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Facebook’s Graph Search: What’s the value?

Facebook’s Graph Search is the talk of the town but is it a real threat to search offerings by giants such as Google and Microsoft?

Facebook’s move follows Google’s and Microsoft’s to tackle social search, with Google integrating Google+ and search and Microsoft partnering with Facebook to show relevant information on a Bing search page.

The search engine, called Graph Search, will run inside of Facebook and promised to evolve the user experience by making search easier and more in-depth.

While how consumer reaction is yet to be seen, the marketing industry is divided about its value for brands on the social platform.

Rudi Leung, general manager, Tribal DDB Hong Kong and Guangzhou, and director of digital and social for DDB Group, said Graph Search can be a powerful tool for Facebook to keep its users busy but can also “scare people off” liking or sharing posts.

“In the best case scenario, this 2S (search and social) is something I have been hoping Google can crack. So now I believe Facebook will have the upper hand because Google+ is still a ghost town in most markets.”

Leung said the impact will be two-folded – it may become a new form of search behaviour that is uniquely owned by Facebook, and this behaviour can be translated into better targeting advertising inventory within the social network.

“For marketers, don’t get overly excited about pushing targeting ads yet. We should take this opportunity to humbly learn about our customers for more relevant content planning,” he said. “I do hope Facebook won’t push too hard to monetise it too.”

Keith Timimi, chairman of VML Qais, said Graph Search is going to “slowly seep into our digital lives like poison gas”.

“It is pretty obvious off the bat that local businesses are going to really benefit, and they will now have a greater incentive to micro-target customers in their neighbourhoods.”

He added global brands with local outlets will also need to think about their “glocal” strategy, while entertainment companies and content providers will have a bigger incentive to grow their base.

“Ultimately, we can expect to see more Sponsored Search offerings coming out, and a greater pull of media budgets to Facebook buys,” Timimi said.

On the other end of the spectrum, We Are Social’s managing director Simon Kemp said Graph Search’s immediate impact will be very small as its use is limited by searching people, photos, places and interests.

“It seems that this is a product that has been built without any reference to user need,” he said. “At the moment it offers little real utility, and would require a significant change in behaviour for people to start using it.”

But Kemp said if over time Facebook expands the search function beyond its current limits and users warm to it, it could “prove a threat in the long term”.

“This would mean that Facebook’s sponsored result ads would become more relevant for advertisers, and ultimately it would mean that raw fan numbers would be much more important to brands, as to appear in Graph Search results a brand will need to have a friend of the searcher as a fan.

“It would also make it essential for retailers, or any business with physical locations, to maintain Facebook place pages for each of their branches,” Kemp said.

Graph Search digs into the data already on Facebook – billions of profiles and photos and trillions of connections, indexing all the content and allowing users to do a search via the existing search bar on their Facebook page.

Compared to web watch, Graph Search will take particular questions such as, “Japanese restaurants in New York that my friends have been to”, and deliver personalised answers, according to Facebook.

“Most people today don’t think about us as a place to discover places where they could go eat, or things that they could go do, but with this product it’s just so natural to be able to do that,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an official video.

Graph Search is now in closed beta. Users who want to sign up can join the waiting list on Facebook’s website.

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