Last week, Facebook made what could prove to be one of its most important announcements ever.
After years of discussion, speculation and debate, the world’s largest social network is finally executing on a search strategy, and while it doesn’t look like a threat to Google, at least initially, Facebook’s Graph Search is no less interesting.
In fact, Brian Reilly of digital agency Revolution Digital believes “is a gamechanger” while Kelvin Newman of SiteVisibility says “this is a huge deal” in markets ranging from travel and hospitality to restaurants and dating.
It’s not difficult to understand why. If you’re looking for a bar in Dublin liked by people in Dublin, Graph Search can help. And if you met somebody at a party named Chris, who attended Stanford and is a friend of your friend Lars, you can use Graph Search to track him down.
Put simply, thanks to the treasure trove of data Facebook has amassed, Graph Search opens up a new world of possibility for search. But ironically, that should have marketers and businesses worried.
Graph Search, which is still in beta and has years of more development to go according to Facebook, will enable marketers and businesses to do many things. In theory.
But it also enables Facebook users, for the first time really, to see just how much information they have shared with Facebook and how that information can be combined to produce results that are, to most people, likely to be on the creepy side.
Which raises an interesting and, for marketers and businesses worrisome, question: will Facebook Graph Search kill the goose that laid the golden egg?
A shift in behavior coming?
Up to this point, the full power of the social graph has been largely hidden from users. Facebook has given top marketers access to secret tools that aren’t publicly accessible, but a lot of what the company can do with data it has collected from users hasn’t been apparent to the average user.
Graph Search changes that and as users begin to see how the information they provide to Facebook, combined with seemingly innocuous events such as ‘likes’, makes a virtual form of stalking (harmful or not) possible, there’s a real chance a meaningful number of Facebook users will start to change their behavior.
Some may share less information with Facebook outright. Others, understanding that Graph Search results operate only on data that is public to the individual performing the search, may tighten their privacy settings so that they share their information with a smaller and smaller circle of friends.
Obviously, sharing less, and sharing less with fewer people would not be good news for Facebook, nor marketers and businesses, particularly those which don’t have special relationships with Facebook.
But it could get worse: if Graph Search leads to unwanted communication, particularly of the dating site kind, some users might begin using Facebook less, or dispense with the social network altogether. Obviously, ‘users are going to flee Facebook’ predictions have been wrong in the past.
But Facebook is big, and it’s worth considering that it is already starting to face attrition issues. So we could be reaching the point when a single big mistake sparks the type of attrition trend that the company hasn’t yet dealt with.
Is Graph Search that big mistake? Alone, it may not be. But when looked at in context with some of Facebook’s other experiments, such as paid messaging, one thing is clear: this isn’t the social network so many millions of individuals around the world signed up for over the past decade.
As that becomes clearer, marketers and businesses investing heavily in their initiatives on the world’s social network shouldn’t assume that there won’t be consequences.