While Facebook is the massive juggernaut of social media, businesses have had difficulty figuring out how to put the site to work. But with the introduction of Graph Search, Facebook launches a new chapter, with big new implications for business.
Facebook ads start making sense. Businesses have difficulty putting Facebook to work because individuals don't come to Facebook to work.
To understand the problem, consider Facebook's big competitor, Google.
When individuals run searches on Google -- or any other search engine -- they are very often looking to buy something, which makes search a natural place for businesses to buy ads. A person searching on the word "refrigerator," for example, is likely ready to spend some money on a refrigerator.
But on Facebook, people aren't looking to spend money. They just want to hang out. And so advertisers buy ads on Facebook to enhance their brand -- make potential customers feel good about the company -- rather than buying search ads, which result in hard conversions right away.
This is the same business model used in TV advertising and on other media. But it's an ad model that businesses have been slow to embrace on the Internet, and Facebook and other social media have had to work hard to demonstrate value.
But that all changes with Facebook Graph Search. An individual running a search on "Restaurants nearby that my friends like" is probably hungry and ready to spend money.
(By the way, that restaurant search, and all the other searches mentioned in this blog, really work on Facebook. I got Graph Search activated this week, and I tested the searches out.)
Graph Search is a way to learn about customers. Using Graph Search, businesses can run complicated permutations using simple natural language. For example, you can find "pages liked by people who like Doctor Who," or "music liked by people who like Starbucks."
"There are infinite permutations that could help businesses determine what type of content to share with fans, what new audience to reach out to, what type of music would resonate with consumers in a commercial, who might serve as a good celebrity endorser and more," writes Brittany Darwell at Inside Facebook. "The social network also offers suggestions for related pages and searches, which could lead marketers and advertisers to discover additional insights."
It's potentially a LinkedIn competitor. Do a search on "People who like Hadoop and who live in New York," or "People who like Microsoft SQL Server and who live in Des Moines," and you can see the recruitment possibilities.
It's a security risk. Or a source of competitor information. Facebook advises journalists to use Graph Search to find sources for stories: "For example, say you're doing a story on a specific company and you're looking to interview someone who works at the company in their New York office, you could do this by searching for 'People who work at ACME Inc. in New York' to find potential employees to reach out to."
That's great for nosy-parker journalists (like me!), not so great for the VP Communications at ACME Corp. And the same tools are available to ACME's competitors.
What potential business applications -- and risks -- do you see for Facebook Graph Search? Let us know.
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ó Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution