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Facebook Graph Search – What It Means For You & Your Business

Laura Phillips

by Laura Phillips on 5th February 2013

bigstock-Two-Shocked-Women-Using-Laptop SIZED

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.


Graph Search Image

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.

Reputation Management

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…

Employers of People Who Like Racism

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.

NearbyBusinesses 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.

Recruitment

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…

  • Make sure your business profile is accurate and complete (for example, category, and location). Pick your categories and subcategories carefully – this will determine which searches you do and do not show for.
  • Create sharable, high quality content to help increase reach. Publishing boring, generic content, blatantly plagiarising others, or posts such as ‘share us with your friends!’ will not get you very far and may damage the credibility of your company. You get out what you put in, as they say. Be different, stand out, and think about what you would want to share if you were a customer. Be pro-active in attracting the right audience (who will share and increase your reach further), especially if you have a physical location customers can visit such as a restaurant or shop. Network with relevant high profile users who are more likely to share your content to a larger audience. The more interaction you achieve the higher your EdgeRank, and therefore determines when, and how high you are displayed in results. Asking loads of people to Like you via Facebook will not help. Users who talk with you, post things on your wall, Like what you put up; these are the ones you want.
  • Be sure to keep your page as up to date and relevant as possible, adding posts, responding to customers and sharing promotions. If users communicate with you, you need to be able to communicate back, the average maximum acceptable time seems to be around 24 hours. So if someone asks a question, praises, or critiques your site via your Facebook Business page, be ready to respond.
  • Be accessible – make it easy for users to contact you, and respond as you would with any other enquiry (i.e. quickly and fully). By creating a community you will build trust with new and potential customers and gain loyalty from existing ones.

More About Facebook Graph Search

FAIL

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:

search-graph-fb-likes-porn search-graph-UVA-like-guns

 

 ‘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?

Definiton of 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:

Bing Sponsored Ads Image

If Bing have brokered a deal to get distribution across Facebook this could turn the fortunes around for their struggling paid search business. 

Privacy

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. Openbook

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:

Richard Azia Twitter Comment

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.)

Reactions

Media

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.

Investors

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.

Facebook Users

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 User Reaction 2

 

Facebook User Reaction 1

Conclusion

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.

 Image Credits:

Two Shocked Women from Bigstock Photo
Facebook Graph Search screenshots compiled by Bas Van Den Beld

Laura Phillips

Laura Phillips

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.

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7 Comments

  • Ydeveloper 8th February 2013

    This is an awesome post. It’s a worth noting case that if more people will use the facebooks’ privacy features to make their profile more secure, how facebook will track their interest as a result of an users’ query.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 11th February 2013

      Thank you :) I agree; we’ll be keeping a close eye on how privacy and targeting changes within Facebook in the near future.

      Reply to this comment

  • Andy 11th February 2013

    Very interesting, Laura! I’ve been experimenting with FB graph search for a while now and I’ve found it captivating. A couple of problems:
    Firstly, you can’t monitor specific key words in public comments (it would be awesome: you could perform specific searches as you do on Twitter).
    Secondly, it would be necessary to develop new incentives so that people feel the need to review and rate products and services.
    Finally, it is vital to convince FB users that this kind of reviews can be helpful for the others and therefore need to be public. Otherwise your search is limited to the people in your network :-(
    It’d be nice to read your take on these issues.

    Reply to this comment

  • Simon Templeton 28th April 2013

    I’m quite looking forward to graph search being rolled out to all of us soon.

    There does seem to be an emphasis for fan page owners to rush out and get a load of likes but I think by the time it’s released fully it’s algorithms will still require engaged content as well as likes to get seen.

    I’m also keen to see what advertising opportunities are going to come out of it.

    Reply to this comment

    • Laura Phillips

      Laura Phillips 29th April 2013

      Hi Simon

      Thanks for commenting, I agree, just having Likes is a shallow metric and I don’t think number alone will be enough to really gain anything in real terms.

      Reply to this comment

      • Simon 8th May 2013

        Yeah definitely, Facebook are in the business of keeping people on their website so if page owners are doing things the way FB want us to be doing things you have a far better chance of being rewarded by them and getting seen by lots of people, otherwise if we just go back to likes it will be like the old Google days when who could buy the most backlinks wins.

        This is not a true measure of quality.

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