Facebook Search and the new Like Economy

by David Vogel on July 10, 2013

Facebook graph search money.

Facebook Search sets up a new “Like Economy” where search rankings can be “purchased” more easily than on Google and Bing. The winner? The Facebook coffers, of course.

Facebook is in the midst of rolling out “Graph Search,” their much-anticipated tool that answers search queries with information culled from their billion users.

While still evolving, early test runs show Graph Search excels at helping users discover new things (restaurants, entertainment, people, etc.) based on what their friends—or the entire Facebook user base—Like.

The possibilities of Graph Search are broad and disruptive, and will potentially hurt Yelp, LinkedIn, Youtube, and many other websites and apps. Consider these potential searches on Facebook:

  • “Restaurants my friends like near me” (It’s like reading reviews on Yelp, except actually knowing if you can trust the reviewer’s taste)
  • “People who like SEO in Kansas City” (recruiters, job seekers and networkers should love Graph Search)
  • “Videos my friends have liked this week” (it’s like YouTube’s top viewed videos page, except with less Minecraft)
But to truly understand the motivation and potential for Graph Search, it’s important to follow the money. Like most product releases from Facebook, Graph Search is about increasing revenues.

For a while, Facebook has been evolving the “Like” functionality to increase its value to businesses.

With declining email usage among younger age brackets, getting prospects and customers to Like their pages and engage with posts has allowed brands to replace some of the touch points they’ve lost. And as the financial benefits of a Like have increased, so have Facebook’s advertising options.

Facebook Search has the potential to dramatically increase the value (and cost) of a Like.

With the advent of Facebook’s Like-based search results, a Like now earns you more than just the opportunity to engage the “Liker” in the future; it helps improve your chances that your page will show up in Facebook search results. If you want to test this, do a Facebook search for “Restaurants.” Your results will be topped by results that either have large amounts of likes, or are liked by multiple friends. While some of these Likes may have happened organically, many of them are the result of Like-focused Facebook campaigns.

Compare this to the link-powered results of search engines like Google and Bing. While there are many other factors that contribute to a website being ranked prominently in traditional search results, a strong external link profile is still the most important element.

But here’s the difference: while Google and Bing have always discouraged artificially improving your rankings by purchasing links, the Facebook search platform both empowers Like-buyers to artificially improve their search rankings, and positions themselves to profit dramatically from this tactic.

If Facebook Search gains significant usage, it will ignite Like-buying wars for top positions, and entrench the new “Like economy.” 

So what should business and marketers do about Facebook Search?

Option 1: Hope it fails

Personally, I think there’s a 50/50 chance Facebook Search doesn’t reach mass adoption. Facebook’s search function has always been clunky, with lots of irrelevant or spam results. In my Beta testing of Graph Search, I was impressed by some of the niche searches it powers (for example search something like “Music people who like Nickel Creek like“). But while Graph Search is perfect for mining the collected Likes of the Facebook user base, it still fails at most basic informational or navigational searches. This narrow functionality could doom Facebook Search.

Option 2: Start stockpiling (and retaining) Likes

Frankly, it’s easy to buy Likes with all of Facebook’s new ad formats. Many users don’t understand that when they Like a sponsored story or ad they’re often Liking the advertiser’s page, and also don’t “weed” their likes frequently, or at all.

However, turning that initial Like into actual engagement among more sophisticated users requires creating content that is consistently relevant and compelling.  If your new Likers don’t interact (share, like or comment) with the first few Facebook messages they see from you, Facebook’s algorithm will quickly stop including your non-paid messages in their feed. And, you run the risk of loosing the Like you just invested in.

So what do you think?

Have you played with Facebook Search yet? What cool searches have you found? Do you think Facebook Search can contend with Google and Bing? Please tell me below!

 

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