The long-awaited announcement that Facebook revealed on Tuesday was not, as previously predicted, a new mobile handset but instead a move into search.

On Tuesday 15 January, Facebook announced a major addition to its website – a social search engine it has called graph search.  Facebook’s latest move is another step in attempting to truly customise the search experience by showing its users unique search results based on who they are connected with on Facebook.



What is Facebook Graph Search?

Facebook’s Graph search lets users find very specific information collected from their own social network. The aim of the new search graph is to encourage users to find things they want to do or know using the Facebook network rather than traditional search engine like Google.

The example that Facebook have used is when people search for the word ‘apple’. No matter where you are in the world or what you’re interested in, searching for the word ‘apple’ in the English language will give a consistently similar result and Google algorithm is geared towards this result.

On the other hand, Facebook’s search graph wants to deliver results that are user-specific. So if a users searches for the word ‘apple’ on Facebook and lots of their friends are chefs or food bloggers then its likely that they will be shown information about the fruit. If, on the other hand they’re friends with computer developers or Steve Jobs fans then they will likely be shown information about the company, Apple.

What Does Graph Search Offer For Users?

Facebook is trying to answer “nuanced social questions” that traditional search engines cannot answer such as ‘What movie should I go see?’ ‘Which Chinese restaurant should I order from?’ ‘What bands should I listen to’ or ‘Which dentist should I visit in the area?’

Graph Search is also trying to make it easier to get in touch with people that users don’t already know by allowing Facebookers to connect with people in their network who like similar things that they do.

What Does Facebook Graph Mean For Businesses?

It’s been suggested that increasing ‘Likes’ will now be as important as gaining links to websites. If people are searching for hairdressers in their local area then Facebook will naturally show the results that have the most ‘Likes’ from within a users’ social circle.

However, Facebook Graph Search is not necessarily in competition with Google Search, or any of the other major search engine. The two search products are very different beasts, and it’s unlikely that Facebook will take market share from Google. While Google’s index is based on the whole of the internet, Facebook’s is only based on content that is been shared with you. And while personalised content is good for users, businesses need to focus on hitting their target audience in the mass market.

The biggest change for businesses will likely be for the existing Facebook Ads, which has tried to create personalised ads but has not done so very successfully. The current ads are essentially display ads of things people like rather than things they intend to buy or places they intend to go. With Facebook Graph Search, users are entering keywords, which gives an indication of intent. That’s much more valuable, as businesses can easily work out what prospective customers are trying to find out about.

For example, if a restaurant owner in Birmingham wants to gain customer insight, and someone in Birmingham searches ‘Restaurants my friends like’; placing an advert on that Facebook search results page is far more targeted than showing a restaurant advert on the existing platform for ‘people in Birmingham who like food’.

To read more about Facebook’s new search tools, please visit The Guardian.

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