Facebook’s Graph Search may still be in beta, but it’s stirring up the possibilities of social search for marketers. Katie McQuater takes a look.The launch of Facebook’s Graph Search in January 2013 heralded a new era of targeting opportunities for marketers in social search, harnessing the power of recommendation to provide a greater level of detail for users seeking information and a large amount of structured data for marketers to glean insights about their audiences’ behaviour. But its true value for marketers will depend on user uptake – and what does it mean for Google?Graph Search works by letting users visualise results from their content and connections to people and places that already exist in Facebook’s graph – offering a personalised search experience for each user. The results also integrate Bing web search results to create what Microsoft terms a “unified search experience”.For now, Graph Search doesn’t include any paid advertising opportunities, so PPC advertisers will have to hold off. Upon launch, Mark Zuckerberg explained the primary motivation was to provide a new experience for users, but that eventually it could provide a new business proposition. Consumers’ growing preference for personal recommendation is expected to be key in the uptake. With 92 per cent of consumers trusting recommendations from friends and family over all traditional forms of advertising, according to Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report, marketers are taking notice of the targeting opportunities Graph Search could potentially offer. We’re still awaiting full release in the UK and so it’s difficult to gauge the initial impact, but at initial glance it seems the social network’s search engine could change the way people seek information – and coupled with Facebook’s 1.1 billion-strong user base, it’s something brands and marketers need to take into consideration when planning their Facebook and content strategies.The prospect of personalised search is stronger than that of review sites according to Kenshoo’s director of client services EMEA Nick Blake.“Review sites have always been huge, but one of the negatives has been ‘how do I evaluate the reviewer?’ After all, what constitutes excellent quality for one might be mediocre for another, depending on experience and preferences. Graph Search will start to address this as it will deliver a truer peer recommendation as your friends are likely to be a better barometer (depending on how many of your ‘friends’ are real friends).“A likely strong area of growth and development for this will be in local searches as local businesses and services will be able to take advantage of the strength Facebook has in mobile,” adds Blake.While Graph Search has not yet been launched for mobile devices, Mark Zuckerberg has announced that Graph Search will probably become linked to Facebook Home in the future – another interesting consideration for brands. A recent Nielsen report indicated social networking dominates smartphone and tablet use, so like all areas of search marketing, the mobile opportunity should be front of mind for marketers looking at social search.As Graph Search is based on structured data and supports social context, businesses need to ensure they keep fan pages up to date and accurate to reap the rewards. But success goes beyond ensuring accurate page information, explains Greenlight social media strategist Sam Haseltine.“Brands must focus on quality content, engagement and take a local view. The engagement should be a direct reflection of the quality of your content. If your fans are receptive to the content you are publishing they will be more likely to want to engage with it, and engagement is a two-way process.”As with any other area of digital, campaign success is dependent on user uptake and only time will allow marketers to realise its potential. “True realisation will only come with Graph Search being a success in the UK,” says Lee Benecke, social media and content consultant at Amaze, who adds: “The idea that it will succinctly combine a user’s search query and the likes/conversations of their friends is exciting and shouldn’t be undervalued, but the proof is in adoption.”Aside from obvious privacy concerns, barriers to adoption take the form of usability and understanding of the function. With users accustomed to typing search queries in a particular manner for web searches likely to yield good results, having to adjust to a different manner of searching could potentially cause issues with uptake, according to Greenlight’s Haseltine.“Facebook maintains that the algorithm will account for natural language and attempt to deliver the best results, and this is bound to require time to become accurate. However, out of the block, I was unable to find ‘the friends who I watch West Ham with’. I tried various different ways to phrase the question.“The question is, am I phrasing my search incorrectly or is Graph Search just not ready? Arguably it is elements of both, however the drop off will only get higher and higher if end users need to re-learn the way they search. And this is where Google has an edge.”The impact on Google has been a key point of discussion within the industry since the launch of Graph Search. With 90 per cent market share of web searches, how is the search giant likely to be affected by Facebook’s search function, and will Facebook take market share from Google eventually?“It will, but I would predict no more than one per cent over the next three years,” says Found’s director of digital advertising, Greg Burgess. “If they get it right, in 10 years they could be a serious competitor. Graph Search alone will not take any serious market share.” He goes on to predict the launch of a fully functioning search engine from Facebook, beyond its partnership with Bing on Graph Search. “Graph Search on its own is just an indirect step to get there. Facebook needs years of data and testing before working out how it can be truly utilised to make people and advertisers switch from Google.”While Facebook has changed the way marketers approach search, Google shouldn’t be too concerned, according to Kelvin Newman, strategy director at SiteVisibility.“Facebook has virtually lifted up its car bonnet and given the world a view of the user data inside and how it operates. If Graph Search exceeds expectations, it will become the go to place for searching about your friends; it will dominate social searching.“However Google isn’t banking on social. Facebook won’t ever be the go to search for expertise. Opinion perhaps yes, but not expertise.”It’s a point of view echoed by Net Media Planet founder and MD Sri Sharma, who summarises by saying Graph Search equates to a “nibble” of Google’s market share.“At best this will be a nibble rather than a bite. What is more likely is that the search market will widen for both Google and Facebook. The future of search revolves around personalisation and prediction,” he says.It’s too early to say what impact Facebook’s foray into social search will have when it comes to marketing opportunities, but as consumers turn increasingly to personal recommendation for influence, perhaps the opportunity for marketers lies not just in Graph Search but in the wider evolution of search to a personalised, human experience.Top 5 graph search tipsFelicity McCarthy, Facebook’s head of SMB marketing communicationsGraph Search is a new way to find things on Facebook. It helps people discover what their friends have shared as well as information that other people have chosen to make public. Graph Search also makes businesses, products and brands easier to find – for example, people can search for ‘pages that my friends like’ or ‘restaurants that my friends have been to in Manchester’. Over time we will add more options like these.For now, make sure your page is as good as possible to make it easier for people to find you:
- Fill out all of your business information. This includes your address, phone number and opening times.
- Make sure that the ‘about’ section of your page us up to date. It’s a great way to give potential customers an idea of who you are and what you do at a glance.
- Select a profile picture that reflects your business – a logo or a recognisable product to make it easy for people to see what you do. And pick a cover photo that’s effective and striking so that it grabs people’s attention.
- Make sure the page is managed well and posts are put up regularly to engage fans and maintain the conversation – it’s not just about being found, it’s about starting a relationship with fans.
- Monitor the page well, using the pages manager app to keep track of activity.