Skip to content
Strategy

Social Media Search Engines: What They Are & Why They Matter

Don’t just let the algorithm decide if your audience sees your content. Here’s how to get smarter about social media search.

Christina Newberry February 29, 2024
cover image

Social media. Search engines. There was a time when these were two different things. But the lines are blurring between these types of online tools and the ways people use them to find information and content.

The top reason people use social platforms is still to be entertained. But they are also actively using social networks to search for specific information.

Social media search engines are the search tools of the future. In fact, for many social users, they’re the search tools of the present. Brands need to understand how to optimize their content to appear in those searches.

Bonus: Download a free social SEO checklist and follow pro tips for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get your posts seen by more people.

What is social media search?

Social media search is the act of actively looking anything up on social platforms by typing a query into a search box.

This is a more active method of seeking out content than simply letting the algorithms deliver what they think you want to see. More than that, it’s a new way of thinking about navigating the vast quantities of information available online.

The New York Times declared a year and a half ago that “For Gen Z, TikTok is the new search engine.” As Gen Alpha heads into the teen years, they’ll also become an important digital native audience for brands.

Gens Z and Alpha want curated, easily scrollable results from brands and creators they trust. Social search far outshines traditional search engines like Google and Bing for those who want to discover, evaluate, and save information on mobile using just one thumb.

On the flip side, this means brands need to think beyond the algorithms – and beyond traditional search – to reach new audiences. As social platforms become social media search engines, marketers need to embrace social SEO.

#1 Social Media Tool

Create. Schedule. Publish. Engage. Measure. Win.

Free 30-Day Trial

Why does social media search matter to marketers?

Monitor brand mentions with social listening

Understanding how people talk about your brand, product, or service on social media is essential. Social media monitoring and listening can give you a goldmine of actionable data. It’s the social search equivalent of Googling yourself.

Hootsuite Streams social listening mentions and trending hashtags

Social search also determines what to include in your broader social listening strategy. Think hashtags, keywords, and accounts.

Each brand has its own audience, and each audience has its favorite social media networks. Social listening helps you understand who you’re trying to reach. This in turn guides where you focus your social searches and social SEO.

Before you start setting up your ongoing social media search tasks, spend some time defining your target market. If you’re targeting Gen Z, you’re most likely to find them on TikTok. If you want to reach women, the network formerly known as Twitter may not be your top choice.

However, keep in mind these are overall trends. Social listening and social search help you understand the social behaviors of your specific audience.

Social search also helps you identify the people who are talking most – and most positively – about your brand online. These are potential influencers and brand advocates to reach out to for partnerships.

Reach more people with social SEO

On a recent trip to New York, I (a Gen X-er) was chatting with a local Gen Z bartender about what to do in the city. First, she said that I should search TikTok. Then she recommended I go to Summit One Vanderbilt since she’s seeing it on her own TikTok for you page on the regular.

Sure, this is just a one-off anecdote. But dig in here and you’ll see the layers of social search’s importance for marketers. Brand awareness through social search can look something like this:

1. Digital natives discover your brand through either social search or algorithm-based content discovery.

2. They share that information with other digital natives. But they also share it with others who don’t (yet) think of social platforms as their primary search tool. If they’re into your brand (or you reach out to them for a partnership), they may even start creating their own content about you.

3. Word of mouth drives social media account search for your brand – often by name. Those searches surface content created both by you and by other social users.

Summit One Vanderbilt hashtag with 26 thousand posts

Source: TikTok

4. Social searchers like and/or save these posts and tag friends in comments like, “This is the place I was telling you about!” and the cycle begins again.

8989 saves for post on TikTok

Source: TikTok

comment thread about attending Summit One Vanderbilt

Source: TikTok

The important thing to understand here is that social search impacts your brand awareness. Even among people who are not primarily social searchers. And all of this gets your content in front of people who were likely not already following you.

One other discovery path to consider here: TikTok, Instagram, and other social content can also be indexed by regular search engines and appear in traditional search results.

Summit One Vanderbilt TikTok Google Search results

Source: Google

So, is this statement true or false: social media affects search engine rankings? True! We conducted a social search experiment to confirm this result.

Find insights about competitors

Want to stay ahead of the social game? Then you need to understand who the competition is and what they are doing. A social media competitive analysis relies on the insights you’ll find through social searching.

Social search helps you uncover the most relevant competitors in your niche. Regular social media searches can even help you identify new competitors as they emerge on the scene. Once you understand who your top competitors are, you can plug them into social benchmarking and analysis tools like Hootsuite Analytics to look for opportunities and threats for your business.

Entering the right competitors in your analytics tool can also help build out and focus your social search strategy by providing insights into the hashtags most commonly used in your competitors’ content. If you’re not already using, monitoring, or regularly searching these terms, you should probably start.

Hootsuite Analytics trending hashtags

Start free 30-day trial

Looking at the bigger picture, analyzing your competitors through social media searches helps you understand what kinds of conversations typically happen on each platform among your target audience and the brands they love.

Understand what your customers want

You can learn a lot from the social media searches that drive people to your content, your competitors’ content, or any online conversation about your niche. The social search terms and hashtags they use can provide important insights into the problems they’re looking to solve, the information they want to find, and the online communities where they like to spend their time.

