Why Facebook Graph Search Won’t Work For Digital Marketing

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While there’s plenty of interest and enthusiasm from digital marketers about Facebook Graph Search, Eoin isn’t convinced, just yet.

graph search iconEver since the first whispers that Facebook were experimenting with search functions, people have talked about Facebook facing Google head on. The theory was that a site that could combine Facebook’s social community with accurate web search would be a natural starting point for most Internet users. Google+ follows the same theory from the opposite angle. That would also create the ideal inbound marketing channel and, therefore, an ad revenue machine.

For now, all of that is still theory. Facebook have never actually confirmed their interest in web search, though they have alluded to it in the past. With the public roll out of Graph Search, they could well be preparing to move into that market but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Graph Search has problems of its own before we try to apply it the wider web. These problems are especially important for digital marketers.

You hear ‘Facebook’ and ‘Search’ and you imagine a huge opportunity for targeting content. The question is, is that what Facebook Graph Search is for? The answer is a little unclear, it is most likely to become an ad revenue generator but its current incarnation just doesn’t work that way.

It’s Natural Language Search

Besides the user base, what makes Google’s search ads so attractive is the targeting possibilities. You can target your ads directly at the searches for products you offer. Facebook’s current ads follow a similar theory by targeting users based on ‘Likes’. This is less accurate than search because, while you may be getting the right people, you don’t always get them at the right time. Graph Search seems to offer a solution because it would allow targeting of searches, but how?

Graph Search works with natural language search, rather than keyword search, meaning users ask Facebook questions and it provides answers. That’s a problem because natural language questions are difficult to predict, meaning ads would either be based on specific phrases or questions(keywords) or on natural phrases and all alternatives. Of course, there is a near-infinite way to say anything so the bidding on certain questions could be fierce. Especially for broad searches that could be important to a variety of products.

They’re Not Looking For You

That’s not even the biggest problem with targeted ads in the current version of Facebook Graph Search. The biggest problem is the fact that most searches will have nothing to do with brands. Searches are designed to find content, like photos or posts that are specified by locations, friends or another identifier. The results users are looking for, in most cases, will be personal results from another profile. Imagine their reaction if they’re looking for photos taken by their friends in San Francisco and they get an ad for a San Francisco restaurant stuck in the middle, or as a first result?

That may be slightly extreme, but the majority of Graph Searches will be for user content. Users hate intrusive advertising and Graph Search ads will have to work hard to avoid that label.

The ‘Like’ Problem

Facebook’s biggest issue in terms of targeted ads has also been its biggest strength. Ads are targeted based on ‘Likes’ and brands are active on Facebook in order to gather those ‘Likes’ and engage with their audience. The problem is, the drive for ‘Likes’ often encourages brands to offer prizes or other incentives in exchange for ‘Likes’ meaning not all likes can be trusted.

Which is a problem when people start using Graph Search. The first suggestion when you start typing most searches is ‘that my friends like’. Which seems like a great way to find recommendations and a huge opportunity for digital marketers, if you forget the ‘Like’ problem outlined above. As long as ‘Likes’ are so easy to gather and seen as so important by Facebook, it will be impossible to truly target Facebook ads.

So, Facebook Graph Search, the next step for digital marketing? Or a handy tool for stalkers and fans of hypocrisy? It may well turn out to be the first one, but there’s still plenty of work to do to get there.

Facebook Graph Search is not yet available to everyone, and until it is, you can use our The Definitive Guide to B2B Social Media whitepaper to hone your social media marketing skills.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Eoin Keenan
Media and Content Manager at Silicon Cloud. We help businesses to drive leads and build customer relationships through online marketing and social media. I blog mainly about social media & marketing, with some tech thrown in for good measure. All thoughts come filtered through other lives in finance, ecommerce, customer service and journalism.

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