At heart, and in practice, we are social creatures; and it is this truth and insight that likely has Google feeling somewhat anxious right now.
Facebook has just announced their own search tool that may prove to be a significant challenge, or at least a notable nuisance, to the undefeated heavyweight champion of search. Facebook’s new tool is called ‘Graph Search’, and what’s interesting and significant about it is that it adds a layer of meaning to search that Google either does not, or more likely cannot, adequately provide.
What Graph Search does is allow its users to search for things informed by their social connections. In this announcement video Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that “Graph Search is not web search”. So it’s not a tool for finding anything and everything on the world wide web, but instead allows users to find things and places that their friends have liked, checked in at, are interested in, or have taken a photo at.
The simplicity and power of this idea will be apparent to most marketers because we all know that word of mouth advertising is by far still the most effective kind of advertising that exists. Furthermore we also know that testimonials – even cheesy, contrived ones – have a not inconsiderable amount of efficacy, especially if they’re espoused by a celebrity that we ‘know’.
So, say you’ve moved to a new part of town and want to find a good Thai restaurant near your house. You could do a Google search and look at Google reviews of Thai restaurants near you, but how do you know that the reviews aren’t written by a disgruntled ex-employee, or conversely by the owner’s friends and family?
Using Facebook’s Graph Search (which is still in beta and due to be released en masse shortly) you will be able to see what people in your network, and extended network i.e. friends of friends, think about Thai restaurants near you. If you want a highly informed opinion, you can even see what your Thai friends think. You’ll be able to see if they Facebook liked it or even check in there every Thursday night. You could then send a message to a particular friend who liked it or checked in and ask what they thought of it – how hot is the green chicken curry? Are the spring rolls any good?
But the power of this idea goes beyond just the local, and to the global. Say you’re looking at buying a T-shirt from somewhere like designbyhumans.com – you might see that three of your more cool and interesting friends have liked their Facebook page and jump on the bandwagon, or perhaps you might ask one of them if they were happy with the quality of the cotton or what size you should get. Or maybe you could even message them asking if they were keen to do a combined order to cut down on postage costs.
Another notable feature of Graph Search is the intuitive nature of search in which a user can essentially ‘edit’ the page title to get a new result. So you’ll be able to select where it currently says ‘Jesse Richardson’s Timeline’ and replace it with ‘friends of mine who live in Brisbane and went to QUT’ and the results will be live, dynamic, and immediate. This manner of search feels much more natural and immersive, because instead of making a decision to open a new tab and Google something, then choose a link that you think is relevant; instead you just edit the title of your page to reflect what you want to see.
In the above video Zuckerberg gives a great example of how this kind of search tool can be useful. He searched for friends near his house who like Game of Thrones to see who wanted to come over and watch it (presumably on his rather impressive home theatre system). The algorithm also helpfully ordered the results in order of importance of connection. So his sister was first on the list, whereas that annoying guy he knew in high school but can’t unfriend because of a family connection is probably somewhere near the bottom of the list.
Another example, and dimension, of the power of Graph Search is how it might change how we connect with people. Zuckerberg reports that there are over a trillion connections on Facebook, and all of these connections are rich with meta data and relevant information. So say your sister is on the rebound, just moved to your city and is looking to meet a nice guy. Being a good big brother, you want to make sure that her potential suitor has excellent taste in TV shows and music so you do a search for single guys in Brisbane who like The Wire and Radiohead.
Your search results might show three people, and you can see that one of the guys is mutual friends with your larrakin drinking buddies (so he’s out), but another one is a friend of a friend for whom you have the utmost respect, and he works as a professional in a reputable company, and is also mutual friends with two more people whom you hold in high regard. Then you might contact your mutual friend to see if Romeo is on the dating scene and get the inside word on whether he’s the kind of guy that you want to be your brother-in-law. This same people searching capacity has obvious implications for the recruitment industry, and the people over LinkedIn are probably watching the announcement of Graph Search with some amount of concern too.
The possibilities are quite exciting, to say the least; and how Facebook chooses to integrate this new tool into their existing platform is also worth considering.
But the real question for all of us, is what effect will this have on the advertising and marketing industry, and how might it change the way we advertise on Facebook? I have some thoughts, but I’m keen to hear what others think. So, what do you reckon?
Jesse Richardson is a Senior Creative at BCM