Saturday, July 13, 2013

How Facebook's Graph Search Might Impact Social Marketing

Graph Search was rolled out to the majority of American-based users with English (US) set as their language – chances are pretty good that you can activate it right now by visiting this page and clicking that beautiful green button to try out the new feature. As with all things social media and facebook-related, analysts are wondering how the heck businesses are going to be able to market with this new toy. After playing with it for a couple of hours – it is kind of addicting to see what pops up through different search queries – these are my initial impressions and predictions.

It might get a little creepy
Graph search has already raised plenty of concerns about privacy since, as long as a user has filled out their profile, has actively liked things, and hasn't changed their security settings, you can find them by searching for general interests – there is actually a Tumblr dedicated to showing how this feature can be exploited. I can definitely see less-than-scrupulous business owners and marketers trying to use it to generate leads through direct contact. Let's say, for example, you own a tire shop in Calabasas and you don't see anything wrong with sending unsolicited marketing messages to people you don't know, especially if it means new business. So you go to the search bar, type in 'users who like (Competitor's) Tire Shop in Calabasas' and send messages from your personal profile extoling the virtues of your business over your competitor's. Not only would this not work, it would completely backfire as people freak out over the fact you found them based their likes and location. Users still see Facebook as a way to share interests, stories, photos, and updates with their friends. And, while it is true Facebook sells this information to businesses and advertisers, few users are directly confronted with the results of that sale, so they don't mind it as much. But I certainly expect a few misguided attempts at lead generation appearing during Graph Search's first few months.
It will have a lot of businesses updating their profiles
Granted, the majority of businesses on Facebook do occasionally post updates or change their picture around, but a lot of those same business haven't updated their page's information in years. I see companies with no descriptions, or tags, or relevant categories because they created their business page years ago and never got around to adding this information when Facebook built those fields into business profiles. But, just like with any SEO program, your business's profile needs to be easily parsed and discoverable by Facebook, or it will be a pain to find your company using Graph Search. Take a few minutes to update your business's page. And, while you are at it, take a good, hard look at your profile picture, because that is going to be one of the main elements of Graph Search results. Your profile picture is, essentially, trade dress, so treat it like you would any other form of packaging for your product or service.
It will force you to really build up your following
One of the main things I noticed about Graph Search was how rough around the edges it can be. If you don't know the specific category you are looking for, it can be hard to find anything relevant to your search. Going back to the example of a tire shop, searching for 'tire shops' will get you a suggested search of 'find all places named tire shops' – not exactly useful unless a tire shop was very aptly named 'Tire Shop.' Tire Dealers is the category Facebook prefers, but if you don't know that, it can be hard to do a general search for local businesses based on category alone. However, Graph Search is really good at finding companies your friends like. I typed in 'tire liked by my friends' and Facebook returned a list of about three or four local tire shops, though to be fair it also returned with a link to Fat Tire Beer's product page. The point is the searching on your friend's likes is one of the easiest ways to find a business, which I'm sure is something Facebook wanted. If you don't have a strong following, then, it is going to be really hard for people using Graph Search to stumble on your page.
Now Graph Search will be updated as the weeks and months pass, and some problems are going to be fixed. I also expect a general broadening of categories so you don't have to be so specific in your searches. But having a strong following, which was important before, is going to be even more crucial now that Graph Search is rolling out. I would definitely recommend focusing on growing your following, along with updating any aspect of your profile that looks a little dated or lacks specific information. This is the shiny, new toy and a lot of people are going to be using it when Facebook finally makes it a default feature, so use the time between Graph Search's exit from Beta and its automatic entrance into every profile to get your page up to speed. Graph Search will help increase the discoverability of businesses, but only if those businesses optimize for the new feature.  

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