Graph Search and 7 implications for brands

On 15 January Facebook made one of its biggest and most interesting announcements relating to a major platform update: Graph Search. By now I am sure you have heard of it and read about it, but essentially Graph Search allows users to search Facebook for people, interests, places and photos. Unlike other popular search engines, the results are based on the interactions and updates of the user’s first- and second-degree connections. So, their friends and friends of friends.

We all understand the power of personal recommendation or brand advocacy and its influence in the decision-making process when it comes to purchases. This is a hugely exciting update for marketers and although there are no details out there on opportunities for advertising at this point, it’s certainly possible to speculate with reasonable confidence about the opportunities that might begin to emerge.

So what does this all mean for brands? What are the dangers, what are the opportunities, where might this initial update be leading longer term, and what should we be starting to think about in terms of actions and strategies to gain competitive advantage?

The first port of call when it comes to predicting future developments is to look for insights into Facebook itself and industry.

Company insight

Facebook is now a publicly-listed company. Its stock has fallen since the IPO and mounting pressure to drive shareholder value means the company must develop and innovate ways to monetise its platform.

The first sign the ‘free lunch’ for brands was coming to an end appeared back in September 2012 where a key change to Facebook’s algorithm meant that organic reach of brand posts fell sharply. Facebook’s assertion is: ‘If you want people to see your posts you’re going to have to start spending’.

Fair enough in my opinion. Facebook is a business and businesses need to make money, someone’s got to pay for a free platform that needs to support more than a billion users. We can clearly expect more of this to come.

Industry insight

The future of search is intrinsically linked to social. A reasonably bold statement but let’s look at the signs. Standard text based search hasn’t changed much since its inception. The technologies, algorithms and advertising opportunities have no doubt changed immensely in that period, but from a user perspective it’s pretty much the same service, all be it richer in content delivery and hopefully more relevant.

The richness of social data and its relevance to the user in terms of an accurate link to their preferences, networks, friends, affiliations, recorded actions and more, offers a huge opportunity when cross referenced in a search scenario. If you can access listings that are tailored to you they should offer more relevance than a standard listing that pretty much anyone would get after entering a given keyword.

Graph Search is Facebook’s opening gambit into search and one can only think that this is just the beginning of the next evolution in search. So what does this mean for brands on Facebook?

Implication for brands

1. The number of fans you have suddenly matters

Having a large fan base has for a long time been a slightly questionable statistic to be too focused on. Engagement and ‘people talking about’ combined with volume have been far better KPIs. Fan volume alone doesn’t guarantee reach.

Now it’s slightly different. A user searching for a product will see listings where friends and friends of friends that are associated with (Like) that product or brand, influence the ranking. Growing your fan base is now a form of SEO for social.

2. Keep your fans engaged

It’s again important to note that it’s not just about the volume of fans as one can assume that engagement will still be a key variable in that algorithm. Quality of fans and engagement will still be important in terms of reach and rank.

3. Review all your information and ‘about’ pages

As well as a large volume of engaged fans, it’s safe to assume the Graph Search algorithm will also be referencing text, keywords and other important data on your brand page. So it’s probably wise to make sure it’s up to date, clear and relevant in terms of keywords and related information.

4. Localisation will become more important and more accurate

Profile data as well as GPS location data from mobile devices will become a huge influencer in listings. For example: ‘Find a bar near me (that my friends like)’. Brands must consider how to structure their brand pages and look for opportunities to convert in this space. The ability Facebook has to track an individual user from desktop to mobile device and back is a key advantage it has over almost all industry players due to the fact its users usually remain logged onto both. Facebook will no doubt be looking to use this to its advantage.

5. Paid social search

It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict this one is coming. Surely it has to be one of the main reasons Facebook has made this update. If you can’t rank organically in the search listings, brands should be able to purchase sponsored listings the same way they can on Google or other search engines.

6. Think Bing

It’s too early to make a firm recommendation based on the impact of Graph Search on Facebook’s partnership with Bing. That said, we know that when people want to search beyond Facebook, they will see web search results from Bing with social context and additional information such as Facebook pages. This may drive huge growth in its usage and present interesting media opportunities.

7. Get very familiar with all your social data

Data is going to be the fundamental driver of success in this space, and more so than ever with this update. Data to optimise fan acquisition. Data to optimise the engagement of your fan base with your posts, both promoted and organic. Data to optimise the appearance of your paid search listings if, or when that arrives. Data to optimise ad track conversions from all of the above back on your site, store, app, etc.

In summary

We are moving into a world of social search. Brands need to start looking at new disciplines that drive and optimise activity and conversions from this.

Similar to SEO and SEM for existing search, strategies and practices will emerge to rank and compete in this space.

It’s safe to say that: growing an engaged fan base, considering keywords across all your social content, assigning more budget for social media and setting up processes for extracting and gaining key insights from all social related data is a wise course of immediate action.


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Oli Mistry
BY Oli Mistry ON 28 February 2013
Oli Mistry is digital strategy director at Leo Burnett Sydney