Graph Search, user apathy and digital marketing

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Last week, Facebook announced its new Graph Search feature. But is it offering anything ‘new’? ClickThrough Marketing online copywriter, Martin Boonham, considers how users could benefit from the new search engine, and how it will impact digital marketing strategies.

A little over a week ago today, Facebook officially announced its new search engine, Graph Search, to the world.

Now that the dust has settled, it seems the perfect time to sit down and analyse exactly why the firm decided that the social networking site needed a new search engine, and what it means for those in the Internet marketing world.

The answer to part one of that question lies in the statistics – at least to some extent.

Many in the industry have long suggested that Facebook is becoming somewhat saturated. The site already seems to have a hold over the young and the youngish, with more than a billion users.

If you consider factors such as Internet access, age group, rivalry from other social networking sites across the globe, and other such things, it comes as little surprise that some are questioning just how much bigger Facebook can realistically grow. So the challenge for Facebook now is to keep its user base engaged and interested.

Recent research from SocialBakers suggested over half a million users in the UK couldn’t even be bothered to get their turkey and mince-pie filled selves on to the site over the festive period. Facebook immediately chirped up, arguing that data like this was often likely to be based on broad estimates of reach taken from its advertising service, so couldn’t be taken as a true reflection of usage.

SocialBakers CEO, Jan Rezab, even came out and dismissed some of the more scathing articles based on his firm’s research, saying that while it did show a drop over December, it would soon shakeup and get back to its normal figures.

He did agree about the issue of saturation, however, pointing out that more than half the UK’s population now use Facebook and, looking deeper, that figure represents some 62% of the UK’s Internet-using population as a whole.

With 15% of the UK population under 13 years old, and a further 16.5% in the over-65 age bracket – which makes up only a small percentage of Facebook’s users – there is only a small portion of the UK population left for the social giant to target.

Amplify this on a global scale and you can see sense in the theory that Facebook is at somewhat of a crossroads.

What better way to try and win people over then, than with a new service that promises a level of search, totally unique to Facebook. It may not get more users rushing in their droves to sign up to Facebook, but it will give those members that began to get ‘bored’ of it, a shiny new toy to play with.

A more natural search that allows friends to connect with each other on a more personal level seems great for Johnny Public - like back in the ‘old days’ before you had 3,000 friends on your list taking photos of their kids, their dinner or their kids eating dinner to work your way through each day..

It’s hardly a killer feature to set the SEO/ Internet marketing world alight however.

Or is it?

On a basic level, Graph Search gives you answers to essential, everyday questions like ‘which of my mates love Game of Thrones?’ or ‘which curry house do my vindaloo-loving chums frequent the most in Lichfield?’. This is, at the very least, an interesting novelty. But dig deeper and there’s a lot of potential – for Johnny Public and for digital marketing types. Think of it like this: using targeted ads as an example, Johnny Public has just searched for ‘my mates in Leicester who like Downton Abbey’. (That’s not exactly how a search string will read on Graph Search, but it helps to illustrate my point.)

Now not only will Graph Search connect Johnny to those people in his list who are in Leicester, and do indeed like Downton Abbey, but there is also the potential for Facebook to slip in some more Downton Abbey-related advertising.

Whilst the ‘vindaloo-loving chums’ search was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the possibility of curry house reviews from said buddies would hold a lot more weight with people than a review from Mrs Frispins from Whoknowswhere saying she found her korma too spicy. Therefore, the search could also threaten the likes of Yelp! and Google’s business listings.

Why stop at curries? The whole world is your oyster. ‘What hotels do my friends go to in Spain?’, ‘what firms do my friends use for computer repairs?’ – If users really take to Graph Search, there is a lot of potential. Whereas before, people would often simply Google things they wanted to find out, Graph Search potentially offers them a much more trustworthy source of information.

If Facebook also takes a PPC approach of paid listings featuring higher up on the page - like the sponsored posts that pop up in News Feeds – it will give those in the digital marketing business even more of a digital canvas to play about with.

The search engine could allow firms to do a lot of head hunting for new recruits as well.

At the conference itself, it was demonstrated by one of the Facebook crew how it was possible to search for people at NASA, who are friends with folks at Facebook. If Facebook builds on this and offers tools to recruiters, the social networking site could be a rival to LinkedIn – which uses its Recruiter for a very similar purpose

At least that is what Facebook is hoping. Of course, at this stage it is really too soon to tell, but the firm is obviously not taking Graph Search lightly. The ‘very slow’ roll out that’s planned suggests that they will be making many changes along the way, with people registered for the beta informing the company of various quirks or issues that need ironing out.

Facebook will hope that Graph Search, despite its admittedly dull-sounding name, will have those people that may have neglected the social networking site clamouring back on board to give the new search function a go.

It will take a huge investment on many of their parts to actually fill in profiles properly for things to be worthwhile marketing wise, but, if people do take to Graph Search, Internet marketers should be licking their lips at the SEO potential such a new search engine could offer.

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