The Importance of Facebook's New Graph Search
I’ve seen a lot of reaction to Facebook’s new Graph Search which was announced yesterday, and most of it is negative. The people in my own personal graph on Facebook are skeptical. They say it’s not what they want, and they raise a lot of the predictable questions about privacy, and the like. But I think most of that has already been addressed.
But I actually like this new product. Or should I say I like the idea of it. I will have to reserve real judgement on the new offering, which will be rolled out in beta, until I see how it works. In principle, however, I think this is very cool for Facebook, its users, and the future of social. I also think that while this isn’t an anything-killer, it definitely has the potential of being a game changer.
First off, despite some headlines, I don’t think this is a Google killer by any stretch of the imagination, at least in terms of our normal search habits. This isn’t a regular search engine as we know it and Google will still be the search engine of choice for most of us. What it might be, though, is a real threat to some of the underlying framework of Google+ and how that is used to create what Google calls Search, Plus Your World, the search function that is supposed to include the preferences of your friends in your search results.
The idea behind that service, which resides in the upper right hand corner of your search engine results pages (SERPs), is that as your friends use the +1 throughout Google and the web, their preferences will be included in your search results. The problem is that this has never really worked. More often than not, if I toggle between Google’s regular results and my personalized results, I see little or no difference. In the search illustrated above, I looked for “lancaster pa restaurants.” Now consider a few things: I am a heavy web and social user and many of my friends are also heavy users. Presumably we’d be more likely to +1 or talk about places online. Add to that that I chose restaurants, something I know my friends and I talk about a lot. And yet I didn’t see any +1′s in the search results. They had no real bearing on my search results.
Why? I’m not sure, but my gut tells me it’s because the general public still isn’t using Google+, or the +1 button, to any great extent, especially in terms of business listings on Google.
That’s one reason I think Facebook’s Graph Search will work. With Google, we were taking existing behavior (searching) and being asked to add something new to it: giving a +1.
With Facebook, it’s taking our existing behavior and incorporating it into the results without us having to do any more than what we are already doing. Most of us are already on Facebook. Most of us already “like” business pages on Facebook. Many of us already talk about our restaurant and business experiences in our updates, as well as share photos, and even check in to places. These are the types of things that will be included in our Facebook search results. We aren’t being asked to change our behavior
This taps into one of the ways we already use social: to crowdsource our lives.
For instance, the other night I had to help my son figure out how to change the pedals on his bike. Clearly I could find some tutorials on Youtube or elsewhere on the web, but I also needed a very specific tool. As I often do, I put out a plea on Facebook, only to find out that my neighbor a few doors down had one. In addition to him, I also connected with a local friend via G-chat, as well as Gini Dietrich on Skype, because I happen to know she’s a serious biker. But with the new Graph Search, I could have asked Facebook to tell me which of my local friends are bikers, and then I could have directed my question at them either privately or by tagging them. I might have gotten a more relevant answer in a more timely manner. I might even have discovered that my neighbor Jake was into biking, rather than being surprised when he replied.
I think that what might help Facebook is that they are trying to incorporate search into social, whereas Google is trying to include social into search. It might be a subtle difference, but it might be important in terms of how effective it becomes.
Here are a few images provided by Facebook:
One criticism I saw of Facebook came in the comments of one blog where one person responded,
“This is dumb. Why would I want to have my search filtered my fb friend’s wisdom? The idea with getting answers from the masses is that it’s often the most correct. What the hell does my cousin know about anything? He doesn’t.”
Now aside from the fact that this person’s cousin probably just unfriended them, this commenter misses the point. This isn’t about full search results. It’s about customized results and finding things that are based on the recommendations of your friends.
I also like this because Facebook’s current search, as powered by Bing, is pretty useless and unreliable. This new type of search looks like a major improvement, even though Bing will be the default backup for searches that don’t turn up anything from within your social graph.
The Privacy Issue
People will still complain; they will still cut and paste silly statements about opting out of Facebook’s graph search, and ask their friends not to search for them (*rapping on head* “Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Huh? Think, McFly. Use your privacy settings!”).
We need to remember that the search function is based on your privacy settings. If you post things only to “friends,” then only your friends will see your stuff in their searches. However if you post a lot to the “public,” as I do, anyone can find your stuff in the searches.
Repeat after me:
The only people who will be able to access you and your information via the new Graph Search are the ones who already have access to that same information.
In other words, people will only be able to search that information which you have already shared with them. The other cool thing about this is that everyone’s search is customized specifically for them. And that’s what makes this kind of search valuable.
Got it? Good.
So what does this all mean for us?
1. Pick and choose carefully what you like and talk about – Like the businesses that you truly like, because these are the things that will impact how you are found in searches. Go over your profile and make it sure reflects your interests and everything is up to date.
2. Use your privacy settings - There will be a backlash. Previously people complained about being used in ads on Facebook for particular businesses merely because they had “liked” the business on Facebook. That was paid. This is search. If I search for “restaurants in Lancaster liked by my friends,” you will show up. But remember this: if it shows up in Graph Search, it’s because your privacy settings were such that I was already able to access that information from you. If you don’t want to show up in searches, be careful what you post, and set your privacy settings accordingly. This might be a good time to start playing with Facebook’s list function and set up several custom lists that you use as you choose which information you want to share with specific people or groups of people.
Me? I don’t mind helping people by making my information searchable.
3. Use the new search – Try it out. See if it helps. Don’t judge it based on what I say, anyone else says, or even what Facebook says about how it will work. Give it a whirl, understanding that it is starting in beta, and won’t have all of its features early on. See if there are ways you can use it to help you find things.
It is now more important than ever to take your Facebook business page seriously. Here are a few tips:
1. Optimize your Facebook page - Go to the “basic information” section of your settings for your business page now and make sure you have completely filled everything out. Everything. Make it complete.
2. Use your page – Update early and often, perhaps several times a day. If you just let it sit, it does you no good.
3. Be relevant – As you write updates, make sure they are relevant and engaging. The more engagement you get, the better. And vary the types of information you post.
4. Get fans – Let me rephrase that: get RELEVANT fans. It’s not the number of fans that matter, but the more fans you have who are really your customers, and are relevant to you, the better off you’ll be, because those connections will play heavily into Graph Search. This is especially important for local businesses. If you’re a restaurant and only one of my friends likes you, you will fall to the bottom of my list, no matter how great you are. Remember this: Facebook is built on word of mouth. Word of mouth comes from your existing customers. Your job is to get your existing customers to connect with you on Facebook. Make it happen.
5. Consider using Facebook Deals – Compelling deals are a great way of getting people to check in. Those check ins will be an important factor for the search function. And of course if you are offering deals and want people to check in, you need to tell them, both online and offline. Your customers can’t read your mind.
6. Your website and blog are now more important – But only if you have the Facebook like or share buttons on them. Make sure you install these on your site and blog as those clicks will become part of the search process, and could drive traffic to your site.
These are just my initial thoughts on how Facebook’s new Graph Search could change the way we use the web and social media.
All I know is that this has the potential to be big, and I’m looking forward to playing around with it, both as a user and a marketer. The game is changing and it’s changing fast. It’s our job to keep up.
What are your views on Facebook’s new Graph Search? Will it be big or just a big bust?
Other Posts by Ken Mueller
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