Facebook Graph Search first impressions

Illustration: Team Credit: Gabriella Fabbri

Krithika Rosenthal

featured contributor

Today, Facebook announced a new feature: “Graph Search.”  But what exactly is it?

Graph search allows users to query on Facebook to find results related to friends and connections.  Here’s how it works:

Graph Search is a different type of search

Graph Search is NOT web search like Google.  Mark Zuckerberg explains: “Graph search is the ability to provide you answers and not links that MAY have the answers.”

The semantic nature of this search functionality does have some merit. Facebook is still not where I would go to search for information. Something Zuckerberg recognizes and therefore includes a web search for those needs.  And this probably bodes well for Bing.  But that said this does present some key opportunities to brands who off late have been begrudgingly accepting the decline in reach and engagement.

While the current feature will not include ads, in the very foreseeable future I see that as a very distinct possibility.

Before I move on to the actual features if the search, I would like to preface that brands on Facebook must optimize content for Graph Search.  Users can search for content and interests that present a tremendous opportunity, organically and paid.

The new Facebook rules

Brands will need to employ a three pronged strategy:


Continue to build an audience (results are based on connections a user has, so it goes to reason a brand with more fans will have greater likelihood of being featured in the results)


Optimize content that could be searched (e.g photos of cats, photos of popular places or iconic monuments. Using such images that people are likely to search for increases the chances of discovery in the results)


Promote the posts (remember, a key piece of this search is whether content searched for is liked by the user’s network. More popular the content the better the chances of being shown)

At this moment, the search information will not be made available to brands or businesses. But it is only a matter of time. In fact, this may well be the first step toward a browser. Ads too will be rolled out in all probability.   Ads such as sponsored stories can only get better with this.

How it works

So here we go with the actual details of the Graph Search.

There are four types of Graph Search.:

People Search

This is similar to the “Find Friend” toolbar that let users find friends by different cities, schools, employers etc.  It has now been relaunched as part of People Search.

As an example of how this works: users can search for Friends in NYC and the list will show them all friends in their social network who live in NYC.  Users can refine the search by gender, age, location, employer,relationship, hometown, current city, school, friendship and name.  This will bring up results that match all the criteria.

Companies can use this to recruit employees. Friends of current employees is a good place to start with recruiting.  Companies and HR can use this to see who are the current employees whose friends are connected to another company. E.g. Employees of NASA Ames Research who are friends with Facebook employees.

Brands can use this to hire prospective employees can leverage this to show a sponsored story when a user searches for a friend by an employer. It is important to encourage employees to fill out the information in their profile so they will show up in the results. This is directed at LinkedIn, to some extent.

Photo Search

Users can search for photos of friends e.g. Photos of friends hiking or Photos of friends who have been to Yosemite Park or Photos I like etc.  Results are based on two factors: proximity and the strength of the friendship.

Proximity – the connection level (first, second – friend of a friend etc.)
Strength of friendship – the closeness of the user and the friend(s) (in terms of interaction)

The two factors indicate why continuing to build fan base and optimizing content supported by paid media is important.

Only content that has been shared with the user will show up in the results i.e. content that is private or limited to only certain friends will not be shown in the search results. Facebook is taking the privacy issue seriously. But all publicly shared content will be shown in the results.

Brands will need to understand that fan base, content optimization and engagement will have to be part of Facebook posts.

When the ads feature for search does roll out, brands will be able to pay for ads to be shown with content that is in the results, similar to Google Adwords or even the existing Facebook Sponsored Stories: for example photos of cats my friend likes could display a sponsored story with cat photo from a cat litter brand that has been liked by friends.

An ad would contain an endorsement of the brand by the users’ friends. I t uses peer influence as the tactic to generate interest and action.

Interest Search

‘Movies friends like’ will show the movies that the users’ closest friends like. There is an option for extended search that will show related content that friends enjoy to help introduce users to join new things.

Brands will have to invest in continuing to build a fan base because search results for a user search such as ‘cat litter my friend likes’ would depend on whether there are enough friends of the user who have liked the brand or the product.

Search results will also drive more likes possibly as users discover brands that friends have liked.

Places Search

This allows users to search by location e.g. Mexican restaurants in Miami that friends like.  The results displayed will be of those Mexican restaurants that are liked by friends.

Facebook search does have an edge over Google’s Search Plus Your World (a product Google rolled out in Jan 2012), which also leverages the social graph in the search results. This is because the people a user may have circled (or “friended” in FB terms) on Google Plus may not be their close friends. Most connections on Facebook tend to be closer relationships and acquaintances in the real world.

The con is that Facebook assumes that a user’s friends will have liked the restaurant page but many local businesses don’t have a Facebook presence and this could incent them to build a presence so they can be displayed in the search results organically. Although, there will be an investment to build the fan base in order to leverage the connections or friends of fans.

Brands should know that this is all about local search.  Brands may be able to target ads in the future based not only on location but also friends’ affinity or likes.  For example, ‘search for nasal allergy relief friends like’ will likely show brands that friends have endorsed.   This should then show what offers are locally available.   Again, for this to happen a brand will need to create and promote an offer.  While this is not available in the current version a future roll out cannot be ruled out.

For those brands that don’t have a Facebook presence and are unwilling to make the required investment will have to go down the advertising lane but without the friend endorsement (a la sponsored stories), it is unlikely that the ad will have as good an impact as one that does.  It will however add to brand awareness and can be used in the long-term to see if that type of Facebook ad drives site traffic and conversion to make an informed decision to launch a dedicated Facebook page.

Please note: similar correlation can still be done between Facebook marketplace ads and the conversion/traffic on site metrics.

What about Bing?

Last but not the least is the Web Search in partnership with Bing. When graph search does not always produce the desired result, Bing’s partnership will provide relevant results via the web. So it is still important for brands to invest in SEO and SEM to be displayed on Bing as with Google.

Graph search is rolled out to some of the users today and will be rolled out eventually to all users. You can take a look here: Facebook Graph Search

Photo Credit


Krithika Rosenthal
Plotting digital domination. In my spare time I work as a Digital Strategist. Love all things #social, #digital and #marketing!