The Importance of Facebook's New Graph Search

KenMueller
Ken Mueller Owner/Partner, Inkling Media

Posted on January 17th 2013

The Importance of Facebook's New Graph Search

Facebook Graph Search AnnouncementI’ve seen a lot of reaction to Facebook’s new Graph Search which was announced yesterday, and most of it is negative. The people in my own personal graph on Facebook are skeptical. They say it’s not what they want, and they raise a lot of the predictable questions about privacy, and the like. But I think most of that has already been addressed.

But I actually like this new product. Or should I say I like the idea of it. I will have to reserve real judgement on the new offering, which will be rolled out in beta, until I see how it works. In principle, however, I think this is very cool for Facebook, its users, and the future of social. I also think that while this isn’t an anything-killer, it definitely has the potential of being a game changer.

First off, despite some headlines, I don’t think this is a Google killer by any stretch of the imagination, at least in terms of our normal search habits. This isn’t a regular search engine as we know it and Google will still be the search engine of choice for most of us. What it might be, though, is a real threat to some of the underlying framework of Google+ and how that is used to create what Google calls Search, Plus Your World, the search function that is supposed to include the preferences of your friends in your search results.

 

Google search plus your world

The idea behind that service, which resides in the upper right hand corner of your search engine results pages (SERPs), is that as your friends use the +1 throughout Google and the web, their preferences will be included in your search results. The problem is that this has never really worked. More often than not, if I toggle between Google’s regular results and my personalized results, I see little or no difference. In the search illustrated above, I looked for “lancaster pa restaurants.” Now consider a few things: I am a heavy web and social user and many of my friends are also heavy users. Presumably we’d be more likely to +1 or talk about places online. Add to that that I chose restaurants, something I know my friends and I talk about a lot. And yet I didn’t see any +1′s in the search results. They had no real bearing on my search results.

Why? I’m not sure, but my gut tells me it’s because the general public still isn’t using Google+, or the +1 button, to any great extent, especially in terms of business listings on Google.

That’s one reason I think Facebook’s Graph Search will work. With Google, we were taking existing behavior (searching) and being asked to add something new to it: giving a +1.

With Facebook, it’s taking our existing behavior and incorporating it into the results without us having to do any more than what we are already doing. Most of us are already on Facebook. Most of us already “like” business pages on Facebook. Many of us already talk about our restaurant and business experiences in our updates, as well as share photos, and even check in to places. These are the types of things that will be included in our Facebook search results. We aren’t being asked to change our behavior

This taps into one of the ways we already use social: to crowdsource our lives.

For instance, the other night I had to help my son figure out how to change the pedals on his bike. Clearly I could find some tutorials on Youtube or elsewhere on the web, but I also needed a very specific tool. As I often do, I put out a plea on Facebook, only to find out that my neighbor a few doors down had one. In addition to him, I also connected with a local friend via G-chat, as well as Gini Dietrich on Skype, because I happen to know she’s a serious biker. But with the new Graph Search, I could have asked Facebook to tell me which of my local friends are bikers, and then I could have directed my question at them either privately or by tagging them. I might have gotten a more relevant answer in a more timely manner. I might even have discovered that my neighbor Jake was into biking, rather than being surprised when he replied.

I think that what might help Facebook is that they are trying to incorporate search into social, whereas Google is trying to include social into search. It might be a subtle difference, but it might be important in terms of how effective it becomes.

Here are a few images provided by Facebook:

facebook-search-bar-1

facebook-search-bar-2

facebook-graph-search-results

 

One criticism I saw of Facebook came in the comments of one blog where one person responded,

“This is dumb. Why would I want to have my search filtered my fb friend’s wisdom? The idea with getting answers from the masses is that it’s often the most correct. What the hell does my cousin know about anything? He doesn’t.”

Now aside from the fact that this person’s cousin probably just unfriended them, this commenter misses the point. This isn’t about full search results. It’s about customized results and finding things that are based on the recommendations of your friends.

I also like this because Facebook’s current search, as powered by Bing, is pretty useless and unreliable. This new type of search looks like a major improvement, even though Bing will be the default backup for searches that don’t turn up anything from within your social graph.

