Facebook Graph Search Explained for Marketers

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January 22, 2013
Adam Marquardt Adam Marquardt

facebook graph searchFacebook recently announced some big news — a search platform to give users the tools to “map out their relationships with the people and things they care about.” This functionality is what Facebook calls “the graph.” It’s a new way to help identify and strengthen the connections that are most relevant to you. But what exactly does this conceptual introduction mean in practice? How will people be using Graph Search, and what does it mean for small business marketing? How have social media enthusiasts responded to the news?

Even though Graph Search is still in beta, it's best to prepare for public release now. Here is a breakdown that will bring you up to speed.

What Is Facebook's Graph Search?

Facebook’s Graph Search is exactly what you would expect — a search tool to connect social media users with people, places, events, brands, and other interests. But its applications stem beyond search. Graph Search technology strives to emulate what people already do in real life — share information and make recommendations. For instance, users can search for local restaurants based on where their friends have checked in or visited. Users can also search for people based on specified criteria.

Facebook has access to countless data points. And they’re transforming this stream of numbers into actionable information. Every post you make sheds insight into who you are as a person, and Facebook wants to leverage this data to bring advertising and marketing closer to what you might like or already consume.

How Does Graph Search Work?

As of right now, Graph Search is in limited preview, but Facebook has provided a breakdown of how it will look when fully deployed. In Facebook’s words, it will appear as a larger search bar on each page. When you search for something, you’ll see results in the form of a page — which you can continue to edit.

Facebook’s new tool is different from the web search you’re already used to in the sense that platforms like Google and Bing are keyword driven (e.g. “rap music”). Graph Search is phrase driven (e.g. “My friends who like Coldplay”). “We believe they have very different uses,” Facebook says.

Graph Search won’t provide access to new information, however. You’ll only be able to see what you already see elsewhere on Facebook, organized in a new format.

What Do the Experts Think?

Graph Search is still very early in development, and reactions to the announcement have been mixed. Some analysts are calling it the future of search — reinventing the role that social media plays in information generation and commerce. But the future isn’t here yet, and Graph Search still has a long way to go. With enough time and resources, anything could happen. Facebook Graph Search is a hint at bigger things in social technology that have yet to come.

But even Facebook is grounded to the same reality — it’s a “really big project,” they say. Beyond technology, Facebook will need to figure out how to best approach their “privacy sensitive” 1 billion users. Sharing information is one thing, but will social media users feel comfortable with their profiles being completely searchable?

If the technology reaches the right level of maturation, applications of the tools are limitless. Whether you’re searching for job candidates, dates, new friends, places to go out, new music, and more.

What Does It Mean for Small Business Marketers?

Even though Graph Search is still in beta, small business marketers need to make aggressive efforts now to get on the social radar. If you haven’t yet launched your strategy, you need to make a strong effort to build a following among your target audience. Eventually Graph Search will transform how people discover your business — and the key to your success will depend on how popular your Facebook page presence is already. Early Facebook adopters are likely to be at a clear advantage here.

Facebook Studio recently released some details on optimizations you should make to help people discover your business. At the bare minimum, be sure that your brand page is complete and fully updated. Your name, category, vanity URL, and “about” section are all important for helping prospects find you. If your business is location-based, be sure that you share that information. Give your followers a reason to interact with you.

Will Graph Search Stick?

User adoption is key to the long-term success of Graph Search. Will people turn to Facebook to find information about what their friends like and recommend? To an extent, people are already doing this — constantly reaching out to their social networks for advice both online and offline.

Maybe Graph Search will only take off in bits and pieces. For instance, people might hold off on using Facebook as a tool to search for a job, but they may use the feature to discover new companies to apply to. Users might also become more inclined to segment their peer groups into friends, family members, and coworkers. For example you may not want to know what your boss likes to do on the weekends, but you certainly care about what your friends have going on. In relation to the bigger picture, these details are just small kinks.

Do you think that Graph Search has the potential to take off?

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