When Facebook announces something, people listen. And when the words "Facebook" and "search" are mentioned in one event, people really listen. And when marketers learn the possibilities presented by this new search product, called "Graph Search," they'll listen even more.
While Zuck did not focus on brands, it's clear where Facebook is going with its search strategy. And businesses large and small will be one of the primary beneficiaries.
What Did Facebook Announce?
Zuck announced the social networking giant's foray into search in Menlo Park Tuesday. Instead of pages and links, the heart of Facebook search is called Graph Search, which is the love child of its scantily clad search bar and Facebook's humongous social graph. And it's the third child of the Facebook ecosystem, which already includes News Feed and Timeline.
Zuck made clear that Graph Search is not a search engine. Instead, when people go to search for a term, they'll be directed to people, places, or Pages that already exist on Facebook, instead of a series of links. And because Facebook has its massive social graph to flex, search results will be displayed based on personal relationships that you've established on the network.
And what's the difference between traditional search and Facebook's search product?
"Web search is designed to take any open ended query and give you links that might have answers," Zuck says. "Graph search is designed to take a precise query and give you an answer, not give you links that might provide the answer" For example, you could ask Graph Search "Who are my friends that live in San Francisco?"
Facebook says the focus of the Graph Search's first wave is people, photos, places, and interests.
How does it work? Someone looking for friends of theirs who like the band "Phish" (the best band in the history of hands) will see a list of friends who have shown an interest in the band Phish on Facebook. Or, if you're looking for a particular restaurant, you can see a list of your friends who have eaten there, so that you can ask them firsthand about their experience. You can even combine multiple interests at once to really pin down someone (try searching for your friends who like both "Star Trek" and the "Washington Redskins").
So How Does it Affect Marketers?
Think about the potential in terms of sheer volume of search queries. With over a billion people on Facebook, creating more than 240 billion photos and more than a trillion connections, imagine how many search queries will be performed each day. Every time someone searches for something, your branded content will have an opportunity to appear to Facebook's vast user base. Though users can only find content that has been shared with them, Graph Search makes it much easier to find track.
Consider that by creating a tie through the social network between a user and your Page, you are now providing another chance for you to reach people; this time, in the form of a branded search result.
This points to a larger trend in personalization.
I've said many times that people are people, and need to be treated as such. We're done with the days of people being labelled as expiring cookies or data points; instead, marketers need to treat people like human beings. Graph Search is the next logical step in this process for Facebook and social marketing. By building a fan base, creating engaging content and building a community, you can ensure that you're there when your fans and the friends of your fans are searching for something on the site.
The secondary benefit to marketers is that Facebook will now be conditioning its billions of users to search for what they're looking for. Does this sound familiar? Yes! It's intent. And Facebook has never been able to capture intent. The combination of social context (what your friends like) and intent (what you're looking to buy) will make it possible for advertisers to take Facebook's already amazing targeting to the next level.
I don't want to blow your mind just yet, so I won't go much further down this path. But imagine what happens when you combine intent, social context and custom audiences (i.e. the data you have about your customers). All of a sudden, Ford can advertise to friends of their current customers who are in the market for a car today. That's exciting and opens up many possibilities to take loyalty and social referrals to the next level.
Graph Search is only available to a few Beta testers. So for now, you should continue to focus on creating great content and buying sponsored stories to amplify the resulting engagement across the social network. Connecting to consumers using today's strategies will turn out to be the best form of SEO down the road as Graph Search takes off, and will ensure you aren't trying to play catch up when the functionality is launched to over one billion people across the social network.