Facebook Graph Search: What Brands Need to Know
Facebook recently announced its latest platform feature: Graph Search. Graph Search is a new way for users to find the people, photos, places and interests most relevant to them on Facebook. As users type in queries, suggestions will appear in a drop-down menu and can be refined using tools on the right side of the page. Currently the tool is in beta and available to only a few thousand users.
Graph Search makes Facebook relevant where it historically has been a subpar player in social search. For brands, Graph Search could represent a powerful new opportunity to drive awareness and engagement on the platform.
What Is Graph Search?
Unlike a web search, Graph Search allows users to search the Facebook ecosystem for people, places, activities or interests and receive personalized results based on their friends’ activities and recommendations. Essentially, users can now search for things such as “sushi restaurants that my friends have been to in Los Angeles,” “hotels near the Eiffel Tower” or “TV shows my friends like.”
The search algorithm has been updated, so whether you are a page, place, group, app or game, you, and the content you’ve shared, can appear in search results. What may not surface in your news feed can now be found through a quick search.
Graph Search will not index Instagram photos in beta, but that functionality is in the product road map.
Additionally, Open Graph integration is not linked to Facebook’s Open Graph, which integrates the platform with third-party services such as Spotify.
What’s New: A More Personalized Search
While other search engines have incorporated social context into results, Facebook Graph personalizes the social context specific to Facebook and each user.
For example, it provides:
• Answers, not links. One of the most obvious points of difference between Facebook Graph Search and other search engines is the results format. Graph Search queries return “answers, not links” in the form of a list of the most query-relevant Facebook “objects” (people, places, photos, etc.).
• Connections versus keywords. The new search tool enables members to ask questions using natural language and receive personalized, socially relevant results. For example, a user could search for “movies my friends have watched” and receive a list of movies most popular among those in their social network. Entering that same query into Google would return a very different set of results generated by keyword-driven algorithms.
• Local recommendations versus local results. By leveraging inputs such as “likes,” check-ins and business page data to generate a list of socially relevant places, the local aspect of the tool offers a lot more than your average search engine. This new method of discovering places (cities, restaurants, retail outlets, monuments, etc.) offers users a recommendation engine that rivals the likes of Yelp and Foursquare.
If the rollout is successful, there are many positive implications for the platform and Facebook’s business model at large. They include:
• Digital dominance. Graph Search is a result of a joint partnership between Facebook and Bing/Microsoft and represents not only an enhanced user experience within Facebook, but a major milestone in the race for monopoly over the internet. In fact, Facebook explicitly outlined a new strategy that focuses on the growth of three integral pillars: News Feed, Timeline and Graph Search. The social network’s new emphasis on search puts it even more at odds with a host of rivals, chief among them, Google.
• New revenue streams. Facebook did not roll out any new ad products with this announcement, but entering the search game opens up a variety of new revenue opportunities. For instance, there is clear potential to leverage the enhanced search functionality to generate revenue from its hundreds of millions of mobile users.
• Impact for users. Graph Search promises increased utility for users, but new privacy concerns may surface. Facebook claims to have built Graph Search with privacy in mind, promising that information will only be shared according to users’ privacy settings. Photos, updates and links that are set at “Me only” won’t be displayed in search results.
Opportunities for Brands
If successfully adopted by users, Graph Search is ripe with opportunity for brands to drive greater reach and engagement on the platform.
Pages will be more “discoverable.” Graph Search will be a viable source of page discovery and ultimately traffic. Just as marketers are learning to optimize their content for the news feed, they will now need to consider optimizing it for discovery via search. The name, category, vanity URL and information you share in the “About” section all help people find your business and should be shared on Facebook.
Brand page “likes” will play a critical role in determining prominence within Graph Search. Because results are connections-driven, the more connections you have, the more discoverable your page will be.
With Graphic Search, photos in brand albums (not status updates) and user photos in which brands are tagged may appear in search results. Thus, brands will have to focus new energy on albums and user-generated content.
Brands, particularly those with a physical presence (retailers, restaurants, etc.), should be sure to have accurate location details associated with their page so that is optimized for check-ins and discovery.
What It Can Become
There is significant potential in the Graph Search features that will be rolled out later this year.
Though Graph Search will initially be available only on desktop, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has promised that Graph Search is critical to the social network’s future mobile initiatives.
While the current search is limited to photos, people, places and interests, Facebook has indicated that Graph Search will eventually index status updates (past and present) to be included in search results.
Ultimately, Facebook search optimization will become a key emerging discipline in digital this year. Marketers will need to consider ways to apply the principles of search engine optimization to the Graph Search rationale.
Additional contributors to this article include: VML Senior Social Marketing Strategist, Jennifer Fleet; VML Senior Social Marketing Strategist, Jessica Sherrets; and VML Digital Strategist Tomas Gonsorcik.
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