2014 marked a big year for social media, not only for its record-breaking user numbers but also for its impact within the search category. Shareaholic, the content amplification software reported a total social network growth of 22.71% from January of last year.

Once upon a time organic search, that is to say searches performed in Google, Yahoo, and Bing, was the primary means of information retrieval for Internet users. However, it appears the increasing use and added features found within social media are stealing what were once search engine engagers. As our media consumptions change and we constantly redefine our means of communication, we have become less dependent on home pages and friendly search engines and increasingly dependant on social networks. Social media offers its user a much more defined and targeted access to information they are looking for. A perfect example of this can be seen with Pinterest’s newest addition, gender based results to Guided Search. As the second highest contributor to social search and referral, the platform had long been regarded as one primarily geared towards women. However in hopes of overcoming a ‘plateaued’ state, updates will now provide results based on gender and relevancy with hopes of not only increasing share but creating a diverse-friendly platform for users beyond the 71% of 72.5 million users that are women.

Collectively the top eight social media networks (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube) accounted for 31.24% of all referral traffic to sites during the last month of December, an increase of 22.71% during the same month in 2013.

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The data and numbers pulled from the Shareaholic report depict not only the nearest runner-up of a lesser 20% share, but that Facebook at a share of 24.63% accounts for quarter of all referral traffic. Through an uncanny insight to its users and deliberate advertising positioning, the king of social media enables the greatest amount of referrals. Since September 2011 the platform’s user base has grown an enormous 60% from 845 million users monthly to 1.35 billion who additionally showed a much higher level of engagement from an average of just over 42 minutes a day on social media compared to the reported 15.1 minutes reported in 2011.

Social media as a whole is often regarded as an interactive and engaging form of advertising however it’s important to acknowledge not all platforms perform at the same level as others or at all for that matter. Despite being one of the fastest growing social networks in history, Pinterest has plateaued at just over 5% share while the remaining six networks collectively account for less than 2% of web traffic. The once king of vlog, channel advertising and all things video, YouTube has also fallen victim to Facebook’s reign, more specifically auto-play videos which no longer require users to navigate to YouTube to view content as it simultaneously streams within their timelines. Social media itself is redefining the way users access content and information as well as the way in which advertisers and businesses choose to interact and generate visibility for consumers. Could a solid position in a timeline become more powerful than a position within the first page of search results?

All things considered, it would appear the beginning of social as search is not near but rather it has arrived and is taking no prisoners. This begs the question; as such an incredible tool providing knowledge, information and answers, will the effect of social media search hinder the use of traditional online search engines despite the decline in produced referrals? Though the argument whether or not search engines have seen their time and are merely background tools for today’s internet user are far from finished, it can be said without hesitation social media, specifically Facebook, is an incredible advertising tool which generates measurable and conversion based results. The question is now how search engines will handle the Shareaholic findings. Many businesses in turn may have to look towards social media strategies if hoping to grow referral traffic and conversions. Accounting for over 30% of referral visits; if you’re not exploring social media as a marketing tool you are losing a substantial amount of visitors and potential consumers.

Sources: SearchEngineJournal, SiteProNews