Tuesday 06 December 2016

Facebook Unveils Graph Search

Facebook on Tuesday unveiled their newest product and it’s a search engine, called Graph Search. This new tool is a friend-based search engine that connects users all over Facebook via friend recommendations and activity. Graph search is currently in beta, but users can sign up to try it here. The sign up is at the bottom of the page.

The product itself is a live search bar that allows users to discover what their friends have liked or recommended, interacted with, visited…even photos of friends. This has generally been done manually in the past by going through individual friend pages and looking at their activities and pages they’ve fanned or tagged. The new search allows you to search for nearly anything your friends have interacted with on Facebook by simply giving social context to your queries. For example, people can discover music, movies, and other interests popular within their friend networks by simply typing in “Shows my friends like”. This will not only display your friend’s pages and the pages of shows your friends like, but clips, and activity associated with those results as well.

Essentially, it is the ability to leverage Facebook’s Open Graph to provide social context for any question you have and search results are unique to each user because, after all, you’re most likely to care about the recommendations and interests of YOUR friends rather than a stranger’s. Whereas you’d normally search for “restaurants in Paris” and inevitably click the Yelp link, Facebook is hoping you’ll just do that from within their site and instead of Yelp, you’ll trust your friend recommendations. Facebook has access to information that isn’t public; this is them leveraging it as a public search tool. All the targeting data you’ve used to create ads can now be used to search for brands, products, photos, people, and more.

Some sample searches you could use include:

  • “friends who live in my city”
  • “software engineers who live in San Francisco and like skiing”
  • ”photos of my friends before 1998”
  • “restaurants visited by my friends from Philadelphia”
  • “books read by people who read books I like”
  • “movies liked by Edelman employees”

Why this is important: Facebook has entered the search game and should be approached with the same importance we give Bing and Google. Whereas a web search is designed for you to search terms across the web, Graph Search is designed to combine phrases with your searches (i.e. “my friends in Los Angeles who listen to Spin Doctors”) to provide social context and, in turn, a higher likelihood of interaction and conversion. This is a tremendously powerful tool.

Functionality wise, this is very much the same as what Yelp does, only with a lot more data, a lot more customization, and a lot more users. Users will likely start by looking for recommendations from those nearby or in their friend networks, and eventually feel comfortable with searches on a wider scale. This will very likely involve some sort of larger paid results product later on. Since sponsored stories already make connections to brands from our friends more prevalent to us, this will likely be the same concept but on search. It is important to note that the way Graph Search is used is different than how one would search on Google or Bing. Users are used to typing in keywords for their searches and Facebook is banking on a behavioral shift that would see users asking questions or inputting phrases into their searches. It remains to be seen how that will turn out.

In the short term, this means increased importance on active communities, complete profiles, and relevant content. There is definitely a renewed importance on fan counts as a larger reach for a brand leads to a higher likelihood of being seen in Graph Search. This, along with Facebook’s recent announcement about making offsite links more prevalent in the news feed means even more importance in making sure content from your website is optimized for Facebook and all social platforms (i.e. meta data, preview images, etc.). Since search results will bring up content links that people interact with, offsite links and content items will play a big part in this as it develops. Over time and as this product expands, the amount of data that can be accessed will likely only increase as developers start integration current applications to work with Graph Search. As Facebook continues to index more data and make this accessible for apps, we’ll be able to see new technologies being powered by what’s available on graph search.

From a content standpoint, this opens up the ability for brands to tailor content specifically to different audiences. You can now search for those connected to one brand and a specific city, gain insights, and use this in your content development. Think about how you could develop customized content based on knowing that the most popular artist amongst fans of your brand is Neil Diamond or whatever else this social search tells you. Encouraging your fans to use the search to connect with “friends in the area who like cheese” could help spur advocacy programs within your community.

Obviously, the ability to search by profession could be something useful for influencer targeting and executive outreach (when used correctly). The Graph Search tool allows you to identify connections in a LinkedIn-type way where you could find someone just outside your network and engage them directly – possibly even with the $1 messaging charge that Facebook recently rolled out for those outside of your network. A strategy like that obviously needs some finessing but the pieces are all there to increase direct outreach and targeting via Facebook.

More information is available on Facebook’s newsroom page.

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