The big announcement everyone was waiting for today is the third pillar of Facebook: the Graph Search. For those who are keeping score, the other two pillars would be the newsfeed and the timeline. As such, graph search being a third pillar presumes to put the search feature on equal importance to these fundamental pieces of their platform.
What is “Graph Search”?
Graph Search is an audience and privacy aware search mechanism, that is different than a web search in that this is designed to provide an answer, rather than links to websites which contain the answer. These searches are “audience aware” which means the results will come from the people you follow. They are also “privacy aware” which, I presume, means it will follow your privacy settings so that people can’t search to find what they are not allowed normally to see in your profile (I “presume” this because Facebook hasn’t had the best record of keeping things private that they promise to keep private).
So how might you use this?
Here’s one example… I’d be interested to know which of my friends likes Star Wars. A graph search will show me that, and I can bring up the topic the next time I see that friend. Or perhaps you might also want to know which Mexican restaurants to which your friends have been, so you can get their recommendations rather than just what Google says is “popular”. The idea here is that the info you’ll receive is tailored based on your network of friends and associates.
What does this mean for your business?
If you are a consumer-oriented business your Facebook page is potentially more valuable than ever. If people are following your page (have “liked” your page) and even some of your posts, they might be able to recommend you to their friends. This means it’s not only important to have a Facebook page, to update your Facebook page, but have influential people following your Facebook page. Although there are some indications that your public Facebook page might come up in a search, because of the way Facebook uses “filters” your page might be buried under the recommendations of a searcher’s friends.
B2B vs. B2C Implications
On the other hand- how this will affect business-to-business companies is another story. In my experience Facebook has not been a particularly productive platform for B2B marketing (LinkedIn dominates in the B2B space). If, however, more and more people turn to Facebook Graph Search to answer their every day questions, B2B companies might find an opportunity here as well.
This has been a long-time coming
A few years ago, in Wired magazine, I read an article about how Facebook was considering itself a search engine. In a way it was: you could ask your friends, “Hey, know any good Thai restaurants in town?” and you could get reliable answers. The Graph Search takes this to the next level- allowing you to ask your friends without every making a post- just ask Facebook what your friends have already said.
Is this the Google-Killer?
There will be a lot of people making this outlandish claim- and I do believe that it is outlandish. There will always be a need to search outside your social sphere for content. The fact is, even though you have a lot in common with your friends- tastes, preferences, politics, stages-in-life- there will always be a need to inquire of places outside your sphere of influence. You might be the first of your friends to get married- and need to search outside of Facebook to find that wedding dress. You might not want to ask you friends for a recommendation for a bankruptcy lawyer. While the Graph Search might compete with Google in some ways, it won’t be its undoing and is clearly limited in some respects.
Facebook has been integrated into Bing search for a while now- both serving Bing results from within Facebook searches and personalizing Bing searches when you’re logged in though Facebook. One implication for Google is that this could increase Bing’s market share, finally making it a legitimate competitor to Google.
This is a new feature – Zuckerberg stressed that this is a beta product, that will gradually be rolled-out – so don’t cut your AdWords budget too much today and put it all into your Facebook marketing. There are a lot of questions remaining from today’s announcement, and a lot of things that are planned but not live or impactful just yet. Let’s give it just a bit of time and see what happens.