How to Optimize Facebook for Graph Search

Recently, Facebook completed the roll-out of its Graph Search product to all users. Many people’s first impression (mine included) was that the social signals underlying Graph Search are weak.

For example, I love Indian food. I know of nearly every Indian restaurant in Seattle, Cincinnati, Central Oregon and Western Germany (the places that I’ve lived), yet when I use Graph Search to query Indian restaurants the results are pretty disappointing.

Optimize Facebook for Graph Search

The ambitiousness of Graph Search is accentuated by the gaps in data that appear to exist. When Google scours everything on the Internet they have an overabundance of information, but when Facebook queries Likes and Check-Ins the sample size is decidedly smaller.

There’s a silver lining to this for businesses. Generating social signals on Facebook (Likes, check-ins) may earn you a disproportionate amount of attention through Graph Search.

Here’s why I think this is important: in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger reveals that only 7 percent of word-of-mouth purchases are driven by online recommendations (I looked at the structure of the study he cites, and its a pretty strong study with participants journaling their brand exposure and purchases).

The reason that people are so bullish about the prospect of Graph Search despite its flaws is that Facebook is a network of trusted friends. Presumably, the digital recommendation of trusted friends when presented in a buying context would influence people more than 7 percent of the time.

What I want to do in this post is offer a few tips on how you can build your profile to generate social signals and optimize Facebook for Graph Search.

What is Graph Search?

Graph Search is a mechanism to search all the publicly available content on Facebook. It is a semantic search engine, meaning that you can ask a question or put multiple parameters into a query and theoretically get a relevant return. For example: “Indian Restaurants in Cincinnati that my friends like.”

Users can query by “People I may know,” “My friends,” “Music my friends like,’ “Movies my friends like, “Restaurants my friends have been to,” “Games my friends play,’ “Photos I have liked.” And to add some relevance to weaker searches, Facebook offers an option for a traditional search via Bing. All of these are ancillary features, though. Let’s focus on discovery:

There are three types of social signal that you’ll want to focus on: Likes, Check-Ins and Recommendations. If you do a Graph Search of any category of product, you will find that the top results will have a small abundance of these three signals.

Likes

Facebook Fan Value

How social signals impact Graph Search contribute to a Facebook fan’s value.

An article recently came out in the Guardian newspaper discussing Facebook Like farms, where Bangladeshi workers generate Likes for different businesses. While in aggregate fabricated Likes may seem equal to legitimate ones, for Graph Search they are decidely not equal. For businesses, there is a premium to having local Likes so that you appear in Graph Search results of local people (who would presumably be most likely to buy from you).

There are tons of ways to generate relevant Likes.

Start with employees. Have you invited all of your employees to Like your Page? This is the low-hanging fruit as they have a huge vested interest in your success and each have hundreds of second-degree connections that have a vested interest in their friend’s success.

Mobilize your customers. Do you share a link to your Facebook Page in your email and print correspondence? Do you have any incentives such as coupons, discounts, or giveaways that are strong enough to entice people to Like you on Facebook? Accessibility and incentivization is key. Most people Like very few companies or products on Facebook, so you have to set yourself apart to earn their Like.

Mobilize everyone else. How prominently are you displaying the Like button on your site and in your inbound marketing? Are you using Facebook’s JavaScript trigger buttons conspicuously? Where you can’t use JavaScript (email and written correspondence for an example) do you give the address of your Facebook Page? How powerful are the incentives for a new customer or prospect to Like your business on Facebook?

Check-Ins

It’s simple to enable check-ins on your Facebook Page. Enable check-ins on Facebook in the admins section of your Page by entering the physical address of your business and clicking the “Show this map on my Page” box.

Once check-ins are enabled, then you have to persuade people to check-in. A person can Like you once, but they can check-in an inordinate number of times – so it’s a powerful social signal. Yelp and Foursquare give customers prominent signs to display encouraging check-ins. Since Graph Search is potentially more important than either of those networks, it may make sense to put a sign up.

You could also have client facing employees to encourage people to check-in, or offer an incentive to do so. When I lived in Seattle, Papa Johns had a free bread stick promotion for Foursquare check-ins. I checked in every time I went there (and frankly the bread sticks weren’t that awesome… but they were free).

Recommendations 

Facebook has a newer feature on its desktop and mobile versions allowing users to leave recommendations for businesses both in writing and on a five-star scale. The five-star scale is prominently featured in Graph Search results.

In order to get people to leave recommendations, it’s imperative to ask for their feedback as close to the experience as possible. Ask customers to leave a recommendation before they leave, or sign them up for your email list and link to your Page and encourage a recommendation in your first email greeting.

Because people rarely visit brand Facebook Pages and because most people probably aren’t aware that five-star ratings exist, you have to ask for recommendations. And if you don’t feel comfortable with that, improve your customer experience until you do feel comfortable asking for a recommendation.

One last thing…

Deliberately soliciting social signals from Facebook is a great tactic to improve your visibility in Graph Search results. However, realize that once you show up in a search result people need to be enticed to click on your profile. This means you update your profile pictures, have a lot of useful content, engage folks – generic good housekeeping (Facebook style).

If people begin to search for businesses using Graph Search on a larger scale, building up an inequity of social signals could give your business a qualitative advantage (in other words, you’ll get a big head start). Hopefully this piece described some ways that you can create goodwill for your business and convert it into social signals.

Good luck and happy Graph Searching.

Jim Dougherty is an expert on social media and technology who blogs at Leaders WestFor more marketing advice from Jim, click here.

Image: injelea (Creative Commons)

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