The Privacy Issue

People will still complain; they will still cut and paste silly statements about opting out of Facebook’s graph search, and ask their friends not to search for them (*rapping on head* “Hello? Hello? Anybody home? Huh? Think, McFly. Use your privacy settings!”).

We need to remember that the search function is based on your privacy settings. If you post things only to “friends,” then only your friends will see your stuff in their searches. However if you post a lot to the “public,” as I do, anyone can find your stuff in the searches.

Repeat after me:

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.

In other words, people will only be able to search that information which you have already shared with them. The other cool thing about this is that everyone’s search is customized specifically for them. And that’s what makes this kind of search valuable.

Got it? Good.

So what does this all mean for us?

For individuals:

1. Pick and choose carefully what you like and talk about – Like the businesses that you truly like, because these are the things that will impact how you are found in searches. Go over your profile and make it sure reflects your interests and everything is up to date.

2. Use your privacy settings - There will be a backlash. Previously people complained about being used in ads on Facebook for particular businesses merely because they had “liked” the business on Facebook. That was paid. This is search. If I search for “restaurants in Lancaster liked by my friends,” you will show up. But remember this: if it shows up in Graph Search, it’s because your privacy settings were such that I was already able to access that information from you. If you don’t want to show up in searches, be careful what you post, and set your privacy settings accordingly. This might be a good time to start playing with Facebook’s list function and set up several custom lists that you use as you choose which information you want to share with specific people or groups of people.

Me? I don’t mind helping people by making my information searchable.

3. Use the new search – Try it out. See if it helps. Don’t judge it based on what I say, anyone else says, or even what Facebook says about how it will work. Give it a whirl, understanding that it is starting in beta, and won’t have all of its features early on. See if there are ways you can use it to help you find things.

For businesses:

It is now more important than ever to take your Facebook business page seriously. Here are a few tips:

1. Optimize your Facebook page - Go to the “basic information” section of your settings for your business page now and make sure you have completely filled everything out. Everything. Make it complete.

2. Use your page – Update early and often, perhaps several times a day. If you just let it sit, it does you no good.

3. Be relevant – As you write updates, make sure they are relevant and engaging. The more engagement you get, the better. And vary the types of information you post.

4. Get fans – Let me rephrase that: get RELEVANT fans. It’s not the number of fans that matter, but the more fans you have who are really your customers, and are relevant to you, the better off you’ll be, because those connections will play heavily into Graph Search. This is especially important for local businesses. If you’re a restaurant and only one of my friends likes you, you will fall to the bottom of my list, no matter how great you are. Remember this: Facebook is built on word of mouth. Word of mouth comes from your existing customers. Your job is to get your existing customers to connect with you on Facebook. Make it happen.

5. Consider using Facebook Deals – Compelling deals are a great way of getting people to check in. Those check ins will be an important factor for the search function. And of course if you are offering deals and want people to check in, you need to tell them, both online and offline. Your customers can’t read your mind.

6. Your website and blog are now more important – But only if you have the Facebook like or share buttons on them. Make sure you install these on your site and blog as those clicks will become part of the search process, and could drive traffic to your site.

These are just my initial thoughts on how Facebook’s new Graph Search could change the way we use the web and social media.

All I know is that this has the potential to be big, and I’m looking forward to playing around with it, both as a user and a marketer. The game is changing and it’s changing fast. It’s our job to keep up.

What are your views on Facebook’s new Graph Search? Will it be big or just a big bust?

 

KenMueller

Ken Mueller

Owner/Partner, Inkling Media

The founder of Inkling Media, where he does social media and marketing for small and medium-sized businesses. He also is an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, teaching continuing education classes in social media and inbound marketing.
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Comments

David Amerland
Posted on January 17th 2013 at 1:48PM

Ken brilliant article and I particularly like the granularity of the approach you brought to bear here regarding privacy and the data that needs to be input in order to take advantage of Facebook search. I would, however, like to point out a correction. You stated that Google's search plus your world's approach is  "...that as your friends use the +1 throughout Google and the web, their preferences will be included in your search results." That actually is not true. Google's personalized search results look at the strength of the personal interaction before they make any kind of recommendation. It is a full semantic analysis engine that works out interaction, engagement and connections, related to the intent of the search query. In that regard a +1 is considered to be very weak interaction with very low intent. Google's head of web spam, Matt Cutts, has repeatedly mentioned this in webmaster videos. 

Your experience of not seeing much change between Google Plus Your World and regular Google search then my guess is that you are not generating any interaction on Google+. Having taken a look at your profile I can see that you are in just over 1,000 circles and your recent posts have zero interaction either in comments or +1s. Engagement is a strong signal in how Google reads and defines relationships. To draw a conclusion that "...the general public still isn't using Google+" from that is not quite as accurate as it might look if you factor in how personalized suggestions are actually worked out. 

KenMueller
Posted on January 17th 2013 at 3:35PM

David, I understand your points re: how Google Plus Your World works, but in researching this over time, I'm discovering that while there are a number of locals on G+, very few of them are using it, either with the +1 or in any other capacity. Very few are doing more than using G+ to post their own blog posts. And for me, the real promise of a "Your World" is in local search. The impact just isn't there. I have been on G+ since day one, and I've seen nothing there to really hold me. Which is why when I talk to people around here (marketers, business folks, and general public) they all say they are using it the same way. There is no draw. 

And in Google's own documentation, they refer to the +1 as a major signal as to what folks like.

And that's my point, Your World doesn't really work as intended because most folks are happy without G+. 

David Amerland
Posted on January 17th 2013 at 4:26PM

Ken, thank you for replying to this. From a personal perspective my experience of Google+ and yours are diametrically opposite but that is not really the point. The point is that you used your personal experience to extrapolate a result that is not backed by evidence other than your own, and then generalised it into a fact. Personal experience is fine as long as it highlighted as such. What I mentioned was the mechanism of SPYW and where it draws information from. Google has specifically said that the +1 signal is weak at best and although it is aggregated the impact is at the moment questionable because the intention behind it is hard to fathom. 

You are right that in local search the impact of SPYW should be felt best, but again that requires a level of engagement in Google+ that goes beyond the simple sharing of content on the platform. Those who only do that, I agree, will mirror your experience of its lack of impact. 

I do appreciate that Google+ is challenging to use, particularly in the transition from an auto-post environment like Twitter or Facebook where the frequency of activity alone was sufficient to generate some interaction. I also found your account on your blog about how your students used Google+ fascinating. Social Media has a way of tearing up the rule book even before it is written. It wil be interesting to see the impact semantic search, being rolled out across Google's indices this year, will have on online behaviour. 

 

KenMueller
Posted on January 17th 2013 at 4:31PM

Well, I wasn't really generalising as fact just based on me. I have talked to a lot of other folks, including marketers and others around the country, some of whom are heavy G+ users. I merely used my situation as the example. I also downloaded a pdf from Google at the time of the launch of SPYW that indicated that the +1 would be a key indicator. How else would they know what restaurants and other businesses we like?

I think Google does a great job at search, and no one else can touch them. I love the concept of latent semantic indexing and how it really helps things. I just don't think that they really know what G+ is, and neither do most users. And when I talk about "users" I mainly refer to non-marketers, ie the general public. It's just one more thing that many of them don't want to sign up for.

David Amerland
Posted on January 17th 2013 at 4:46PM

I find the value of conversations like this really useful because it allows many different perspectives to surface. Obviously, like you, I spend a great deal of time connecting with marketers and carrying out test on social media (including Google+) and, interrestingly, could array as many people (not just marketers) who would testify that Google+ works as you could that say it doesn't. That does not prove anything, unfortunately, as both our sample data sets are too small to draw meaningful conclusions from. 

I do know that vibrant and engaging as the Google+ community is, from my perspective, it still represents a small part of the online population. So I would not disagree that it has not reached yet the critical mass it needs. Where I would disagree however is in your perception that Google doesn't know what Google+ is. Because Googlers are active in the Google+ community and I happen to talk to a lot of them to get a sufficiently rounded perspective I would say that Google both understands its product and is developing it at just the right rate. 

