At a press conference a few days ago Facebook announced their new Graph Search which will provide a brand new search experience for it's over one billion users when it eventually rolls out to everyone. As business owners it is in our best interest to learn about how the tool works, how we can optimize our own pages to show up in the results and how we can even use it to mine new business in the future.
Putting together a "Dream Team" of advisers, Facebook pulled Lars Rasmussen and Tom Stocky over from Google to lead the team on the new Graph Search product. What they have put together is a tool that I foresee being an incredible asset for all of us to search among our social networks to answers for questions we might have rather then query Google. During the press conference Mark Zuckerberg made sure to differentiate Graph Search from your typical Web Search by stating, "Web search is designed to take any open-ended query and give you links that might have answers... Graph Search is designed to take a precise query and give you an answer, rather than links that might provide an answer.” It will also be completely personalized based off each person that uses it. So for example if I use the tool to search for "friends who like mexican food" my results will of course be different than someone else searching the same. As Stocky put it, "If anyone else does this search they get a completely different set of results. Even if someone had the same set of friends as me, the results would be different [because we have different relationships with our friends]."
Graph Search will make our Facebook network a tool to find services, people, places and things. In one example Stocky demonstrated how he could use the new Graph Search to set up a single friend on a date. He searched “Who are single men?” Stocky says. “I get the set of single men that are friends of people I’m friends with.” From there Stocky shows how he can refine the list even further by adding the terms “and are from India” since his friend is Indian. Lars Rasmussen then shared an example of how the new Graph Search can also be used to search for photos listing the results with the most comments and likes on top of the results. When he searched for "photos of my friends taken at National Parks," the results came up as a well organized page of photos of his friends taken in National Parks. The search opportunities are virtually endless. If you wanted you could even narrow things down further. For example you could add to Rasmussen's previous search "during the year 2012" and then narrow the results down to just pictures from that year only. Facebook has been collecting data, stories, photos and interests on all of us since we opened our account and now they are putting it to use by creating a tool that helps us search this data.
So what does this mean to all of us as business owners and how do we optimize our own pages to take advantage of it?
The first thing that comes to mind is not to try and base your business off Search Engine Optimization. What I mean by this is that I see far too many photographers spend countless hours insuring their website shows up on the top of Google search results. They check analytics and compare week to week how they are doing and how many people are visiting their site. They will often review if they are still showing up on the first page of search results and spend days putting together lists of proper key words to represent their business. While all of this can be good, especially for photographers living in places that serve destination shoots, it is not the most practical to getting new business. Most clients these days don't turn to searches to look for photographers, they turn to their friends. They reach out on Facebook and ask, "Who did you use as your wedding photographer?" People love getting recommendations from others as they know that the money will most likely be well spent rather then take their chance on someone they just found on Google. Now I am not saying that finding a photographer on Google can't happen. In fact I just went to Jamaica in December to shoot a wedding for a couple that found me on there. But I do strongly believe that the new Facebook Graph Search will be a far more powerful tool that people will be using a lot.
Think about it for a minute. While skimming through Facebook, all users will need to do now is move up to the search bar and type something as simple as, "What wedding photographers do my friends like?" Instantly they will be given a page of wedding photographers that their friends follow. Maybe the results are too many so they refine their search. "What wedding photographers do my friends like that live in Arizona?" Or they search, "Show me wedding photos taken in 2012 of my friends?" Do you see how these searches can be precise and give results that mean more than a standard Web search?
As business owners we could also do searches that would help to find new business. Things like, "Which of my friends are newly engaged?" Or maybe you are interested in building a portfolio and looking for a few models you could search, "Friends of mine that live in Arizona that are interested in modeling." Maybe you are heading to WPPI and need to find a friend in the area whose couch you can crash on. You could search "Friends that live in Las Vegas," and up pops a list of results. Heck maybe you just want to enjoy a night out with some buds and search, "Friends with no kids that enjoy bowling." I really believe that when this search rolls out to everyone it will help make Facebook a very useful tool and most likely steal visitors away from other sites such as Google, Yelp and Foursquare. I know there will be some concerned about privacy issues. While I won't go into detail regarding it on this post, Facebook has put together a page to address some of the questions. How Privacy Works With Graph Search
If you have a Facebook business page. Now is the time to get it ready and optimized for searching. Here are a few tips from Facebook to help you do that.
1. Make sure that your ABOUT section is relevant and as descriptive as possible. Make sure your name is there, a category is chosen and you have chosen a vanity url. Include any additional information in the ABOUT section that might help draw people to you.
2. Update your page physical address so that if someone refines their search with a location you still appear. Going back to my previous example. If someone searches, "Wedding photographers in Arizona my friends like." If I do not have an address for my page I will be excluded from the search results.
3. Focus on attracting the right fans. Find people that interact often with your page. The search results will take into consideration things such as comments and likes on page posts. If you have a large number of fans that follow your work but they are all other photographers you picked up during the latest "Like Fest" you most likely will not benefit in the search results. You need fans that live nearby, that interact with your page, comment on your posts and share your page with their circle of friends. This is not an easy task and comes with time of constant interaction with fans on your page.
Facebook has put together this article that talks more about managing your page as well as a page that outlines some best practices for fan acquisition. Currently Graph Search is being rolled out to a limited beta program to make sure that the eventual experience is a great one. But if you would like to be put on the waiting list to receive Graph Search once it rolls out to others you can do it by visiting this page and clicking on "Join Waiting List."
Ultimately one year from now I believe we are all going to be grateful for the Graph Search tool and it's powerful impact on our business if we learn how it's used, make the updates to our business page and acquire the fans that will help grow our circle of influence. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.