Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Facebook Introduces a New Search Tool for Status Updates & Comments

Facebook has taken another step to challenging Google for search engine dominance. Earlier this year, we learned from Business Insider that Mark Zuckerberg believes that Facebook has a bigger database than Google. Zuckerberg's stated goal has been to make Facebook "more than any search engine," by sharing information from billions upon billions of status updates and shared photos.

Until now, this information has been hard to find. Despite the lofty intentions of Facebook's search engine, Graph Search, most users have simply scrolled through endlessly loading pages to find past updates or comments.

But yesterday Facebook introduced a new search tool that allows users to easily find past status updates, comments, and other bits of information posted by themselves and their friends. At the same time, much to the delight of seemingly every Facebook user, Facebook has stopped showing Bing results in its searches. As Rueters reported last week:

"Searches on Facebook have long been geared toward helping users connect with friends and to find other information that exists within the walls of the 1.35 billion-user social networking service. But for years, Facebook’s search results also included links to standalone websites that were provided by Bing."

The inclusion of Bing's results might have been more about the relationship between Facebook and Microsoft--and less about user experience. As Rueters notes:

"Facebook and Microsoft have a longstanding relationship dating back to Microsoft’s $240 million investment in Facebook, for a 1.6 percent stake in the company, in October 2007. As part of that deal, Microsoft provided banner ads on Facebook’s website in international markets.

Facebook stopped using Microsoft banner ads in 2010 as it moved to take more control of its advertising business. But Facebook, during that same time, expanded its use of Microsoft Bing search results to international versions of its service."

Have you used Facebook's search to access any information outside of Facebook?

In our own anecdotal questioning of friends and family, no one remembers using Facebook search for the web at large. Instead, for web-based queries, most have turned to Google. In our estimate, by focusing acutely on its own results, Facebook has certainly enriched the user experience.

And this seems to be the true story here. Most articles about this change have focused on Facebook's disavowal of Bing, but for us the story is about Facebook's new insular-style search.

How will this style of search challenge Google for dominance?

The answer to this question is not entirely clear. Facebook's ultimate search goal will take years to develop, yet you can see inklings of its style now, in Graph Search and the News Feed. Both attempt to deliver accurate results based on feedback and previous habit patterns. And undoubtedly, like Google, Facebook will teak its algorithm to deliver better results.

But again, if these results are limited to the Facebook experience, how can Search Graph possibly compete with Google?

Whatever Facebook's long term ambitions, coupled with its recent decision to "crack down" on overly-promotional posts, the new search experience will certainly change the social landscape for brands. More then ever, to be relevant on Facebook, a brand must inspire conversation.

Facebook users do not want to be talked to. People are attracted to social media because of the engagement. Successful brands understand that customers are friends, too.  If you're a brand, then, try to be a part of the conversation. On your own page, especially, respond to all inquiries with sincerity, compassion, and timeliness. Talk to your "followers." And definitely do not treat your followers like followers. Treat them like friends.


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