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by Laura Phillips on 5th February 2013
In this article I aim to give you an overview of what Facebook Graph Search is, what it means for your business, and how to optimise for it. We’ll also look at privacy issues, its relationship with Bing, initial reactions, and what the future may hold for Facebook advertising.
What Is It?
The idea is to provide more natural results by linking different elements of the information it has about you to deliver more relevant results. For example, you could search for “friends who like Mumford & Sons and live in Southampton”, or “restaurants liked by my friends who work as chefs”.
It’s not a new idea so much as a refinement. The information you can get from Facebook Graph Search was always there, it just wasn’t so easy to find.
As it is a brand new feature it is likely that those testing it will often come up with no results; in which case the user is presented with a standard SERPs page of web results. Powered by Bing. More about that and how Facebook is ‘not’ trying to take on Google later…
While in beta at present, Facebook say Search Graph will be continually improved and expanded in the future, updating its algorithm and results in accordance with how members use it. Of course it will take a very long time for Facebook to categorise everything they have on the site, but they have started walking the path and intend to make it function using the entirety of Facebook’s resources in the future.
What Does It Mean For My Business?
First and foremost, Facebook Graph Search should help increase ease of discovery, and reach for your business page. It will help gather information about your customers more quickly and easily with the opportunity to better target them, and help you understand your market.
By connecting users and ‘social objects’ Graph Search will help translate meaning from Facebook’s social graph; and it is likely to be used to find employment, find people to date (as well as places they might like to go on a date), and discover new things based on the results.
Facebook’s director for Small Business, Dan Levy, says that the site tool could help over 13 million small businesses get discovered, eventually linking it into Facebook mobile and the ‘nearby’ function.
How will information such as this becoming so easily accessible affect your business reputation? If your staff aren’t guarding their Facebook privacy closely, you may run into problems…
This could land you with some seriously bad PR in next to no time.
How many people will decide to Unlike you, not bring their car to your carwash anymore, or make a formal complaint, when they see clear as day that the staff like racism? What is that going to do for business?
If you have previously Liked something/added a photo/posted a comment you thought was funny at the time but maybe isn’t so funny when your boss/your employees/the whole world can see it, now is the time to change your privacy settings.
Businesses with Multiple Locations and Graph Search
For a long time many multi-location businesses have filtered all their traffic to a central brand page; one page to rule them all. The automatically created location pages have served little purpose. Well that all changes now. Local Facebook pages and their location to users and other businesses is paramount here. Users may engage with the Wagamama brand page for example, but they won’t be visiting the Head Office, they will be visiting the restaurant closest to them, which in many cases for Wagamama and for most multi-location companies has not been utilised.
Local pages appear to be just as important as main brand pages as far as Facebook is concerned, and they need to be created and maintained in the same manner, though probably to a lesser extent. (There’s nothing to get users clicking Unlike quicker than bombarding them with messages every day).
Hubspot reported in December that Facebook were enabling local business pages in Facebook mobile, allowing users to search and find businesses ‘nearby’. The element closest to this in mobile used to only allow users to see when friends check-in to locations nearby. This has now been expanded to include a ‘nearby’ tab showing local pages, making it imperative to have a presence locally on Facebook.
With any change such as this recruiters are usually among the first to explore the new possibilities it creates. Facebook Graph Search allows longer, more niche search terms, thus making it easier for anyone looking for a new employee to trace individuals most likely to be a good fit by experience, level of education, and/or and culturally if that is what they are looking for.
It’s not that Facebook are trying to add a LinkedIn feel to the site, however it does create an opportunity for job seekers and recruiters to link up in a way not previously possible via Facebook.
Optimising For Facebook Graph Search
At the moment the tool is very young and functionality is limited, with no way to market to the masses once you have found them; but in time this will change.
Even at present the tool can be used to seek out basic correlations such as ‘people who Like [insert company page name] and live in [insert area]’, this should help you see in what geographical areas your page is strong and where improvement is needed.
Good housekeeping will help you gain the most form Facebook Graph Search…
More About Facebook Graph Search
Already examples are being put online of individuals who have unwittingly told the world things they would probably rather have kept to themselves, but their privacy settings allowed them to be found in Graph Search. These screenshots compiled by Bas van den Beld for State of Search give us a great insight of Graph Search Gone Bad:
‘It’s not a search engine’
*Cough* Ok then. As mentioned above, if no results are available, as is often the case in the early stages of such an undertaking, Bing results show instead. Zuckerberg is quoted as having said “We’re not indexing the web…We’re indexing our map of the graph – the graph is really big and it’s constantly changing.”
What is a Search Engine?
