personalized approach, tapping into the collective knowledge of social networks.

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The rise of social search

With the rise of social media, search behavior began to change significantly. Users turned to social platforms with questions, sought recommendations, and discovered specific content through search. These searches were not exclusively text-based, but often heavily reliant on imagery and visuals, with users exploring image-centric platforms like Pinterest and Instagram.

The convenience of search within social platforms, coupled with real-time updates, has since created a new expectation of immediacy and relevance. Users now expect instant answers from their social networks.

When social media platforms (eventually) realized their potential as search engines, they began refining their search functionalities. Facebook’s search algorithm became more robust, allowing users to explore vast amounts of content from their friends, pages they follow, and the wider platforms.

Instagram introduced features like tile tab Explore and hashtags, enabling users to find new content and accounts aligned with their interests. Pinterest also evolved into a visual search engine, allowing users to discover ideas, products, and inspiration.

And now, with TikTok, gen Z finds information on TikTok to be more personalized, authentic and much more valuable than a search result on Google.

The impact on SEO and content creation

As social media platforms became prominent search engines, it inevitably affected traditional search engine optimization (SEO) and content creation strategies. Brands and businesses had to adapt to social media’s unique search algorithms by creating engaging content tailored to each platform’s audience.

Visual content such as infographics and videos gained prominence as social media users favored easily digestible information. Social media influencers and user-generated content became vital in driving discoverability and trust.

The integration of social search and web search

Recognizing the changing landscape of search behavior, Google has taken steps to integrate social media content into its web search results. Social media profiles, tweets, and other social content now appear in Google search results and often rank very highly, especially for high-profile individuals and trending topics.

The evolution of search from Google to social media has marked a significant shift in how we discover information and connect with the world. While Google remains the destination for comprehensive web searches, social media platforms have cemented their place in real-time, personalized search experiences.

As users continue to embrace the personalization, convenience and immediacy of social search. The future will likely see even more integration of web and social search functionalities, providing us with an even more dynamic and interconnected search landscape.

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