Facebook Graph Search: 8 Things To Know

As Facebook rolls out Graph Search to all U.S. users, we break down the key facts for individuals and businesses.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

July 9, 2013

7 Min Read

Facebook Home Visual Tour

Facebook Home Visual Tour

Facebook Home Visual Tour (click image for slideshow)

Facebook is rolling out its Graph Search feature to everyone who uses the site in U.S. English. Here's a rundown of what you need to know, especially from a business perspective.

1. Wait, What The Heck Is Graph Search?

If "Graph Search" sounds like something you slept through in geometry class, breathe easy. It's just the name of Facebook's new search technology, which first launched in January and is now rolling out to all U.S. English users. It replaces the existing search function, which generally mimics most keyword-driven Web searches, with the ability to plug in detailed combinations of words and phrases that filter and sort results based on your profile, your friends' profiles and other data.

Facebook offers this example: "My friends in New York who like Jay-Z." (Other folks have tried more creative examples by way of pointing out some of the potential risks that come with Graph Search's level of detail.) While it's still an evolving feature, both the excitement and concern around Graph Search stem largely from the seemingly limitless number of ways you'll be able to search the Facebook data available to you, much of which is user-generated.

[ Will Graph Search help you find a job? Read Social Do's And Don'ts For Job Hunters.

"The ability to connect discrete pixels of data including likes and dislikes can paint a comprehensive mosaic of a user," said Craig Spiezle, executive director of the Online Trust Alliance, in an email interview. "This can be a great value to the user and at the same time be a significant concern."

2. Expect Some Privacy-Related Hiccups.

People tend to get in a tizzy each time Facebook makes a major change, especially one that involves so much user information. Graph Search won't be an exception. In fact, it's primed to raise a rash of privacy-related concerns as millions of people experience it in everyday use for the first time. Facebook is currently advising users that now would be a good time to recheck their privacy settings to ensure they're comfortable with how their information can and can't be shared -- because that information will now be easier to find in searches. A message that appeared for many users beginning Monday reads: "Tip: Graph Search is rolling out now, so it's getting easier for people to find photos and other things you've shared with them. To check who can see your stuff, just click." (The call-to-action pointed to the privacy settings icon in the top-right menu.)

"Graph Search is a great example of technical innovation heading [toward] a potential collision with user's expectations on the use and sharing of their data," Spiezle of OTA said. "Depending on a user's privacy settings, their information may be shared unknowingly with others including potential third parties and advertisers."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called this a "problem of discoverability" back when Graph Search first rolled out in beta, noting that the enhanced ability to search and parse Facebook data may make it more difficult for users to strike a balance between openness with the people they actually want to connect with and privacy from the people or organizations that they don't want scanning their information.

"This feature has rolled everyone, by default, into a dating service ("Single females in San Francisco who like Radiohead") and a marketing database ("People under 25 who like Coca-Cola")," the EFF wrote at the time.

3. It's Not Really About You -- It's About Advertising.

In a touchy-feely social media sense, Graph Search is about helping people find stuff on Facebook, be it other people, photos, restaurant recommendations, you name it. In the bottom-line world occupied by Facebook executives and shareholders, it's about selling advertising -- provided Graph Search develops into an exceptional tool. Businesses should get ready for Graph Search and a subsequent ad platform now, according to Optify director of marketing Uri Bar-Joseph.

 Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour

Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour

Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

"The evolution of this product is clear," Bar-Joseph said in an email interview. "Once Graph Search is released and becomes popular -- and it will -- Facebook will release an ad product that allows you to promote your Page on search results." Bar-Joseph said it's not yet clear whether advertising will take a Google approach (ads wrapped around organic results), a Twitter approach (ads woven into regular tweets), or something else altogether. But no matter the format, it's coming. "They will find a way to do it so they can monetize this new feature," Bar-Joseph said.

Advertising aside, Bar-Joseph's first bit of Graph Search advice for businesses: If you don't already have a Facebook Page, it's time to get one. If it's already up and running, then these are some of the steps you should take to make sure it's optimized for Graph Search.

4. Likes Are More Important.

It's been an oft-debated topic: What's the business value of a like on Facebook? (Or a follower on Twitter, or any other unit of social currency.) Graph Search makes likes more important, especially for businesses that want their pages to be highly discoverable.

[ Security will always be a concern. Read How To Hack Facebook In 60 Seconds. ]

"Since the search results are based [in part] on what your network liked, for a page to show up in search people need to like it first," Bar-Joseph said. "Therefore, if you have a business page you want to push, make sure you work on getting as many people as possible to like it."

5. Content Still Reigns.

A barren page won't do your business much good. It needs compelling, current content or Graph Search won't be much help for marketers and other professionals. A search for a good restaurant, for example, will depend in part on the data shared by the searcher's friends; the other big variable will be the information shared by the business. Retail businesses will want to ensure that their full, current address is listed, for example, or you can forget up showing up in any local searches. And while you can take the gimmick-and-stunt approach to generating likes, the ones that actually prove valuable will come from consistent engagement.

Bar-Joseph said photos and other visuals will also take on increasing importance, both on your pages and in search results. "With over 250 billion photos in Facebook, it's already known that pictures, images, photos are pivotal for engagement on Facebook," he said. "Graph Search makes them as central as possible -- [think] big pictures next to the results. Attracting searchers to your page when you show up on the results will be more a factor of how good and intriguing your image is than anything else."

6. Keywords Still Matter.

Facebook is taking some pains to point out how Graph Search will be different (read: better) than Web search (read: Google). But keywords will still matter. "Like any search engine out there, even Graph Search will have to use keywords for some contextual indexing. This includes your metadata -- profile information, location, description, et cetera) as well as the keywords you are using in your updates," Bar-Joseph said. "If you want to show in a search results for "Florist my friends used in LA," then you need to make sure Facebook knows you're a florist located in LA."

7. Mobile: Coming Soon (Depending On Your Definition Of Soon)

Like Facebook's advertising platform and other features, the mobile version of Graph Search will trail the website version -- it's not available yet. "We're also working on getting mobile Graph Search ready," the company said in its announcement, though it didn't put a timetable on that release.

8. On Your Toes, Security Pros

As Spiezle of the Online Trust Alliance noted, with technology innovation often comes a downside. If Graph Search indeed makes it easier to find stuff on Facebook, that holds true for everyone -- bad people included. Facebook is already a juicy target for hacks, scams, social engineering attacks, and other social media security pains. It doesn't require much courage to make this prediction: Graph Search will open a new, large threat vector for IT and security pros to manage. Make sure your users are paying attention as Graph Search continues to evolve.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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