There has been a great deal of hype and anticipation surrounding Facebook’s entry into the world of search. Facebook is slowly unveiling their “Graph Search” in a beta test version and after waiting for some time, I signed into my Facebook profile this morning to find that Facebook Search has been enabled on my profile.
I have to honestly say that at this point I’m not impressed. After experimenting with a number of both my own search terms and those suggested by Facebook, other then making it much easier to stalk my Facebook connections (I mean “friends”) I have yet to find value in Graph Search. Especially in comparison with the post I recently wrote on the importance of Google+/Places on local internet marketing.
Most of the talk around the impact of Graph Search on Facebook Marketing has discussed the need to beef up engagement on the Facebook page. My quick test of the search results did not bear this out. As you will see in the discussion below, there appears to be little rhyme or reason to some of my search results. It also appears that it will be harder and harder for to compete without a significant Facebook ad spend. Finally, the personal implications and privacy issues related to Facebook search do present cause for concern.
I Just Want a Cup of Coffee!
In my earlier post on the importance of Google+/Places on local internet marketing, I used the search for a good coffee shop as an example. As I demonstrated in the post, Google was able to direct me to a number of coffee shops both near my current location and in downtown Annapolis, Maryland. As I quickly discovered, Facebook could not do the same.
I started out with a search for “Coffee Shop” which was a complete failure. Apparently “Coffee Shop” is a game on Facebook and as I quickly discovered, unless I choose one of the Facebook recommendations, I get a search for the top recommendation, “Coffee Shop” the game (which for some reason couldn’t load on my browser resulting in a blank screen).
As you can see in the image below, the top two searches are Facebook apps.
Since “coffee shop’ didn’t work, I searched the recommended “coffee shops” in hopes of finding an actual coffee shop as opposed to a game to play. Along with suggesting that I search for coffee shops in the town where I grew up (about 500 miles away) as you can see in the image below, the results didn’t leave much choice.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t actually near a Starbucks at the time of this search. Although there are a number of coffee shops much closer, Facebook offered a full page of Starbucks listings, none closer than five or so miles. Of course, the search results don’t actually show me how far away they are nor did I get directions. Clicking on the map only zooms in on the location. Nowhere on the Facebook search results did I find directions to get me there.
Also interesting to note which Starbucks comes up first. The top result doesn’t appear to be closest nor does it have the most “likes” or check ins. Scrolling further down the results, coffee shops not named Starbucks do start to appear in the results but again, there is no apparent rhyme or reason as to why they didn’t come up higher. One of the shops has a Facebook page with more than 1,400 likes (many more than any of the Starbucks listed) yet unlike Starbucks the number of likes does not show in the search results. The local coffee shop is also the same distance or closer than the Starbucks listed.
The local coffee shop with more than 1,400 likes also came up below another coffee shop with a grand total of 69 “likes.”
The only explanation I can give for the multiple Starbucks listings is to speculate that unlike the local shops, Starbucks is making a significant investment in sponsored posts while the local shops are not.
I also tried searching “coffee shops near me” which brought up the exact same results even though I wouldn’t consider any of the Starbucks listed as “near me.”
Also interesting to note that it is not possible to search for a term unless it comes up as a suggested search.
Recommendations and potentially offensive content
Finding myself somewhat frustrated in my efforts to find a coffee shop on Facebook, I turned to Facebook for recommended search topics–one of which was restaurants. I figured that since Facebook was suggesting I use it’s search engines to find a restaurant the results would have to be better. As you can see Facebook’s suggested searches for “Restaurant” are even worse than the suggestions for “coffee shop” (unless I’m really into Facebook restaurant games).
Since that didn’t work I thought I’d try speaking in Facebook terms and look for restaurants recommended by my friends. I tried a search “good place to eat.” Now this is where it get’s interesting. By the second word “place” Facebook suggested I was looking for something much different than a restaurant. As you can see in the image below, the results are not only inappropriate but potentially offensive or worse.
This of course left me wondering what I did to get that sort of result. Guessing that somewhere, somehow I “liked” a page that would suggest that I was actively seeking something much different than a local restaurant, using Facebook Graph Search (wait, a practical use) I dug through everything I’ve “liked” since originally joining Facebook but there was nothing there. No Victoria’s Secret, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit or anything else that might have prompted the suggestion above.
This of course leads to even more concerns. Did I at some time in the life of my Facebook history click on something that would suggest I was looking for much more than a place for lunch? Possibly but I doubt it. I’ve always been fairly careful with what I post and follow on Facebook. Possibly my interest in college sports? Who knows but the implications are huge.
Either Facebook is not screening it’s results for adult content or something in my behavior on Facebook has told Facebook that I am looking for adult content — something I assure I am not. What other implied interests is Facebook sharing with anyone who wants access to my data?
Impact on Facebook Marketing
The potential impact of Graph Search on Facebook Marketing is huge. It appears that even for those that have invested heavily in building their Facebook page, engaging with the followers and doing everything else that used work on Facebook it may not matter. As the coffee shop example above demonstrates, even with seven times more “likes” the local coffee shop was buried under the corporate giant in the search results. Does this mean the local business is going to have to compete with a Starbucks sized ad buy if they want to be found on Facebook?
Maybe it’s the fact that Graph Search is still in beta and it will get better. At the same time, it might be the final nail in the coffin for those that have put extensive resources, both time and financial, into Facebook marketing.