So it IS a search engine…of sorts. Fair enough Zuckerberg is not trying to index the web, however Graph Search does allow users to search for information, people, places, businesses, points of interest, photographs, and much more which they can access and use to help them determine a course of action, gain understanding, and make choices. Sounds like a search engine to me.
Although Facebook seem to be trying to distance themselves from the idea of trying to take on Google, the inclusion of Bing, though logical, seems a telling sign. An article on Bing’s blog by Derrick Connell, Corporate Vice President of Search, reads “When people want to search beyond Facebook, they see web search results from Bing with social context and additional information such as Facebook pages”.
He also gives a screenshot of what Facebook may look like in the future, with a column on the right hand side which is described as “…content from Facebook Pages and apps that are related to your search.” Funny how they look exactly like Bing Sponsored Ads, and have the title ‘Sponsored’ then:
If Bing have brokered a deal to get distribution across Facebook this could turn the fortunes around for their struggling paid search business.
Considering the semi-healed scars of previous privacy issues concerning Facebook and Google, the general public are far savvier with such issues than in the past. Security and privacy are two of the hot topics whenever innovations such as Graph Search are launched, and rightly so.
Firstly I should point out that nothing has changed at all with regards to what other users (and non-users) can and cannot see of your profile and information. The only thing that has changed is how they search and access that information. For example, if you live in Bournemouth and have liked the page for ‘Drinking’, others could go to your profile and find that information, as long as your privacy settings allowed it. Now, they don’t need to go to your page, A user could simply search for ‘friends who live in Bournemouth and like drinking’, and you would pop up.
The difference is that this information becomes more accessible. Usually Liked pages stay as just that, if you happen to see another friend Liked the same thing, great, but now you can be easily discovered through Graph Search against whatever information you allow to be shared. For example; thought it was funny to like a page called ‘Immigrants Get Lost!’ after the BBC showed a documentary that got you all het up? Would you find it so funny if that information became easier to find along with your city and place of work?
Learning From the Past
Did you ever use Openbook? Back in the innocent days of Facebook where privacy wasn’t quite the issue it is today, many of us had open profiles, accessible to anyone and everyone.
Even those who were not part of the Facebook community could search Openbook for anything and everything about you, if you unwittingly let them. They could search for posts and status updates and find out when you told the world you were hung-over at work, cheated in an exam, or even committed a crime (examples include speeding, assault, and vandalism).
Before Graph Search becomes more widely available you may wish to review your privacy settings. Partly, of course, because you don’t want to end up making information about yourself so freely available and searchable, but also for another reason, one well presented by one Richard Azia via Twitter:
Many Facebook users don’t only post happiness and joy throughout the year. You may have posted negative comments about your partner/sister/Mum/boss/friend in a moment of anger, you may have posted something political or non-PC after watching a news programme, or added posts created out of pure upset and tears. Do you really want others to be able to search and drag them back up again? (Simple answer: don’t post things you may later regret.)
Facebook Graph Search was launched around the 15th January 2013 to a somewhat under-awed media crowd. The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones reported “After all the build-up to Facebook’s event at its Californian headquarters, Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement left me – and I suspect millions of its users – distinctly underwhelmed…”, echoing the sentiments of many other reporters and journalists at the launch event and beyond.
For investors it’s an odd one; the fact the project will take so long to complete may be off putting, but the fact that a major player has devised a new, practical idea which may challenge other technological giants and make Facebook a potentially serious competitor in new fields has to be enticing. Mark Zuckerberg is describing Graph Search as the “third pillar” to Facebook’s empire, (the first two being News Feed and Timeline) though according to TechCrunch this did not win over investors and Facebook shares dipped down to below $30 upon the announcement of Facebook’s latest effort.
Users could sign up to a waiting list to test the beta version of Graph Search, and the first batch to experience it offer mixed reactions from “Amazing!” to “Meh.” Here are some examples taken from CTV News:
Facebook Graph Search has the potential to have a large effect on SEO, for businesses and for individuals. Searches made through Facebook will become more relevant, allowing businesses access to a more targeted audience. The opportunity for discovery by new potential customers will also increase, as long as companies put effort into Facebook marketing and maximise their opportunity though this platform by building an active community through good customer service and sharable content.
In short, most of what you need to do to maximise opportunity through Graph Share is good business for Facebook already. Social search is likely to become a major part of your marketing strategy, so treat it as such. Get organised sooner rather than later and make sure your business has someone dedicated and trained to look after it, or employ a specialist to take care of your account.
Laura has experience of SEO, PPC and Social Media both in-house and within an agency environment. Having worked across a variety of industries from travel to law, and retail to education she is always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the search and social visibility of her clients across various platforms.