Facebook Graph Search a boon to channel

It’s time for the channel to think about what Facebook’s new Graph Search could mean to business and marketing efforts, writes Chris Gonsalves

By Chris Gonsalves

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16 Jan 2013


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Editor’s note: As part of our special editorial partnership, CRN is publishing this recent article from Channelnomics in the US.

Now that most of the snarky and dismissive comments have died down in the wake of Facebook’s breathless press event yesterday to introduce its new Graph Search feature, it’s time for the channel to think about what this new capability could really mean to their businesses and their marketing efforts. Short answer: quite a lot.

First, a bit about what Graph Search is. The new search functionality being rolled out in beta gives Facebook much different powers than those of a traditional search engine like Google or Bing. Facebook is giving users a way to sift through the social media site’s roughly 1 billion users, 240 billion photos and 1 trillion connections with natural-language queries to unearth finely-grained information and contacts that meet very specific criteria.

In the live press conference chief executive Mark Zuckerberg used rudimentary and parochial examples such as “show me all of my friends who like Star Wars and Harry Potter.” But things got decidedly more interesting when he and his team began demonstrating the effectiveness of Graph Search in finding things like “all single men in San Francisco,” or “music liked by people who also like Mitt Romney.”

(Note: “like” here and throughout means a Facebook “Like” or “Share.” As in clicking that little thumbs-up icon to give something your vote of confidence or broadcasting it to your friends on your Timeline. “Likes” and “Shares” are an important part of the glue that holds the search concepts – and accessibility – of Graph Search together.)

It became clear pretty quickly that this sort of demographic cross-tabulation is a marketer’s dream. These are qualified, contextual search results that Google simply cannot provide. What Yelp has done for the science of brunch buffets, Graph Search is about to deliver to the world at large.

And in a world like the channel, where folks often flail in their marketing efforts, the ease and power of Graph Search could make Facebook a solution provider’s best friend in a hurry. True, privacy concerns dictate that, for now, Graph Search theoretically will only return information already in a Facebook user’s sphere of access.

But in the world of business, where most users have their privacy barriers set very low by default and have proven themselves many times over to be willing to share even the most minute details of their daily goings-on, the system is likely to produce a treasure trove of results right out of the gate.

Solution providers need to concentrate on two aspects of Facebook Graph Search in the near term: finding and being found.

First, what can a partner legitimately hope to find by using Graph Search that will help them in their marketing and business planning efforts?

Trend Analysis: Curious if small retail businesses are increasingly interested in virtualization? It’s now possibly to find out with relative ease. Users that like the State Retail Association who also like VMware might be a good start. Does that number increase or decrease in the course of a month? Where are they clustered? How many are already your customers? How many mention your competition?

Lead Generation: Pretty easy to turn that first batch of returns into a list of qualified leads, assuming your practice specializes virtualization services for SMB retailers. If not, the lead generation possibilities to fuel your outbound marketing and sales efforts are bounded only by your imagination. Find everyone in your area that liked the Wired story on BYOD basics or the Businessweek piece on preparing your business for hosted applications. Boom. Warm leads for mobility or cloud services.

Competitive Intelligence: The truth is you’ve always been able to do this to some degree on Facebook, presuming your competitors leave their Timelines and comments open to public view (they do), and you’ve been willing to sift through the endless messages about their kids and house pets to see what they’ve been up to professionally (you have).

What Graph Search will allow you to do is reverse engineer this a bit by searching for end-users either by geography or business type or some other criteria who also like your competitor. How much traction is the competition really getting in your backyard? What kinds of customers are most drawn to them and how does that compare to your base? What kinds of technology are the users talking about and sharing? How well is your competition engaging with these potential clients on social media? Better than you?

Partnering to Expand Geographic Reach: For solution partners more interested in engaging with peers than trouncing them, Graph Search should open new and valuable avenues to discover and connect with other channel folks operating outside your geographic scope or area of expertise.

To be sure, there are dozens of specialized solution-provider forums, registries and directories that purport to connect partners willing and able to engage in business together. But few have the scope of Facebook, which will now enable fairly precise searches for like-minded businesses who are just a click away from partnership. So we know a few of the things we can expand to find with Graph Search. What about being found by other partners and potential customers using Facebook in similar ways.

It starts with getting your Facebook house in order and understanding the ways other users will engage with your business in a Graph Search-enabled world. If you’ve been putting off your social media efforts, there’s never been a better time to start.

Lower Your Shields: Zuckerberg and team made it pretty clear from the outset of the Graph Search debut. You have to give some to get some. What you have access to on Facebook will be determined by how well connected you are and that means folks must have access to you. If you’re in business, Facebook is no place to be hiding your lamp under a bushel basket. The quality of the connections you’ll be able to make with Graph Search require you to be connectible. If you haven’t already, check your privacy and visibility settings and make sure you can be seen and found.

Get On the Map: Another big part of the Graph Search algorithm involves location and geo-targeting. Few businesses have this featured turned off, but it’s a good idea to check to be sure a potential client can find you in a search that will almost always include a reference to location as part of the query.

Let the Engagement Begin: There’s an old saw in local politics that warns you shouldn’t predict the outcome of an election by the number of yard placards you see. “Signs don’t vote,” they say. Well, on Facebook, and now especially with Graph Search, signs certainly do vote, especially those signs that say “Like” and “Share.”

Every search result in the new system will be flavored by the number of people who like your business, share your content, and otherwise engage with you in a positive way. Cultivating these interactions on Facebook has never been more important – or more valuable. Every one of these engaged users is now making a referral on behalf of your business. Treat them the way you would any valued marketing resource. Nurture and encourage them and give them good reasons to be your online emissaries.

Finally, like most good betas, Facebook’s Graph Search is only available to a limited number of users at the moment. Get on the waiting list for it here.

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