Should Businesses Like a Facebook Graph Search Built on Likes?


So now we know why Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have been so busy recruiting former Google big brains: They coveted their mastery of algorithms, their sure-footedness in navigating mountains of Web-based data.

The result? Facebook Graph Search, announced Tuesday by Zuckerberg. Those who were quick to ask for invites will soon get to play with the beta version, and then all 1 billion members will get their crack at using the new feature to dig up content that’s been shared within the world’s top social network.

Based on Zuckerberg’s presentation and demonstrations by other company executives, Facebook is putting that poached Google talent to very good use. Although Graph Search applies only to content within Facebook itself, that’s still a very deep ocean of information: the aforementioned billion-plus members depositing billions of bits of data about people, places, photos, music, movies, TV shows, restaurants and retail outlets.

Since the marketing industry is always looking to leverage Facebook’s latest feature, another business-friendly metaphor might be more appropriate: All that information is a Fort Knox of data for businesses and brands that have been hearing more talk about “big data” (read: business intelligence) for the past year.

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What to Like About Searching Likes

The semantic search interface is intuitive: “Friends who like Coldplay who live in Seattle” can be input into a newly designed search box, and suddenly you know who to bum concert tickets from the next time Chris Martin’s band comes through town. In this way, Graph Search puts a white-hot spotlight on social media’s longstanding potential for businesses as the world’s biggest recommendation engine powered by people you trust.

Facebook is also taking advantage of its relationship with Bing as a way to surface results that aren’t found in the network — a not-so-subtle attempt to wean members from their Google search habits. However, the truly interesting aspect of this development in regard to the social media industry is how Facebook is giving marketers and businesses — large and small — a way to leverage all those Likes that have been shared among members.

This development marks a resurgence in Likes as the power that fuels Facebook and the businesses that have a presence on it. It hasn’t been a full year since Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg spoke at the first Facebook Marketing Conference, urging advertisers and brands to get past Likes and focus instead on people and stories; to make their pitches more organic and similar to the status updates everyone sees in their News Feeds. Yet Likes are now the glue connecting search queries, and that favorite Mexican restaurant you visit every Friday for happy hour needs to get busy once again reminding customers to click that big thumbs-up button at the top of its business Page.

What’s Not To Like About Searches Based on Likes

This new, great Like power comes with great responsibility for those marketing for businesses — namely to avoid spamming Facebook users in the quest for Graph Search connections. Whether you are Coca-Cola or Carlotta’s Tamale Hut, you’ll need to straddle that line that separates non-intrusive from obnoxious behavior — incentives, discounts and game-related activities always help.

The idea is to rise above the kind of activity that has proved annoying to many Facebook users, such as receiving an unending stream of “FarmVille” requests from well-meaning friends or being tagged in embarrassing, potentially job-killing photos that you’d rather not see on a billion- member global social network.

That last part leads to the privacy issue, one that’s been a tug-of-war for Facebook since it was established in 2004. Zuckerberg tried to allay those fears during Tuesday’s presentation, emphasizing that nothing is being searched that hasn’t already been shared. Still, much depends on what advertisers do with that shared data, some of which may have been forgotten by those who did the sharing in the first place.

Members do have a responsibility to go back and use some new privacy features instituted by Facebook to clean up their profile information. As Graph Search rolls out to all members, though, some tweaks and adjustments may be needed regarding privacy protection.

Rest assured that all the major privacy advocate groups will be charting Graph Search’s use by marketers and businesses, ready to vote their own “dislike” if they hate what they see.

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