From a commercial perspective, search and social have two different but overlapping value propositions for the user. In a nutshell, search is about finding what you want, and social is about researching what you want.

In a commercial context, we use social media to research options – from the shared ratings and reviews of strangers, to being open to the ideas, endorsements and behaviour of people we know and trust.  When we’ve researched, and settled on an option, then we search.  The fruits of your research are what go into the search box.

Of course, this is a simplification, and there’s granularity to all this – research can be passive or active – passive research simply involves and ongoing opportunistic openness to social influence, whilst active research may involve asking for advice or researching ratings and reviews. But it’s a useful way of seeing how social media and search fit together; here’s a nice infographic from local shopping search engine, Milo, underlining the role of social media research in pre-purchase behaviour – increasingly with a mobile handset. Interesting factoid, ratings and reviews trump search ads in the research phase of a pre-purchase activity.

So are you investing as much in social plugins that customers access to ratings, reviews and endorsements as you are in search ads?