The Intersection of Search, User-Generated Content and Influencer Marketing

By Kate Irvine, Director EMEA, Partnerize

The Millennial generation currently finds itself in the unfamiliar position of becoming elder statespeople. It can come as a shock to Millennials that those who were born in 2000 (the year of Y2K) are full grown adults, with bills, mortgages and cars of their own. Millennial pop culture references to library cards and Yelp, ‘Rachel do’ or Blink 182… earn blank stares from this entirely digitally-native generation of adults.

Millennials  have the distinct demarcation of having made the trek from analog to digital life. They remember the sound of a modem actively connecting to the internet over a landline. They also remember those early years of finding everything they need to know over an internet-based tool that would later become a transient verb called “Google.”

For Millennials, finding a restaurant usually means pulling up options on Google for “restaurants near me,” resulting in a curated list of names, phone numbers and menus of eateries in the immediate vicinity. Gen Z, however, takes a totally different approach. By finding information they desire on social channels, they have completely upended the framework of what we’ve come to understand as “search.”

Searching for Authentic Information on Social

Gen Z is taking a distinctly different approach in how to search online for information to inform their day-to-day movements through the world. Employing a traditional keyword search on platforms like TikTok or Instagram may at first seem like an effort in futility, likely to bring up a smattering of results that don’t point to any clear answer. But those who cannot remember a time before the internet place a premium, not on organized, hierarchical information mirroring the Yellow Pages, but on information that presents as truly authentic.

Real pictures of a Puerto Rican restaurant’s mofongo, actual photos taken by guests at an island resort or reels shared from a particular venue all serve as useful, highly reliable pieces of context that can inform what one decides to do or where to go. This shift, from the pursuit of highly organized information to highly authentic information is begging attention from practitioners responsible for making sure their brands can be found through this new paradigm of search. But how do you do it?

Ride the Trend – Chipotle recently executed – quite possibly – one of the most comprehensive viral TikTok trend activations to date when they used the personalized orders of TikTok influencers to help introduce a new protein option. The trend started online through reviews of the new protein from influencers like food reviewer, Keith Lee. They grew quickly and evolved as far as putting Lee’s name on a Chipotle storefront in his hometown.

The effort highlights the value of joining a moment that others, on TikTok or otherwise, can engage and participate in. It fills up relevant hashtags and content threads on platforms relevant to Chipotle’s new menu item. Getting real content, by real people inside of specific threads increases the volume and likelihood of being interacted with across social. How many Gen Zers made a trip to Chipotle as a result of following the viral trend? No doubt, the number was significant.

Fortunately for today’s brands who are keenly aware of Gen Z’s newly-minted product search strategies, opportunities to forge relationships with some of the day’s hottest influencers is easier than ever. This is largely due to the efficacy of performance-based channels like partnership marketing.

Understanding and Employing UGC – User generated content (or UGC) is defined as any content—text, videos, images, reviews, etc.— created by people, rather than brands. UGC can be anything from a picture of a specific dish at a restaurant posted by an infrequent social media poster, to an elaborate “day in the life” video from a content creator with hundreds of thousands of followers. Both can reach social media users seeking to understand a subject on a more intimate level and both can be engaged, reshared or promoted for the purpose of raising awareness on a specific platform.

Keeping Search Efforts Nimble – Reacting to trends or movements happening on Instagram or TikTok requires an ultra-nimble approach that is not typical in corporate environments. Moments on social media move quickly, and if your team isn’t prepositioned to move with speed, you may miss an opportunity to engage and uplift content being created about your brand. Limiting approval processes and empowering those on the front line of execution the autonomy to make quick decisions as to what to do next are key in tilling the land for a responsive social search strategy.

We are, definitively, in the first moment in which the way we search for information across the internet is drastically changing. Google and Bing aren’t the sole options for finding what you’re looking for any longer. It’s also the case that the next generation coming of age has vastly different values than those that set the framework for keyword search 25 or even 30 years ago. Becoming a connoisseur of Gen Z, their priorities and preferences will be paramount in moving your search marketing efforts into 2024 and beyond.