When Facebook unveiled its new Graph Search tool yesterday, we saw the social media giant firmly square up to rivals such as Google, Foursquare and LinkedIn, and enter into direct competition with sites such as TripAdvisor and Toptable.
While the search engine doesn’t rival Google - at least not yet - Facebook is finally addressing its poor search function, and making use of its wealth of data. Facebook’s bold step outside the social media box is a potential game-changer. Given the volumes of data the site has at its fingertips, it’s far more likely to be successful than Google’s attempt at bringing friends’ recommendations into search results.
By positioning itself as a cross-category medium, Facebook is defending its position as the most vital platform when it comes to customer engagement. And this is particularly important to brands and advertisers.
Facebook’s move into social search provides brands with a massive opportunity to target new customers and engage with existing fans. Graph Search will let people explore photos, reviews and profiles for things like nearby restaurants that friends have been to, or films that others like. It has the potential to not only make brands more visible to the 1.01 billion people across the globe using Facebook, but also to make those brands relevant. Your brand can now appear in front of users at the point at which they are interested in a certain topic, while utilising personal data such as birthdays, interests, likes and locations, that isn’t available to Facebook’s competitors.
Businesses of all sizes will now have the opportunity to truly leverage the likes and check-ins they’ve accumulated, and use these to draw in new customers. People are much more likely to choose products and brands that have been endorsed by their friends, and when likes show up in a search for nearby restaurants, these will really stand out.
With Graph Search, likes become far more powerful, and therefore more important to acquire. Advertisers and brands will need to put even more emphasis on their social media strategy - ensuring customer experience and engagement is truly good enough to earn a like or recommendation. For brands with a good fan base, Graph Search will help them reach the friends of existing fans in a more timely and relevant way.
While there are no new ad formats available at the moment, it’s not hard to imagine a sponsored search result sitting alongside an organic result in the search page. Equally, we’re likely to see adverts based on recent searches. For example, someone who has just searched ‘hotels in San Francisco where my friends have stayed’ could indicate that they’re planning a trip there, making them ripe for targeting with sponsored ads by travel brands.
Imagine you searched for ‘films my friends like’ and the top organic result is The Godfather with 10 likes by friends - but you also see a sponsored ad for Les Miserables which three friends like. This is a very timely ad as your search has implied you’re looking for a film to watch. Suddenly Facebook ads are relevant to your intent, and not just related to who you are and what your friends like in general.
The success of Graph Search will of course depend on how it’s adopted by users, and its attractiveness to advertisers and brands will rely on how good Facebook is at encouraging users to become more active at interacting with brands. As more active users will get the most out of Graph Search - the more you and your friends like brands or check into places the more you will get out of it - it will be interesting to see how this pans out.
When Graph Search lands in the UK advertisers and brands will need to think seriously about their future Facebook strategies to ensure they maximise the possibilities at hand.
And in the meantime, a few more Facebook likes can’t hurt.
Ed Cox is head of digital at Arena Media