Why growth in social search matters to marketers

Facebook recently announced Graph Search, a feature that allows users to search through Facebook data to highlight connections among people, places and things. Now, we can search for content and the results are focused on the interests of our friends. The shift from traditional to social search is a trend for marketers to understand, specifically those with a brand presence on Facebook and Google+. The implications of social search can get overtly blue-sky and forward-thinking, so here are some key factors to focus on.

Three takeaways on social search
Simply put, Facebook has lots of social data and wants to allow users to search for that information. (Vice versa for Google.) For now, the data that drives Graph Search is limited to business pages that people “like” and the information listed on their profiles. After beta testing Graph Search for almost a month, I can tell you it’s excellent at highlighting common interests with friends or nearby Facebook users who I’m not friends with yet. Graph Search also does an outstanding job of quickly retrieving photos of my friends. Sorting through 735 friends’ worth of photos that span the eight years since I joined Facebook at the click of a mouse is a testament to Graph Search’s potential for search engineering and a sign of things to come.

So what does the merger of social and search by Facebook and Google mean for marketers?

  1. This is a game changer for finding information
    Social search will change the way people find information on the Internet. Why comb through pages of search engine results of articles and anonymous reviews when you can see your friends’ preferences? While the limited data search so far appears to be the source of many a takedown from critics, don’t let the beta launch fool you. The launch version of Graph Search began development as recently as late spring 2011. If they’ve come this far, this quickly, it’s a safe bet that Facebook will soon get around to incorporating more data into Graph Search. That means more contextual and personalized information drawn from individual posts and comments.A similar story holds true for Google+. Even though Google has yet to fully integrate +1 content into Google searches, both are the tipping points that all digital marketers should be watching.
  2. Quantity of Facebook likes and Google+ followers matters more than ever
    It’s clear that both Facebook and Google regard pages with more likes/followers to be more important in their socially annotated searches than those with fewer. Specific to Graph Search, Facebook considers a “like” to be a form of social endorsement. For marketers targeting audiences on social media, this essentially mandates a media spend on social ads.
  3. Privacy preferences of Facebook and Google+ users will make or break social search
    There are potential limitations for marketers. Facebook users who change their privacy settings from public or friends-only to private will be excluded from Graph Search. In one example of facing up to the potential ugly downsides of Graph Search, Facebook is taking strides to protect minors from predatory searches via Graph Search. We’re becoming more and more of an open society online. Whether that trend continues will dictate the future of social search.

Facebook vs. Google:  A Silicon Valley social search throw down
Meanwhile, Google+ is quietly growing its active user base (currently at 135 million). And with its insistence on anyone using a Google product to be enabled for Google+ (have Gmail? On YouTube? You’re on Google+. Enjoy!), technically Google+ is at more than 500 million users. Even though the +1 button isn’t everywhere just yet, Google already has unleashed the +1 button on search ads to create socially annotated ads with great success — success such as 10 percent higher click-thru rates. That’s one reason to pay attention.

The differentiator of social search: We trust our friends
Let’s not forget that, especially when it comes to advertising, you trust your friends. You trust them more than anonymous reviews, journalists, company websites and ads. Note the following from an April 2012 Nielsen Report:

“Recommendations from people I know” ranks at the top. Click the image to view larger.

Facebook and Google understand both the intrinsic and monetary value behind personal relationships online. The next two to three years could be witness to a complete change in how we use both social media networks and search engines to access information and who holds the keys: the user, not the brand.

Are you in the Facebook Graph Search beta? Any thoughts on social search or this post? Leave a comment below or tweet us at @Bader_Rutter or @RickStoner.

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