Facebook’s Graph Search Will Both Challenge And Help Brands

Facebook’s newest addition — graph search — can change the way brands not only market on the site, but find potential customers through the social network, provided they’re savvy enough. Graph search takes the recommendation power of Yelp and combines it with Facebook’s tremendous social graph to make it more important for businesses to cater to their Facebook fans and brick-and-mortar customers.

When Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced graph search to the world Tuesday, experts all over the Web pondered what this could mean for businesses, regular users, and advertisers.

For brands on Facebook, graph search is a challenge. While most marketers know that it’s important to have a social media presence, many of them push out messages to like their brands on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, but they don’t really give patrons an incentive to do either.

Now, through graph search, brands should be more proactive about the way they integrate Facebook into their traditional marketing schemes. Since a Facebook user could type in a query such as, “hair stylists my friends like in San Francisco,” and receive a list of hair stylists in that city that their friends have either checked in, liked, or recommended, it forces brands to put more emphasis on social engagement.

Whereas many businesses fought to get to the top of Google’s algorithm for better search-engine placement, graph search can definitely change the way that brands try to get their names in front of people who are looking for them. Kevin Mullett, director of product development for Cirrus ABS and a search-engine-optimization expert, feels that Facebook’s newest product can be major for small businesses that don’t have the clout to climb Google’s page rankings:

This new “graph search” holds huge potential for very small and lifestyle businesses that may not have a Web presence showing in Google search results or typical local listings. Many newer small businesses don’t even have base Yellow Pages listings because they operate via cellphone or VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) services. It will now be critical for businesses to make sure their Facebook information is correct and complete. Businesses should pay particular attention to their address fields, categories, and “place subcategories.”

Quintly, formerly AllFacebook Stats, states that it places a higher emphasis on positive, quality engagement, since users can see which friends have checked in or talked about pages. Social Media Today pointed out that graph search could make page likes more important again, as results show what friends have liked each page.

It doesn’t matter if you have the best restaurant in the city — if none of a user’s friends like the page, or have posted about it, it won’t show up so high on graph search results.

Jamie Tedford, CEO and founder of Brand Networks, wrote to AllFacebook about how graph search serves as a challenge for businesses to step up their Facebook marking games:

Facebook’s graph search announcement carries major implications for marketers and big brands with a brick-and-mortar presence. A lot of large brands have gotten away with ignoring local marketing, especially in social. But the combination of Nearby and graph search means brands can no longer afford to overlook the huge opportunity that local social marketing represents. Brands need to build local pages, moderate discussions, drive new likes, encourage check-ins, and generally do everything they can to optimize their graph search ranking.

However, while it could also make things more difficult for businesses that don’t have a lot of social marketing talent, it can also help brands by making them accessible to more people. Graph search is mainly about social discovery. If someone was so inclined, they could search for auto repair shops liked by accountants in Dallas, or restaurants in New York liked by chefs who live nearby (as Inside Facebook did below), and get results that they’ve likely never clicked on or heard of.

Jim Blackwelder, chief technology officer of social marketing agency Rokkan, told AllFacebook that the discovery aspect of graph search could widen brands’ horizons and bring new fans. As Facebook users look for businesses and pages that their friends like (but they haven’t yet), it will expose them to pages that don’t traditionally advertise through sponsored stories and other means. Graph search also opens users up to friends of friends, allowing them to see what they like and gather recommendations through them.

Where many experts initially felt that graph search was Facebook taking a stab at Google, Blackwelder said it’s more of a threat to Yelp and other recommendation sites. As Inside Facebook pointed out, no other site on the Internet has what Facebook has — an immense cache of personal data.

If you look at how Yelp has helped brands, or hurt brands, it’s really the same way. Yelp clearly has their genre of their service primarily toward restaurants and things like that. I think it’s cutting into that area in that it’s giving brands the opportunity to be in front of people who are specifically looking for them.

There’s one other major way that graph search can help brands: targeting. Although Facebook has not announced plans to advertise through graph social, it’s easy to see how that could happen someday, given the company’s need to appease shareholders. Facebook has been working on ways to improve tracking and help brands figure out if ads on the site helped lead to conversions.

If Facebook does end up pairing an advertising product with graph search, including the searches that users have made, businesses would likely flock to it. Say you’re a man in his 20s who likes basketball and recently moved to Seattle. You’re looking for a good gym to join. You could search “gyms liked by friends of friends in Seattle who like basketball” and get results that are directly relevant. Off to the side, maybe you’d see an ad that 24 Hour Fitness, which has a basketball court, is offering a special for those who sign up this month.

This would be incredible for brands who are looking to Facebook for conversion.

Jason Weaver, CEO of social media management platform Shoutlet, pointed out that if (or when) Facebook takes graph search technology to mobile, it would change the way brands use targeting in their advertisements:

You have the sponsored stories and promoted posts all of those things that pop on your mobile and on your feed, and you think, “Is that really relevant?” This is going to bring that relevancy to those kinds of things. Imagine being able to search on your phone, too, for those types of things, like for the nearest sushi restaurant liked by my friends, and then a sponsored story would show up, as well. I believe that advertising works when it’s relevant and not disruptive to your user experience. Right now, without this search, it seems a little bit disruptive with the ads they’re pushing toward us. I think the search — and all of the algorithms and all the pieces behind it — is going to be very relevant to us.

It’s worth noting that Zuckerberg hasn’t announced any plans to bring graph search to mobile yet, but, as Weaver notes, it would be a very powerful advertising tool. Zuckerberg said that graph search is being rolled out in very limited beta to select users in U.S. English. As more tests are done and Facebook learns more about how users interact with graph search, the company will tweak it and roll it out to more people across the world.

Readers: If you manage a page for a business, what do you think about graph search?

Images courtesy of Facebook and Inside Facebook.

Related Stories
Mediabistro Course

Social Media Metrics

Social Media MetricsStarting September 4, work with a social media manager to monitor, measure and optimize your social media efforts! Danielle Brigida will teach you how to sift through web analytics, Facebook Insights, and Twitter mentions to develop a comprehensive reporting and tracking system for your brand. Register now!