OPINION

Should Businesses Like a Facebook Graph Search Built on Likes?

So now we know why Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have been so busy recruitingformer Google big brains: They coveted their mastery of algorithms, their sure-footedness in navigating mountains of Web-based data.

The result? Facebook Graph Search, announced Tuesday by Zuckerberg. Those whowere quick to ask for invites will soon get to play with the beta version, and then all1 billion members will get their crack at using the new feature to dig up content that’sbeen shared within the world’s top social network.

Based on Zuckerberg’s presentation and demonstrations by other companyexecutives, Facebook is putting that poached Google talent to very good use.Although Graph Search applies only to content within Facebook itself, that’s stilla very deep ocean of information: the aforementioned billion-plus membersdepositing billions of bits of data about people, places, photos, music, movies, TVshows, restaurants and retail outlets.

Since the marketing industry is always looking to leverage Facebook’s latest feature,another business-friendly metaphor might be more appropriate: All that informationis a Fort Knox of data for businesses and brands that have been hearing more talkabout “big data” (read: business intelligence) for the past year.

What to Like About Searching Likes

The semantic search interface is intuitive: “Friends who like Coldplay who live inSeattle” can be input into a newly designed search box, and suddenly you know whoto bum concert tickets from the next time Chris Martin’s band comes through town.In this way, Graph Search puts a white-hot spotlight on social media’s longstandingpotential for businesses as the world’s biggest recommendation engine powered bypeople you trust.

Facebook is also taking advantage of its relationship with Bing as a way to surfaceresults that aren’t found in the network — a not-so-subtle attempt to wean members from their Google search habits. However, the truly interesting aspect of thisdevelopment in regard to the social media industry is how Facebook is givingmarketers and businesses — large and small — a way to leverage all those Likes thathave been shared among members.

This development marks a resurgence in Likes as the power that fuels Facebookand the businesses that have a presence on it. It hasn’t been a full year since ChiefOperating Officer Sheryl Sandberg spoke at the first Facebook MarketingConference, urging advertisers and brands to get past Likes and focus instead onpeople and stories; to make their pitches more organic and similar to the statusupdates everyone sees in their News Feeds. Yet Likes are now the glue connectingsearch queries, and that favorite Mexican restaurant you visit every Friday forhappy hour needs to get busy once again reminding customers to click that bigthumbs-up button at the top of its business Page.

What’s Not To Like About Searches Based on Likes

This new, great Like power comes with great responsibility for those marketingfor businesses — namely to avoid spamming Facebook users in the quest for Graph Searchconnections. Whether you are Coca-Cola or Carlotta’s Tamale Hut, you’ll need tostraddle that line that separates non-intrusive from obnoxious behavior — incentives,discounts and game-related activities always help.

The idea is to rise above thekind of activity that has proved annoying to many Facebook users, such as receiving anunending stream of “FarmVille” requests from well-meaning friends or being taggedin embarrassing, potentially job-killing photos that you’d rather not see on a billion-member global social network.

That last part leads to the privacy issue, one that’s been a tug-of-war for Facebooksince it was established in 2004. Zuckerberg tried to allay those fears duringTuesday’s presentation, emphasizing that nothing is being searched that hasn’talready been shared. Still, much depends on what advertisers do with that shareddata, some of which may have been forgotten by those who did the sharingin the first place.

Members do have a responsibility to go back and use some newprivacy features instituted by Facebook to clean up their profile information. As Graph Search rolls out to all members, though, some tweaks and adjustments may beneeded regarding privacy protection.

Rest assured that all the major privacy advocate groups will be charting GraphSearch’s use by marketers and businesses, ready to vote their own “dislike” if theyhate what they see.

Renay San Miguel is the founder of Primomedia, a content marketing service. He has contributed stories and columns to ECT News Network and is a former anchor and technology reporter for CNN, Headline News, CNBC and CBS MarketWatch. San Miguel has also served as a chief content officer in the social media marketing industry.

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