GUEST POST: Facebook Graph Search: How Will it Affect Local Businesses

Social media has blurred the lines between the online and the offline worlds and the influence of web 2.0 properties is growing exponentially. Social is also having a profound effect on search, with Google+ arguably leading the way in this regard. However, one exciting newcomer to the arena is Facebook’s recently-announced Graph Search function.

But what is this and more importantly, how will it affect local businesses?

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Following on the back of its Timeline function, Graph Search is a tool that in its simplest form lets you navigate the vast amount of information contained within yours and your friends’ Facebook network – and beyond. By using the connections between you, your friends, and brands and businesses they like – Facebook’s Graph Search allows you to receive personalised search results from a range of sources.

For instance, you can find the best place to buy insurance, a local tradesman or restaurant and connections on your friend’s networks that meet certain criteria (e.g. ‘friends of friends who are single’). This roll-out could have wide-ranging implications for both brands and local businesses once it reaches the public domain – offering you an online version of word-of-mouth recommendations.

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While graph search certainly has the potential to affect big-name brands, its biggest ramifications could be for local companies. Social endorsements are set to become a relevant metric that will influence how much traffic is directed your way through Facebook and some Graph searches may lead directly to your page on the network.

Pre-Graph Search, finding information (e.g. shared interests or restaurants your friends recommended) was an arduous process, involving a lot of manual searching. Facebook’s new function aims to do away with this and provide users with relevant and instantly-useable information. So searching for ‘dentists’ will no longer point you to a batch of bland brand (or group) pages – and instead show local (and if possible recommended) practices.

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Given the opportunities for promotion presented by the roll-out, it’d be a good idea to get your foot in the door and sign up for the beta. Once in, you can optimise and evaluate how your company will appear in search results. As with much of social media, it’s worthwhile vetting your content to ensure this and other rich media (i.e. photos and videos) are easy to find while searching.

You’ll also want to provide as much relevant information as possible, so make sure every aspect of your page is packed to the brim with product descriptions, opening hours and details of your main website.

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While chain brands with multiple locations will have to re-evaluate their marketing via Facebook, Graph Search presents unparalleled opportunities for local businesses willing to engage and promote themselves. Given the rise of mobile, on-the-go searching – companies that accrue social recommendations on the platform are set to reap the rewards of their hard work.

It’s also worth noting that Facebook will continue to co-opt Microsoft’s Bing search engine with its new product – certain Graph searches will return results that trigger web searches. This means if you’re not already optimising for Bing, now might be the ideal time to invest.

Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way to attract endorsements from your desired demographic. But if you abide by the key tenets of social media marketing, optimise well and engage with users, you’ll be in a significantly better position than competitors that fail to take advantage of this exciting new opportunity.

This article was brought to you by Gerald Heneghan on behalf of Custard, a bespoke PR and social media agency, offering a range of on and offline marketing services.

Image used courtesy of Shutterstock

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