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Facebook's socially influenced search results
Socially influenced search results

At a much anticipated press conference in Menlo Park, CA, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed the company’s plans to introduce a new search engine for Facebook users. Termed “Graph Search,” the new system allows users to search through their networks for information about people, photos, images and even local businesses. The introduction of this new type of Internet search carries potentially major implications for future marketing practices.

Graph Search could signal a major change in the way search engines return results for business web pages or business pages hosted on social media sites such as Facebook. Graph Search users will be able to seek out businesses in a local area that meet not only the general search requirements, such as “Mexican restaurants in Sausalito” but, according to Facebook, the results would be returned according to the validations of the user’s network members. Businesses that meet the search requirements AND have a positive standing within the user’s network would be displayed near the top of the Graph Search results list. A Graph Search would enable users to search for “Mexican restaurants in Sausalito that my friends like.”

Commercial Impact

Appearing among the first results on a search results page is a huge marketing advantage. Search engine users typically don’t scroll past the first few results when deciding which link to click or site to visit, so appearing at the top of the results list enables an organization to reach new potential customers and attract new business. In the Graph Search system businesses that have many ‘likes’ would presumably enjoy better search engine results page placement for their business Facebook page.

Currently, the Graph Search model appears to be a search within one’s social network and does not venture into the wild world of Internet web search. The Facebook announcement for the Graph Search rollout distinguishes between a traditional web search and one using Graph Search:

 “Graph Search and web search are very different. Web search is designed to take a set of keywords (for example: “hip hop”) and provide the best possible results that match those keywords. With Graph Search you combine phrases (for example: “my friends in New York who like Jay-Z”) to get that set of people, places, photos or other content that’s been shared on Facebook. We believe they have very different uses.”

Bing and Microsoft Integration

What happens if there are no search results or very few results to a search request found within the user’s network?  This is where things get interesting. Some theorize that a future Graph Search system could simply ‘back off’ and use a Bing-supplied results stream to supplement the Graph Search results if no or few results meeting the user’s request are available. From a business standpoint, Bing and Microsoft need an advantage to compete with Google for search engine users. It may make sense for Facebook and Bing to bring their skills and sets of data together to offer users a more meaningful kind of search as socially influenced results may be more valuable.

For its part, Google has been pushing adoption of its Google+ platform as a way of catching up to Facebook’s dominance of social media activity. With solid growth in adoption rates, some experts claim in excess of 27% growth in 2012; Google still has a long way to go to approach Facebook’s more than 1 billion worldwide users. As an incentive for adoption of the Google+ platform, businesses have enjoyed somewhat more favorable search engine results page placements for their business web pages if they are active on the Google+ platform. Recent tests by GroundFloor Media show improvements of up to several places in search engine results page rankings for some keyword terms when the business earned at least 100 followers on Google+.

Business and Marketing Implications:

The implications of the Graph Search rollout may extend well beyond Facebook. Google has been using ‘social signals’ to influence its search results for some time and can modify its search algorithms to place a higher importance on certain types of social media activity. Facebook’s Graph Search may not have immediate impact on the gigantic worldwide search marketing industry, but it does signal a closer integration between commercial internet marketing and social media activity.

 The advantage of appearing as a top result on a search results page won’t change, but the ways companies achieve top placements could change significantly. Socially validated search results will require greater company focus on social media activity. “Likes,” “plusses” and other positive feedback  will be more highly sought after as a means to improve an organization’s ability to reach new customers via the search engines.

Negative Information:

As more “likes” are a good thing, negative reviews could be even more damaging than they are currently. In socially influenced search, dissatisfied customers may have the ability to influence the way the organization appears to the public by degrading search engine placement. The more negative reviews, the lower the organic (non-paid) search engine results page placement. Improved business practices and sound web page optimization combined with expanded social media outreach will be required to earn good search engine placement. Socially influenced search results will impact not only company communications policies, but may significantly change the way companies handle customer and client service issues.  A poorly handled customer service problem becomes immediately visible over social networks.

Changing client service practices and increased investment in social media engagement are two emerging trends for 2013.The Facebook Graph Search release reveals an accelerating level of integration between web search and social media activity. Organizations seeking favorable search engine placement will have to be active in social media and provide solid customer service.

For more information on making social media outreach effective, visit GroundFloor Media’s Social Media page to learn more about combining SEO, content marketing and social media management into a comprehensive communications strategy.

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