We are digressing however. Your post on Facebook's Search Graph is pretty comprehensive and as 2013 kicks in properly it will be a pretty interesting year in both social media and search. It's been good talking to you here. 

KenMueller
Posted on January 17th 2013 at 4:49PM

Yes, I guess we did diverge a bit, and I do appreciate your comments. And our experiences with G+ mirror the same situation I've had with Facebook: some folks hate it and doesn't think it "works", while others swear by it. A lot comes down to how you use the platforms, and what results you are seeking. 

And I love these types of discussions as well. Thanks for your kind words!

SueCockburn
Posted on January 17th 2013 at 1:56PM

Very helpful and clearly laid out information. Thanks!

jeremywiddup
Posted on January 18th 2013 at 12:38AM

Good article and good discussion guys - Both know your facts, but what will probably determine which of the entire mind numbing amount of facts are the right ones to quote will come down to context.

i.e The real issue is identifying which facts are relevant and lays in the context of the audience and their modality at the time of their search. This is about defining why they are on a particular platform already (mostly leans back for FB and lean forward for G+). Habits are already formed for why we go to each of the platforms - We want answers from Google (and some extent G+) and want social from FB.

FB is probably not going to be the first click destination when an audience wants an answer to the question ‘What is the best restaurant in New York’ - This is best done with large crowds that have multiple reviews and hence will search on Google – And this information is given by people that we do not actually know.

Search on FB will likely occur NOT because the audience has gone to FB to get the answer to a specific search – rather they will conduct a search because of the context of where they find themselves within the context of a FB session (a post might sparks a thought that was not there before they got onto FB).

FB will not be first click search – FB will remain first click for social and then the search traffic will occur because of the context of the social finds while they are there.

I read a stat sometime ago that showed that a FB user will only comment or like posts on 8% of their entire friends over a 6 month period. So there are many people with friends on FB, but they have little engagement with. There also have little intent to have involvement with this class of so called friends, but they do remain curious about their life and what they are doing. These 92% of friends might just as well become anonymous for any search requests.

FB seems to me a personality meme driven engine - meaning that I get meaning from someone else’s meaning.

If I respect, admire or aspire to be liked on social – An effort is made to influence that person with positive visible actions (so I like and comments on their posts). This is a subtle way of telling them that they are being recognised. The recognition is less about the actual content, but more about what the like or commenter feels about the poster.

So what I am saying is that within the context of the social interaction for this to become sticky in a FB search then focus should be upon the search tool as surfacing stuff that helps the existing relationship and prolongs the conversations. Search for social is not about having a problem and going to FB and doing the search with FB friends for the answer - Rather it is all about surfacing stuff that helps or keeps them in a conversation and remaining bonded.

David Amerland
Posted on January 18th 2013 at 3:32AM

Jeremy you just about nailed the value of social media discussions that have the ability to add a nuanced tone to content that either did not exist there in the first place or had no place being there (as in this article) as it would weaken its focus. This is a brilliant point you just made. The entire point of semantic indexing (Bing also has it in place) is contextual meaning but more than just in search contextuality has the ability to unleash the value of data shared, discovered or exchanged as information. Context is driven by habitual behavior most of the times so your observation on the impact these developments will have on it is pretty spot on!

jeremywiddup
Posted on January 18th 2013 at 6:52AM

Thanks David,

You express the context I was referring to really well - I think you put it into a summary that really does boil the essence of value in social and semantic down to its core components - And this is where we should always start in the investment of time for the difficult process of building funnels.

 It’s unfortunate however that we have learned to think about this the other way around i.e what is the end conversion (my objective) – Then work backwards till we get to the context. And when we get to the context consideration - least time is given. However this is actually the place where we really get to understand the customer (and their objective). 

 

Dan Davies
Posted on January 18th 2013 at 12:55PM

 

Excellent Article! I totally agree with all of your points. However there is a new solution to bridging the Gap between Social media and E-commerce! The site is called www.shopatweet.com. 

It is launching for BETA testing in February! Also take a reas of the blogs on the coming soon page! This  may be of interest to you!

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Thanks again for the great article!