The union of Facebook and search came out slightly differently than I had imagined it might when I speculated about it in a DigitalNext column 18 months ago.
Facebook's Graph Search has the potential to completely revolutionize search, enabling consumers to have a uniquely personalized search experience — based not only on what they want but what they like, and who their friends are, by extending the value of the social graph and first-party data to sharply differentiate Facebook's offering from Google. The new offering extends the value of Likes and the social graph to search, which can revolutionize accuracy, value, and relevance — especially as consumers perform more and more local searches using mobile devices, an area where Google has struggled.
I had originally forecast that Facebook could develop a deep ad-targeting program by incorporating Microsoft search data into its ad-targeting tools. The integration is deeper than I'd thought: Facebook and Microsoft collaborated on a new search tool, enabling Facebook to use its own data to sell search ads, and Microsoft (which invested in Facebook six years ago) to enrich its search data with access to Facebook's social data. As more and more consumers use Graph Search, Facebook will become the #1 rival to Google, collecting a tremendous amount of intent-based data to improve ad performance.
With the launch of Social Graph, people who want to search beyond Facebook will see web search results from Bing, along with social context and additional information such as Facebook pages. This approach may remind some of the days when Google was the default search engine for the Yahoo Directory. Over time we expect Facebook to cut into Google's desktop and mobile search volume, particularly in local and lifestyle (think restaurants, products, services, and what to do in a city). Eventually search dollars will transition away from Google and toward Facebook, where large incremental revenue streams will complement existing revenue streams from desktop display, mobile and its gaming currency.
The fact that this is a different kind of search – leading to results pages that feature precise answers, rather than links – will create new socially relevant queries that just don't happen on other engines. People will look for their friends in particular cities, making search more locally and personally relevant. They'll also check out who knows whom. A user could theoretically search for which of their friends knows Kevin Bacon, which will steal traffic from networking platforms like LinkedIn.
As Salesforce Marketing Cloud CMO Michael Lazerow noted, Facebook now has access to a lot of the intent data that has boosted Google's profits for years. When you know what a consumer is trying to do and/or buy, you can charge a significant amount for the right to serve an ad. So marketers should prepare for a new kind of Facebook unit that leverages this search data, in addition to their new retargeting products that deliver robust ROI beyond just advertising engagement (the only metric that was available before Facebook's IPO).
Microsoft will reap the benefits as well, as more advertisers flock to a Bing-powered search tool as well as to Bing partners such as Yahoo, further undermining Google's dominance, ripping open a competitive landscape that had seemed closed. By knowing the types of queries coming in, Microsoft can bolster its social search offering dramatically. This is a new type of search that combines Google's search capabilities and the strength of Facebook content. It's not about looking across the network, but about getting search results that are customized, based on whom you know, and what your friends like.
Over the next three to five years, this shift puts Facebook in a great position to be a strong No. 2 contender in search. Eventually, Facebook will supplant Google in search. Such a shift will lead to massive changes in search volume, revenue and the monetary value of the social graph for consumers and brands of all sizes. There's no question but that this new offering has Google shaking in its very expensive boots. The big unknown further out becomes the future of Google itself. Google+ is evolving — but will it ever catch Facebook?
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