Armed with this (free!) market research, you can position your product as a solution to their specific pain points, create online content that addresses their information needs, and connect to the relevant communities.

Research the right connections for social selling

Social media search is a valuable tool for sales professionals looking for new leads. Traditional search engines are not that useful when you’re searching for the right people within companies to reach out to. And company websites themselves often direct you to a generic contact form.

A tailored social search, on the other hand, can help you identify who to contact and give you some basic insights to personalize your query when you reach out. LinkedIn may seem like the top social platform to search here, but don’t neglect other social tools.

On the flip side, make sure it’s easy for potential prospects or leads to find you. Incorporate social search techniques into your bio and username across social platforms. Complete all available bio fields, make strategic use of keywords, and include a geographic location if relevant.

5 Best social media search tools for 2024

1. Hootsuite Streams

Hootsuite Streams Twitter advanced search results

Start free 30-day trial

Searching across multiple platforms can get confusing fast. Hootsuite Streams is the best social media search tool to consolidate all your social media accounts. You can manage many social media searches in one place instead of having a million open tabs.

Rather than viewing a single feed, you can create customized boards and organize your streams within them. Plus, streams organize content chronologically, not according to the social media platform’s algorithms. This makes it easier to see at a glance what posts are new.

There are endless ways to set up your streams. For instance, you can use an Instagram board to set up streams monitoring your home feed, specific hashtags, social mentions, and competitor accounts. You can also create boards for specific campaigns to track engagement.

Our favorite way to use streams? Set up an X (formerly Twitter) Advanced Search stream that allows you to use Boolean search operators (more on those below) to refine your search.

2. Social Searcher

Social Searcher browse results for Big Ali on Twitter YouTube and Instagram

Source: Social Searcher

Social Searcher is a multi-platform social media search engine that allows you to conduct a social media username search as well as look for mentions and hashtags. The free search tool provides results from Reddit, Vimeo, and DailyMotion, and other web sources. A paid premium subscription opens up results from the true social platforms and allows you to set up email alerts.

3. Google advanced search

Google Advanced Search New York Views on Instagram Facebook and TikTok websites

Source: Google

Does it seem counterintuitive to use Google for social media search, when we’ve just been talking about how social media is starting to replace Google as a primary search tool? The fact is, Google search and social search are interconnected, and knowing how to use both to discover social content will yield the best social media search engine results.

Within Google, use Boolean operators (like AND, OR and NOT) to focus on social search results. Ahrefs has a comprehensive list of search operators to help.

For instance, say you have an influencer in mind for a campaign but are unsure if they’re active on all the social media sites you’re targeting. Time for a social media username search! Enter [influencer name] (site:instagram.com | site:facebook.com | site:tiktok.com) in the Google search bar to see if they have profiles on Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook.

Or maybe you want to find people who are posting positive content about your brand? Add keywords like love, favorite or best to your search. For instance, searching site:instagram.com [YOUR BRAND +love] will generate Instagram posts from people who say they love your company.

4. Talkwalker

Talkwalker North Wave restaurant closure social search results

Source: Talkwalker

Talkwalker uses AI-powered technology for advanced social intelligence. Talkwalker’s social media search engine provides results from 30 social networks. You can use Boolean search operators, or lean into their AI to search using natural language prompts. You can set up real-time alerts for trends and volume spikes that you need to check up on.

Perhaps one of Talkwalker’s most valuable tools for social media and search engine optimization content research is the ability to track sentiment in social content. You can identify both high-value strengths to play up and potential pain points to address in future social posts.

Talkwalker integrates into the Hootsuite dashboard to keep your social media searches together in one place.

Psst: Hootsuite is set to acquire Talkwalker VERY SOON. This means that you’ll be able to dig even deeper into brand mentions and customer intelligence, with Talkwalker’s AI-powered tools right in your Hootsuite dashboard!

5. Brandwatch

Brandwatch search result for new packaging project

Source: Brandwatch

Brandwatch incorporates both social media search and online data to drive powerful insights for brands. It allows you to search through millions of social posts and conversations in one place without getting overwhelmed.

You can get overall trends and topic insights, or drill down into individual posts, conversations, and users. Powerful filters help you understand sentiment and spot useful feedback (and bubbling-up complaints), while AI tools identify important trends. You can also use AI to power your social media search itself, so you only access the most relevant posts and data.

Brandwatch has an incredibly robust dataset, with 1.7 trillion (with a T!) conversations going back to 2010 and 501 million new conversations added daily.

As an added bonus, Brandwatch integrates with Hootsuite to keep your social media searches centralized.

Save time managing your social media presence with Hootsuite. Publish and schedule posts, find relevant conversions, engage the audience, measure results, and more — all from a single dashboard. Try it free today.

Do it better with Hootsuite, the all-in-one social media tool. Stay on top of things, grow, and beat the competition.

Free 30-Day Trial

Become a better social marketer.

Get expert social media advice delivered straight to your inbox.

By Christina Newberry

Christina Newberry is an award-winning writer and editor whose greatest passions include food, travel, urban gardening, and the Oxford comma—not necessarily in that order.

Related Articles