What marketers need to know about Facebook’s Graph Search

By Rich Pulvino

On January 15, 2013, Facebook announced the next big feature that is has been plugging away on in its Palo Alto labs—Graph Search. With “search” in the name, many people figured that this was Facebook’s big answer to finally competing with Google. While there are some similarities between what the two can accomplish, Facebook’s Graph Search focusing purely on Facebook activity—as opposed to being a search tool for all things across the Internet—plants a firm stake in the ground as defining social search.

If you’re not familiar with Graph Search, Facebook provides a helpful overview of what it is capable of. To be clear, this is not a search engine. This is social search across a single network, but it just so happens that this one network has a population of over one billion people and processes more than 500 terabytes of data on a daily basis. This data—the uploaded photos and videos, links, status updates, profiles, Likes, etc.—is combed through in Graph Search to provide a detailed result for the people, places, and things we all find important in our lives.

An example of such a search would be if I’m traveling to Chicago, I have the ability to search among my connections to see who has traveled there, I can see where they went, where they ate, what pictures they took, etc. This type of search can be conducted similarly on Google+ Local, but you don’t have quite the same amount of detail and in-depth search capabilities that Graph Search provides.

If Graph Search only pulls in personal information between you and your connections, where do businesses fit in? On the local level, there’s a great deal businesses need to pay attention to. Restaurants, doctors offices, bars, etc.—localized businesses need to understand how people interact with their company online. Likes become a bit more valuable because if your business in Rochester has a Facebook page, and people like it, and a friend searches for companies in your industry in Rochester, then your company is going to come up in that search.

Photos also become more important. Similar to how Foursquare aggregates pictures people take at locations, Graph Search will be able to do the same thing so long as the person who takes the picture geo-tags it. People searching for restaurants in Rochester just received a lot more information. Besides seeing who liked the restaurant, they also can see any pictures that their friends took while they were there.

On the larger corporate side, Graph Search serves as an excellent recruiting tool. If your company is looking for an engineer in San Francisco, then you can search your connections, or your friends’ connections, to see if you’re connected with any engineers in San Francisco. Additionally, Graph Search provides insight into a person’s personality and interests. By searching among your connections, Graph Search can find a person’s photos, places they’ve traveled to, and personal connections as a way to gauge if they are a right fit culturally for a company.

With the possibilities and potential of Graph Search come some concerns. More specifically, concerns related to privacy and security. Security experts are warning Facebook users to update their privacy settings because as Graph Search becomes available to the masses it creates more opportunities for spammers and cybercriminals. Citing “unseemly searches” and a lack of security education on Facebook’s part, PCWorld explains that users will need to take extra precautions and thoroughly go through their privacy settings to ensure they’re as locked down as possible.

Since it is being rolled out to users slowly, it is a bit difficult right now to predict the possibilities of Graph Search and whether or not it will be a success. From what’s been seen early on, there’s a great deal of speculation, with the two most popular ideas revolving around security/privacy and how the new feature will change recruiting. As more and more users experiment with the new technology, we’ll have a clearer image of Graph Search’s benefits as well as its pitfalls. For now, it’s best to stay tuned into the news, and read up often on what new Graph Search users are learning from their experiments.