) began the official rollout of its Graph Search feature, which
many Facebook users have been using in beta version since late
winter. The new feature allows a person to put together queries
such as "friends who like Radiohead" or "friends who have been to
Alaska," and brings up results from information that's been shared
by Facebook users.
Mark Zuckerberg has said that Graph Search is different from Web
search because it fulfills a different need for Internet users. He
has called it the site's third pillar, after Timeline and Newsfeed.
In a news release, two Facebook executives who introduced Graph
Search on the site
: "Graph Search and Web search are very different. Web search is
designed to take a set of keywords (for example: 'hip hop') and
provide the best possible results that match those keywords. With
Graph Search you combine phrases (for example: 'my friends in New
York who like Jay-Z') to get that set of people, places, photos or
other content that's been shared on Facebook. We believe they have
very different uses."
The new search employs Facebook's vast scale of user data and
further illustrates how varied and specific the social network's
information database is. Here's the question, though: Is Graph
Search actually useful? To be more specific, will it enrich user
experience? Will it help advertisers gain more exposure for their
products? Will it help Facebook continue its quest to fully
capitalize on its wealth of data? The responses to these questions
are wide and varied, but essentially all draw attention to the fact
that Facebook is still growing into its role as a relationship
network, and many of those relationships have the potential to
become more and more lucrative for the company and the advertisers
who use its social matrix.
Janel Bailey, CEO of Xenos Hospitality in Georgia, thinks the
social network's new search feature is less about sales than about
building relationships, which can, in turn, influence sales. Xenos
has been developing a statewide portal for Georgia to promote small
business through local search, and as part of its research, its
looked into how consumers use Facebook.
"Facebook was not born to be a search engine. It is a relationship
network. Facebook values its company based on the hypothetical
value of its users and uses this 'value' to hook advertisers in an
attempt to monetize its business model," Bailey told Minyanville
via email. "However, our research proves that consumers who are
ready to buy do not use Facebook (or any social network for that
matter) to search for products."
Phil Rooke, CEO of the e-commerce platform Spreadshirt, agrees. As
he wrote in an article for Econsultancy, "Quite frankly, Facebook
has been underwhelming for sales generation."
However, according to both Bailey and Rooke, what Facebook is
useful for is allowing companies to build and reinforce brand
messages in relation to their customers. As Rooke says, "The
relationship in Facebook is not about boosting sales figures, but
building a fan base."
Whereas users can play with Graph Search out of curiosity or to
find friends with similar interests, advertisers can use it and
similar apps, like Facebooks's Mobile App Install Ads tool, to
target specific demographics for their products.
Andrew Schrage of
explains to Minyanville, "Better targeting does mean better sales,
and with the vast amount of data available on Facebook, there is
definitely the opportunity to capitalize - and Facebook seems to be
Schrage also cites recent research demonstrating that "Sponsored
Story" mobile ads are clicked on 13 times more than even
traditional advertisements designed for desktop viewing, earning 11
times more money.
There's also new scientific research that suggests a psychological
link between Facebook use and spending more money online. Andrew
Stephen of the University of Pittsburgh and Keith Wilcox of
Columbia University have been observing through experiments and
surveys how Facebook affects the consumption behavior of users.
They've found that social media can have measurable affects on
judgment and decision-making.
As Wilcox told NBC News last November, "Simply browsing Facebook
makes people feel better about themselves and momentarily enhances
their self-esteem. It's that enhanced self-esteem that ultimately
lowers your self-control." It goes like this: "I am in a good mood,
people like me, I like people, I deserve a treat." Or maybe treats.
In the same interview, Stephen said, "People who use Facebook more
tend to have a higher body-mass index, increased binge eating,
carry more credit card debt, and have lower credit scores." Of
course this should be taken with a grain of salt, as it came from a
survey of 541 American Facebook users.
One of the experiments Wilcox and Stephen employed had people
either browse the Internet or use Facebook for five minutes. Then
all subjects took part in an online auction for an
) iPad. People who had spent more time on Facebook, and notedly,
had a higher percentage of close friends on the social network,
entered higher bids than the people who only browsed the Internet.
Makes you wonder how someone would bid if he or she hadn't been
using a computer at all.
Though Stephen and Wilcox only included Facebook in their research,
the same consumption-heightening effects are presumably at work on
other similar social networks like
), and Twitter as well.
As Stephen explained, "It's the strong connection that really
triggers this boost in self-esteem which has this commensurate
reduction in self-control." Facebook's entire business relies upon
strong connections between friends who share information, between
friends and musicians, movies, places, organizations, and products
. Hence, the relationship network.
Graph Search is simply the newest tool that's both enhancing and
harnessing the millions upon millions of relationships that make up
Facebook. It's social impact is not yet clear, but as far as making
money goes, Graph Search appears to be worth its salt -- and then
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