This past week Google took a few big strides in the race to offer the most comprehensive online search technology – introducing some new features which allow users to see real-time updates and further personalize their findings. Search results will now automatically include a stream of real-time (and constantly updated) comments from social networks, news feeds and blog posts. Searches on Google will now include real-time updates from sites like Twitter and Facebook. The findings will also be further personalized based on previous searches by the user. Google also introduced an interesting new feature allowing users to use a photo (taken on mobile devices) to get information on the object in the picture. Check out a blog post on the announcement here and news coverage here and here. (The original announcement by Google, complete with video examples, is here.)

Most of the coverage and blog conversation about Google’s announcement focuses on how this will impact the search engine race, particularly the impact on upstart Bing and networks like Twitter and MySpace (who have their own upstart search functions).  But speculation on the implications of “supersearch” on PR – and communication professionals – is just beginning, and no less interesting. Here are my initial take-aways.

  • Companies focusing on using SEO to manage their profiles on Google will have a harder time, since now a good part of the results will come from more fluid, unpredictable networks like Twitter – where conversation is much harder to follow, and very difficult to shape.
  • These changes give social networks even more prominence and potential clout than before, so organizations that do not have a formal presence on these sites need to quickly devise a strategy for building a credible profile – ideally through an influential group of friends/fans/followers. Putting up a corporate page on Facebook or MySpace and letting it gather dust is no longer an option.
  • Since Google makes it that much easier for users to find breaking news and commentary on any topic – and uncover emerging content trends – it becomes more critical that communicators themselves keep abreast of relevant developments and online chatter. If monitoring the Web was important before – relatively easy using aggregators like NetVibes and Google Reader –  it’s become an absolute necessity now.
  • In a similar vein to the point above, managing a crisis becomes a more dynamic and challenging exercise in this real-time, robust search environment. Communicators eager to quell rumors or address a contentious issue need to consider if and how they can implement their strategy within this cacophony of search data. At minimum, they need to find an effective way to get the word out (perhaps through their own friends/fans on these networks or sympathetic bloggers.)
  • Companies who use Google for Web search on their internal systems will be able to leverage the new real-time technology, but those on the cutting-edge will want to explore how they can use the same search logic with their own proprietary platforms and sites – such as their intranet or internal networks. This would allow employees to benefit from the latest commentary and news on salient internal issues, which previously might have been buried in emails, rogue sites or hidden files.
  • Finally, it may be stating the obvious but organizations that don’t yet have clear policies and protocols for online use are at even higher risk of a self-inflicted reputation implosion. Staff need to understand what they can and can’t do on the Web – whether it be on their own time or as formal representatives of a company. The heightened popularity of Twitter and Facebook and increased profile on general search substantially raises the stakes.

Ultimately, the lesson for PR professionals is simple: ignore these changes at your own peril. The pace and scope of progress in communication technology requires sustained observation and planning.