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For everyone in the digital marketing industry, the big news of the day is the launch of Facebook’s new Graph Search.
In a nutshell, the new tool allows you to search for people, pages, businesses and other services based on the information shared by other Facebook users.
Dodgy name aside, it’s an exciting announcement that might cause a few worried conversations at Google.
But what are the opportunities for marketers, and is it going to kick off a new race to drive up the number of ‘likes’ for brand pages?
To shed a bit of light on some of the key issues, I asked several search and social media experts for their views...
1. What do you see as being the main opportunities for brands?
Matt Owen, Social Media Manager at Econsultancy
Active outreach will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, but this will largely come down to privacy settings.
If brands can reach out directly to individuals then there’s potentially a huge payoff, but also a massive opportunity to spam, which could lead to more users upping their privacy settings.
I can’t see Facebook being particularly tolerant of this behaviour though, so I imagine the main opportunity will be to more accurately target ads and updates based on very specific bio information, rather than just area, gender, etc.
If Facebook can provide a genuinely accurate ad targeting system then the payoff will be far better.
I can certainly see the opportunity for local search increasing massively. If Facebook can also integrate this properly across mobile then it could be a huge threat to Yelp! And Google’s business listings. I’m sure that restaurant reviews by people you know would carry far more weight than anonymous ones.
Kelvin Newman, Strategy Director at SiteVisibility
I think the biggest advantage for brands is this is going to surface people who have liked you in the past to their friends more frequently.
This is good news because often someone will have liked you, but then not really interacted with so your brand will never appear in the newsfeed.
Now that connection lives on and potentially helps you appear in searches more frequently, so it certainly increases the value of dormant 'likers'.
Interestingly though, content created by brands, such as photos, won't appear which does seem an oversight.
Robin Grant, MD at We Are Social
If Facebook evolves Graph Search beyond the current limits of 'People, Photos, Places, and Interests' and in turn users warm to it, it could succeed and therefore become relevant to brands.
This would mean that Facebook's sponsored result ads would become more relevant for advertisers, and ultimately it would mean that raw fan numbers would be much more important to brands (or more accurately, the number of fans they have that match the profile of their customer base), as to appear in Graph Search results a brand will need to have a friend of the searcher as a fan.
It would also make it essential for retailers, or any business with physical locations, to maintain Facebook place pages for each of their branches.
Will Francis, Director at Harkable
The product looks to be of immediate benefit to location-based brands such as shops, restaurants, etc. - 'where do my friends go for pizza?' - and content providers such as publishers and film studios - 'what films do my friends like most?'.
It will be interesting to see how the product comes to be used and how brands exploit those common uses to appear in users' search results.
2. Is Facebook’s data accurate enough for searches to actually be valid? i.e. does the average user actually keep their profile information up-to-date?
I think for brands this is a good thing, as they’ll be encouraged to provide more relevant business information, which in turn should improve the user experience.
Currently I’m often forced to scroll through 50 results to find the right one, even if I’m looking for a specific brand by name.
On a personal level, if professionals are encouraged to use it as a data mine, then we could see a resurgence in Facebook as the social network.
Twitter’s search has never been the most reliable when looking for contacts, so the ability to search by bio keywords would be incredibly useful. It might be something that LinkedIn should also be concerned about.
That said, my own ‘about’ info contains far more references to Martinis than it does Econsultancy…
I'd expect the data to be sparse for most people, but that might not be such a bad thing for Facebook, as it might give people the little nudge to tend their information up-to-date.
And also don't underestimate how much data is created frictionlessly, i.e. if you've got Spotify connected to Facebook (check out https://www.facebook.com/music) most of that data is being created frictionlessly and could potentially be informing Search Graph.
Users in their early 20s may have a circle of friends that will be providing enough data for Graph Search to be useful.
However, it seems likely that for most users at the moment that won't be the case, and there just won't be enough data in your social graph.
Some data is more accurate than others, with 'likes' for brands and products fairly patchy while photos, tagging and basic profile info is more reliable.
So we'll find users initially gravitate to the searches that are most reliable and we may even see people become more diligent about updating their profiles and reflecting their lives even more faithfully online.
3. Will it kick off another race for ‘likes’ among brands so they show up more in search?
It’s certainly possible. I’ve never been convinced about Facebook promoting the value of a 'like', simply because many businesses (Econsultancy included) don’t scale that way.
Of our own 10,000–odd fans, it’s unlikely that many of their friends are also digital marketers. Brands will need to think more deeply about who they approach and why, which should ultimately help improve the current state of measurement and ROI.
I think Facebook will need to be careful not to create a closed-loop search. Of my friends, very few share my taste in music, so searches that are based on their preferences won’t be relevant.
On Facebook people do tend to search with intent (“Virgin Atlantic” rather than “Cheap Flights”), so being well 'liked' will certainly be a factor for many companies to counteract this.
Initially as the system lacks data you'll be able to reap the rewards on merely having lots of likes just to appear on searches, but it won't take long for there to be competition, and once that competition is in place the order in which results are returned will become important.
This order will presumably be more sophisticated than simply who has the most likes.
My gut feel is that it will probably work in a similar way to the Newsfeed Edgerank algorithm which is based on Affinity and the Weight; so priority will be given to businesses with strong interaction from people you are connected to or businesses you've interacted with in the past.
If Graph Search takes off, then it’s certainly possible. Although, brands should remember though that even in this instance, it's not about raw numbers of fans, but the number of relevant fans.
Once brands work out the metrics and overall uses of the system there will certainly be a new set of targets that become prioritised, and agencies will need to be ready to realise these new opportunities to gain visibility and engagement with consumers.
4. Will it result in an increase in spam requests if people are easier to find?
I’m sure it will, but only at the level of spam tweets. There will always be a few unscrupulous (or uneducated) marketers out there blasting spam, although in the main they’re too useless at it to target properly anyway.
I’d expect to see a rise in friend requests from people I’ve never heard of, but as mentioned it really will depend on whether or not pages can contact directly, something I can’t see happening.
It’s more likely you’ll see a rise in irrelevant ads as Facebook tweaks its settings after launch. I’m sure I can rely on my existing friends to share enough spam as it is...
If LinkedIn is anything to go by, yes! But that’s most likely to affect the tech recruitment sector and eligible singletons.
However in the announcement they talked a lot about Facebook being about meeting new people as well as staying connected to existing friends, so Facebook probably see that as a good thing.
Possibly, but I think in this instance Facebook is only replicating what LinkedIn's search already provides, so perhaps we'll just see those spam requests spread across networks.
Facebook was keen to stress that privacy functions would be at the heart of the new product, with users able to define what does and doesn't turn up in search results.
We know from past experience though that most users don't bother tweaking these settings and it's likely there will be (yet another) minor backlash when people start receiving spam friend requests.
On the flipside, we may see Facebook do what MySpace did and what Google+ Communities is doing well - connecting strangers around common interests.
Along with becoming the world's social knowledge engine through Graph Search, this seems a natural progression in Facebook's unstoppable march towards its domination of the web.