Friday Jan 25, 2013

Social Graph Search: a Different Kind of Big Data

heart mazeYou can always count on social to give us a development that leaves everyone wondering what this new flavor of the month will evolve into or lead to.  The flavor of interest for this month appears to be Facebook’s newly announced Social Graph Search.

Most compelling is the wealth of social data Facebook has been able to accrue from willing users over the course of 8 years, and this new initiative to put that valuable data into play as a usable feature.

Facebook Social Graph Search lets a user enter a query such as “Friends who like Italian restaurants in New Orleans,” and get a list of friends (and friends of friends) who have engaged in some way around Italian restaurants in the Big Easy.

So there we have a much different algorithm at work than your friendly neighborhood Google or Bing search, which is keyword, link, and other SEO trickery-driven. Fueled mostly by social check-ins and Likes (at least for now), the power of trusted peer review and peer recommendation is now being surfaced in a quick and easy search function.

Facebook advertisers have long been able to target based on Likes, interests, etc., but soon the Facebook user base at large will be able to drill down and discover brands vetted and heralded by social connections who have nothing to gain by not telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

For brands who are strong in the quality of their products and services, and who largely generate happy, satisfied customers, this is really good news. It does nothing but further amplify the voice and influence of your social brand ambassadors. Fans you’ve already won over will lead new customers who are specifically looking for what you have to offer right to you.

On the other hand, detractors of brands will be equally amplified and influential. What once was mostly unutilized, obscure information will now be mined and put on display in the search results of relevant queries, good or bad.

This makes your brand’s mission to use every social relationship management tool and social engagement & moderation tool at your disposal to effectively generate the social satisfied customer, that raving fan who’ll gladly post they ate at your Italian restaurant in New Orleans and can’t wait to go back. That Like, that check-in, that tagged photo of their entrée will now be paying perpetual dividends search after search after search, rendering every social fan acquired a significantly bigger ROI proposition.

And then there’s the big data that can now be mined from Facebook’s legion of users and from the Social Graph Search queries themselves. Know who’s searching your product category, know where they are, know what time they’re looking for it, their demographic information, even their overall likes and interests. If you’ve constructed the socially enabled enterprise, that’s the kind of big data that can be pulled into the CRM, used to inform future marketing, content creation, sales, UX design, product development, etc.

It’s a new kind of big data, but it won’t be the last new big data source to present itself. Fortunately, you can have social fully integrated across the organization to fully capitalize on Social Graph Search, as well as the other data opportunities that no doubt lie just around the corner.

Photo: stock.xchng

Tuesday Oct 16, 2012

Social Search: Looking for Love

binocularsFor marketers and enterprise executives who have placed a higher priority on and allocated bigger budgets to search over social, it might be time to notice yet another shift that’s well underway. Social is search.

Search marketing was always more of an internal slam-dunk than other digital initiatives. Even a C-suite that understood little about the new technology world knew it’s a good thing when people are able to find you.

Google was the new Yellow Pages. Only with Google, you could get your listing first without naming yourself “AAAA Plumbing.” There were wizards out there who could give your business prominence in front of people who were specifically looking for what you offered. Other search giants like Bing also came along to offer such ideal matchmaking possibilities.

But what if the consumer isn’t using a search engine to find what they’re looking for? And what if the search engines started altering their algorithms so that search placement manipulation was more difficult? Both of those things have started to happen.

Experian Hitwise’s numbers show that visits to the major search engines in the UK dropped 100 million through August. Search engines are far from dead, or even challenged. But more and more, the public is discovering the sites and brands they need through advice they get via social, not search.

You’ll find the worlds of social and search increasingly co-mingling as well. Search behemoths Google and Bing are including Facebook and Google+ into their engines. Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter have done some integration of global web search into their platforms.

So what makes social such a worthwhile search entity for brands? First and foremost, the consumer has demonstrated a behavior of acting on recommendations from social connections. A cry in the wilderness like, “Anybody know any good catering companies?” will usually yield a link (and an endorsement) from a friend such as “Yeah, check out Just-Cheese-Balls Catering.” There’s no such human-driven force/influence behind the big search engines.

SpyFacebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and others call it “Friend Mining.” It is, in essence, searching for answers from friends’ experiences as opposed to faceless code. And Facebook has all of those friends’ experiences already stored as data. eMarketer says search in an $18 billion business, and investors are really into it. So no shock Facebook’s ready to leverage their social graph into relevant search.

What do you do about all this as a brand? For one thing, it’s going to lead to some interesting paid marketing opportunities around the corner, including Sponsored Stories bought against certain queries, inserting deals into search results, capitalizing on social search results on mobile, etc.

Apart from that, it might be time to stop mentally separating social and search in your strategic planning and budgeting. Courting your fans on social will cumulatively add up to more valuable, personally endorsed recommendations for your company when a consumer conducts a search on social.

Fail to foster those relationships, fail to engage, fail to provide knock-em-dead customer service, fail to wow them with your actual products and services…and you’ll wind up with the visibility you deserve in social search results.


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