January 20, 2013

How Will Facebook Graph Search Affect Business, Search and Privacy?

Facebook Graph Search

After the announcement of the Facebook Graph Search this past week, there’s been a lot of talk about what it means for users, businesses and the future of social media. This new tool is generating a lot of buzz, so I thought I’d briefly explain how it works and tackle three topics that are receiving much attention: how this development impacts business Facebook use, the tool’s effect on Facebook and internet searches and if the Graph Search functions has any ramifications on user privacy.

How It Works

Mari Smith is among many in the social media field who believe that “Graph Search is the start of a game-changing feature for Facebook.” According to Facebook, the Graph Search function will become the third pillar of the Facebook experience, with the News Feed and Timeline functions being the other two.

Essentially, Graph Search will allow users to search a topic (ex: car repair) and receive customized results based on information from their friends’ Facebook pages. This includes information from pages “liked” by that user’s Facebook friends, information and photos from friends’ profiles, and friends’ conversations related to that topic. Currently, the Facebook Graph Search is in beta test, with a waitlist that will slowly open to English-speaking users first. 

The Impact on Business

For business, the Graph Search tool greatly increases the importance and value of Facebook “likes” because search results include relevant information from pages liked by a user’s Facebook friends. It seems as though page likes will be a primary factor for search.

Graph Search also increases the importance of local and “organic” likes, especially for small businesses that primarily serve local populations. For example, if a Harrisburg restaurant has fans from Australia, that’s really only relevant if someone from Australia happens to be visiting the Harrisburg area during the time frame of the search. For businesses that have bought mass page likes, they will be at even bigger disadvantage because these ‘likes’ are typically spam accounts or accounts from other countries.

As the tool rolls out, there are a few steps businesses can take to position themselves:

1)       If you have a location or a local place Page, update your address to make sure you can appear as a result when someone is searching for a specific location.

2)      Be sure your fan page profile is complete (name, category, vanity URL, and comprehensive ‘about’ section) and up-to-date with robust information about your business and its offerings

3)      Optimize your website for Bing (Facebook’s current search tool). Facebook says that more emphasis will be placed on Bing as Graph Search rolls out.

4)      Include social share buttons on your website and blog. For those who have Wordress, I recommend the WP Socializer plug-in. For everyone else, check out this blog.

The Impact on Internet Search

Most agree that Facebook’s internal search will get a big boost. The ability to incorporate Facebook data into a search tool will make Graph Search convenient for those who rely on their Facebook network for information and recommendations.

There’s a lot of stir concerning whether the Facebook Graph Search will compete with Google as well as other social media outlets.  As far as Google is concerned, I don’t believe that’s the intent – nor the immediate result – of the Facebook Graph Search.

In a blog published on Friday, Larry Weintraub wrote, “When you begin to dig into the initial information about Graph Search, it is not intended to be a true web search engine like Google or Bing, but an engine that will search out information across all of Facebook and provide personalized answers to queries about people, photos, places & interests.”  He concludes that the Facebook is creating a better connection to relevant content by creating deeper connections across interests and access to crowdsourced information.

It’s interesting to compare the tool to other social media channels such as Yelp. “I think at it this way: you can search for a BBQ joint in your city on Yelp and through Facebook’s graph search,” sayid Justin Lafferty of All Facebook. “Yelp will give you people you probably don’t now. Facebook will let you see which of your friends checked in and liked the restaurant’s page, so you can follow up with them to see if they enjoyed it or if they’d recommend you go somewhere else,” he explained.

Privacy Ramifications? 

As Facebook data tools become more complex, many have concerns about the privacy of their information. Facebook has taken a lot of heat in the past as users puff up about how their information is being used. As much as I would like to rally with the side of the people, we have to remember that Facebook is a free outlet in which we share a lot of information. And, most of this information can be only be seen by select groups as long as users take a moment to adjust their Facebook privacy settings.

The Facebook Graph Search is simply refining the way our information is found by others. Ken Mueller sums up the privacy issues, “The only people who will be able to access you and your information via the new Graph Search are the ones who already have access to that same information.”

There may be some specific and legitimate concerns that emerge as we learn more about the graph search tool, but at the moment, I am not concerned about its impact on privacy.

More information will be available as the graph search is released and I encourage you to start to use it and become familiar with how it works.  In the meantime, what are you initial thoughts on the graph search?

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