About Ben Elowitz Ben Elowitz is co-founder and CEO of Wetpaint, a technology platform company that is reinventing the media model on the social web. The company attracts more than 15 million unique visitors monthly on its platform. In addition to Digital Quarters, he writes Media Success, a bold and forthright newsletter for digital media thought leaders. His work has been featured in FORTUNE, TechCrunch, All Things D, The Huffington Post, Forbes, TIME, CNNMoney, paidContent, and CNBC.com, among others. Prior to Wetpaint, Ben co-founded Blue Nile (NILE), the largest online retailer of luxury goods. Ben was also an early employee at Fatbrain.com (FATB), an ecommerce company that went public in 1998 and was sold to Barnes & Noble in 1999. Ben holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science and a B.A. in Applied Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley. He is an angel investor in a number of media and ecommerce companies, and is a frequent conference speaker on digital media, social content, and entrepreneurship.
In conjunction with our Rebooting Media series and the live think-tank hosted by Wetpaint and Digitas, we are releasing today the first in a series of videos about the social web.
In this first part, our group of ten executives and journalists chewed on the question:
“Is traditional search dead as a means of discovery?”
Watch the video for yourself, and read highlights of the conversation below.
Search is utility, social is discovery.
Search has never been about discovering something new, but rather finding what you want once you know what you want. Social, on the other hand, is all about serendipity.
“Pure discovery is in what you weren’t looking for. In search, I’m determined, I have a path. The only real discovery in search is I’m Feeling Lucky.” —Jason Hirschhorn, Media ReDEFined
“With search I think of words like utility and efficiency; it’s purposeful. With social discovery, there’s an element of surprise and then, hopefully, delight. You’re not necessarily sure what you’re looking for, because sometimes you’re not really looking for anything.” —Wenda Harris Millard, Media Link
Are social users more valuable?
This was surprisingly debated in the conversation, and the conversation reflected different experiences from different publishers; and reflects the difference in methods used to draw social traffic. For example, Forbes sees disproportionate traffic from LinkedIn to reach its largely male and older-skewing audience; while Wetpaint Entertainment uses the Facebook newsfeed to repeatedly reengage the site’s 1.4 million fans, almost all young women.
“We see 2-3x the value with social visitors – 50% higher duration, 25% more frequency, and we’re seeing virality come [on top] of that.” —Ben Elowitz, Wetpaint
“When you talk about running a business, the person who comes in through search is a very valuable person – more so than the person who’s coming in through social. Social users are fleeting users, not necessarily loyal to the site.” —Lewis DVorkin, Forbes Media
“We see equal engagement from search and social, and about equal percentages of referral traffic.” —Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch
Social is hard for marketers.
While marketers recognize the promise of social marketing, the methods and measurements are far from sophisticated for most. We need to get better at understanding and tapping into unexpected virality and the seemingly random discovery paths in social.
“I don’t think we really know how to use social as a distribution method, other than putting “Like” buttons everywhere.” —Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch
“In search, purchase intent is right there. But for advertisers in the social world, it’s harder to know exactly where that intersection is. You want to be part of that conversation, but you risk interrupting it.” —Greg Clayman, The Daily
As Google works to see if it can decipher the social code, and Facebook moves closer to taking over the entire digital world, we are headed toward a merger of search and social.
“If you look a few years out and you say where’s social and where’s search, they’re in the same place. There’s a merger between the two. These two spaces are on a collision course, and we need to start looking three years out to see how that collision course takes shape.” —Ben Elowitz, Wetpaint
“The intersection between social and search is growing. I go to Google and search “bunk beds” and I get a set of useless results. I go to Pinterest and you wouldn’t believe what I find. That really is the intersection of social and search: it’s utility-driven, it’s purpose-driven and yet the discovery is that much richer, that much more useful.” —Jeff Berman, NFL Digital