Facebook Graph Search: Interview with Kelvin Newman

Posted by Julie McNamee on 3 Jul, 2013
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Read our interview with Kelvin Newman on Facebook Graph Search and Facebook privacy issues. On Wordtracker, the leading keyword research tool

We had a chat with Kelvin Newman, presenter of the UK's most popular marketing broadcast and indefatigable organizer of the UK's BrightonSEO free search conference Matters relating to Facebook Graph Search came up, and Facebook privacy issues were thrown in for good measure. Here's the interview ...

Wordtracker: How is Facebook Graph Search going to benefit businesses?

Kelvin: The key to Facebook Graph Search (FGS) is that you get a far more personalized set of results than is possible on Google. So for lots of businesses where a personal recommendation is a big part of the decision-making process it can be very valuable.

So, say I’m looking for hotels in London. Searching on Google will tell me what the best hotels in London are (or their interpretation of that). Whereas on Facebook I can search for hotels in London that my friends have stayed in, or hotels in London that my friends like. Which helps businesses rise up within FGS, and potentially that assessment of what’s best is really good because it tells you what your friends like.

So, for businesses where personal recommendations are important, then FGS has huge potential. Now, what’s important about FGS is that it’s not a search engine in that it returns websites. It’s more of a search engine that presents what is contained within Facebook. So, if you’re not playing within the Facebook ecosystem you’re probably not going to appear in the search results.

So it’s more about how your presence within Facebook will be a little more accessible to the users of Facebook.

Wordtracker: Any tips on how to get seen on the Graph?

Kelvin: The key to appearing in the Graph is that the person searching has some sort of connection to you as a brand, and that can be several steps away.

So it’s all about getting people to connect to you in some shape or form: in most cases that means liking your business page. But it could also mean checking in, for instance.

There are all sorts of new types of connections Facebook are creating. For example, they’ve recently launched the ability to drink a certain drink or eat a certain food, or have lunch, instead of having to check in. Driving these connections to people is really powerful, so it’s all about Facebook marketing and appreciating that the more types of connections a user can send to Facebook about your business the better. It’s all about encouraging interaction, really.

Wordtracker: Do you need people to just like your brand or do you need to provoke more engagement than that?

Kelvin: At the moment there’s an algorithm in place. So say I search for hotels in Paris: there could be 10 results there, just from my friends liking Paris. Facebook uses an algorithm to determine what appears in FGS, and the order the results appear in.

In many cases in Facebook there aren't a lot of results: there’s not the huge amount of competition you have on Google. But where there is competition, the level of engagement is going to be important. In some cases it’s pure volume. So if I’ve got five people who have been to a certain pub, that pub will appear more frequently. It’s not that far-fetched to believe that the algorithm already works like that and will do to a greater extent in future. So it’s a case of which friends are your better friends, or which hotels have had more total check-ins rather than the likes and comments on their news feed.

So it’s not quite there yet, but as competition heats up it’s going to be fair to assume that those types of signals will be important.

Wordtracker: Is Facebook better for customer acquisition or retention?

Kelvin: I think it’s really early days to know in terms of the data, but my gut feel on it all is that it’s going to be about discovery. Where it will change is that there are going to be particular types of search queries that you can't do on Google but you can on FGS, and I think that that’s where the value will be.

Just yesterday, a friend of mine was recruiting for a digital marketing role in Amsterdam. What I did was make a search on FGS for friends of friends who work in Amsterdam who work in internet businesses, and I got results for that.

I can do some of that stuff in LinkedIn already but the ability to do it within Facebook is pretty powerful, particularly because on location (where people live and where people have lived) Facebook have much better data than LinkedIn, and loads better data than Google.

Wordtracker: Are there any privacy issues we should be concerned about?

Kelvin: Like everything with Facebook there is the danger that people don’t know exactly what they’re doing and how public that can be.

There have been lots of examples in FGS: for example, where people have searched for people who work for Google but like Facebook – jokey things like that. Or more malicious ones where people have liked Facebook groups that are a bit unprofessional.

For example, you can search for people who like local government who like UKIP or fans of organizations that they shouldn’t. Things a person in public office shouldn’t be a fan of. Certainly there’s a kind of an education that’s going on there, but in Facebook’s defense they aren’t sharing anything that wasn’t already shared in public. The problem is that people don’t realize that what they’ve said can be made public.

I think there are going to be all sorts of messy, gray areas around what is public and what isn’t, and Facebook are going to be at the heart of that. Not because they’re super-malicious but because they’re the most successful social network. They’re a focus of the criticism because they’ve got so many users and not because they’re doing anything that's much worse than any of the other social networks.

Yes, they perhaps don’t have the "Do No Evil" attitude of other internet companies but I certainly don’t think they’re out to trick anyone. The problem is that the engineers and the people behind Facebook are perhaps more public and far more comfortable about being public than the usual member of the public would be.


That concludes our interview with Kelvin. It's going to be fascinating to see how Facebook Graph Search develops in future, what ingenious methods marketers come up with to discover prospects using it, and how businesses will be able to get themselves seen on it.

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