Why Are Social Media Platforms Becoming Search Engines?

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

Why Are Social Media Platforms Becoming Search Engines?
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Snap went all-in on AI with its ChatGPT-powered chatbox, My AI. Now, it wants advertisers to join them.

At IAB NewFronts, an annual event where companies pitch their latest digital offerings to advertisers, Snap announced that My AI’s update will allow advertisers to respond to user conversations with sponsored links. For example, according to Snap’s President of Americas Rob Wilk if a user asks My AI for restaurant or hotel recommendations, in response they could receive links sponsored by Snap’s advertising partners.


It’s unclear if this will solve Snap’s advertising problem, which the company blames for its Q1 revenue slump. Let alone truly transform it into anyone’s go-to search platform. It doesn’t help either that users haven’t responded positively to My AI’s roll out in the first place.

But it does reflect a growing trend of social media platforms becoming search engines. Just look at TikTok, which has become Gen Z’s preferred search engine. People looking for suggestions for which makeup brand to buy or movies to watch are largely turning to products recommended on TikTok. It has helped fuel the platform’s unending parade of microtrends. For its part, TikTok leaned into its prominence as a search engine by releasing ads asking users to “search it with TikTok. Even YouTube has become a site for people to find tutorials, information and recommendations. People are also turning to Reddit to address specific questions and avoid Google’s ad and SEO-driven algorithm.

The paradigm shift has been a boon for small businesses. In Los Angeles, both bookstores and restaurants have seen increased sales by engaging with their online followers. Advertisers have in turn been eyeing how to utilize keyword searches and influencer marketing on social media platforms.

Even Google has had to adjust its platform to contend with this trend. In 2022, Google executives revealed that young people turning to TikTok and Instagram posed a threat to the company’s primary product. In response, Google shifted its appearance to prioritize visuals, such as videos and maps.

Still, what Snap proposes with My AI is different from how other social media platforms have been used as search engines. Instead of generating responses from creators, the suggested links will come directly from paying advertisers.

To be fair, most of the search results on TikTok are sponsored too. Searching “best lipstick” on the app results in videos from influencers who work directly with brands to promote their products. The success of these platforms as search engines makes even more sense when considering that by and large, young people are highly susceptible to influencer marketing. But that isn’t what’s happening on Snap’s My AI. Instead, people searching for food recommendations or places to stay receive an impersonal link, which lacks the perceived charm and interpersonal connection on other social media platforms.

Coupled with the fact that the company is already fighting against users’ suspicion of the feature, attempting to convince them that My AI can revolutionize their search experience will likely be an uphill battle.

https://twitter.com/ksnyder_db

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