Getting the most out of social search

22 Jan 2013  |  Helen Crowley 
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Alchemy Social's MD, Helen Crowley, takes a look at the impact of Facebook's recently launched 'Graph Search' on the value of social data and suggests what brands now need to do to ensure they are set up for large scale take up of social search by users.

With more than a billion people on Facebook and half a billion Twitter users, there is no doubt that social media is now firmly established within the mainstream of digital life. In the UK, social media makes up 12% of all internet visits and 23% of the total time spent on online.

The size of this audience is impossible to ignore and 2013 will see social media continue to account for ever larger shares of marketing budgets. Social technologies hold massive potential to transform organisations; McKinsey recently put the value at over $1 trillion dollars, but despite this, CMOs across the country are asking, "How are my investments in social improving marketing engagement for my business?"

When it comes to social, the challenge for marketing departments will be to monetise and measure their social investments by understanding the value of the data, insights and conversions that these social channels create.

Marketers will now be asking the same of recently launched Facebook Graph Search as they look to use it effectively for their business. For a long time Facebook's search bar has been uncomfortably inadequate; it feels a bit like a book search on an early 2000s university library PC. I always used to end up going back to the shelves armed with the alphabet.

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The announcement of Graph Search is therefore a relief, but as with all Facebook changes large and small, advertisers are now trying to work out where the opportunities are and what problems it will present. Since paid opportunities aren't yet apparent (sponsored results are possible, but aren't new), the focus for now must be on earned activity and a level of basic admin.

Brands will need to ensure they are effectively engaging with their communities to ensure that they feature in individual searches so creative and impactful content will become even more important. Clever marketers will use social data to inform the type of content used within their communities to add relevancy to campaigns.

With that in mind, here are my thoughts on what brands need to do to ensure they are set up for large scale take up of social search by users.

1) Get your house in order

It is important to ensure that your Facebook page is as complete as possible (as is already the case in SEO best practice). Every single field must be filled out; if you aren't categorising yourself, Facebook will make decisions for you or you won't feature at all.

For example, if you are a retailer or restaurant, you should have local pages attached to your main page and remember that as 60% of users access Facebook from a mobile, it is vital to include your real-world address so you can be found by users searching on the move.

2) Start thinking in pictures, minimise links

Only directly shared photos and videos will show in photo and video searches, so minimise links off Facebook for this type of post.

3) Keep building your community

Advertisers have recently taken issue with the newsfeed algorithm changes that resulted in a decline in organic reach. Those who have spent their budgets acquiring fans were beginning to ask what their pages were worth if they weren't able to reach their fans with a simple page post.

Graph Search will boost the value of this community; the more fans you have, the more likely you are to show up in a user's search.

4) Encourage sharing

Search results will be highly personalised, meaning that an identical search will yield different results for you and me. Strong connections between a user and an object will likely be given priority over weak connections, and therefore brands need to think about how they can strengthen the relationship with their fans by encouraging sharing of content from their page.

In the first roll out, Graph Search will only include results according to people, pages, apps, places & groups, but I fully expect this to branch out to include posts and comments in the near future. In the same way that users will be reminded of historical events and actions, brands could start to see historical posts by their fans appearing in search results.

This is great if they are positive, but what about those negative comments you have tried to sweep under the carpet? Another development to watch will be the inclusion of sharing actions off Facebook; if this becomes the case, brands will need to start thinking even more seriously about website social integration.

Provided there is large scale user take up, Graph Search presents a huge opportunity for brands looking to differentiate themselves from the competition, providing they get the basics right. For now, do your page admin and keep building your fanbase: they will be your biggest advantage when Facebook search is mainstream.

Experian Marketing Services' has published predictions for the year ahead across search, mobile and email, as well as what's next for Big Data and an analysis of how the digital revolution has impacted on consumer behaviour. The report can be downloaded here.

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