Nielsen offers a blog post that shows the various ways that people discover content online. Search is at the top, followed by “portals” (which feature search boxes); at the other end are blogs and social networks. However Nielsen argues that certain categories of people are increasingly social media tools as content discovery sources:
We saw the power of opinions posted online in our global study earlier this year about trust in advertising, and the point came up again in our recent findings. Social media is becoming a core product research channel. Almost 15 percent of Socializers most trusted information they found on blogs when researching new purchases online, while nearly 20 percent trusted most the information they found on message boards.
Then the provocative question is asked: “So are social networks replacing portals or search engines?” Nielsen then says:
Perhaps. Regardless, if we don’t understand and address people feeling increasingly alienated by the amount of information on the Internet, and the need for a human guide, yes, your favorite social network (or something like it) will become the next great content gateway.
But it’s not an either/or, zero-sum situation. There may be some number of queries that people pose to their networks before or in addition to their use of search engines. Overall, “word of mouth” on social media sites is a complement to search engine usage. No doubt social media tools will continue to grow as content sources; however I don’t think we’ll see Facebook or Twitter replace Google or Bing any time soon.