Exciting Retail Possibilities with Facebook Graph Search

Recently, Facebook announced Graph Search, which is a promising way for consumers to discover content, products, brands, and businesses by searching through the likes and preferences of their Facebook friends. The feature is currently in private beta with a waitlist for individuals and businesses. (You can join the waitlist by following this link).

In the coming months the company plans to make Graph Search more widely available. The ability to discover products and brands through the interests of friends has been the promise of social search for years and with Graph Search much of this promise could be realized.

So what are the implications for retailers? It means that retail customers will soon have a powerful tool to discover the products and stores online or near them that are liked by their friends and friends-of-friends.

In order for retailers to prepare for the emergence of this new approach to search, there are a few things to start doing today. A simple rule of thumb is that the more content that gets shared, liked, or commented on through Facebook, the greater the chances of discovery of that content through Graph Search.

Here are three specific things retailers can do right now, which are in accordance with best search marketing and social media practices:

Encourage social signals (shares, comments, and likes)
Shares, likes, and comments appear to be significant drivers of Graph Search results. More specifically, do this at the individual SKU, product, brand, and category levels if possible so that when someone conducts an unbranded search using Graph Search (e.g. “shoe store Seattle” or “frying pan Tampa”) your store’s product listing appears in the results because you encouraged people to like it. Not only do these actions have significant impact on Graph Search results, they are also strong drivers of rankings in organic search (aka SEO) results on Google, Bing, and other search engines.

Enable image sharing
For certain retailers and brands, it’s important to enable and encourage image sharing. The explosion in image sharing activity on Instagram and Pinterest indicates just much people like to share images. For retailers who use product images as part of their merchandising activities, encouraging the sharing of those images is a good thing to do.

Likewise, for retailers who have not used images to merchandise their products in the past, now is a great time to start doing so. Images are the single most popular type of content to be shared on Facebook. It stands to reason that images are something people will search for a lot through the Graph and that will be discovered when they do.

Deploy Open Graph tags
An Open Graph tag is a structured set of information that describes the content on the page that is being liked on Facebook. The tag provides the content owner with the opportunity to package up the information that’s being shared in user-friendly, descriptive, and potentially compelling ways. It also provides valuable information to Facebook about the type of content being shared or liked, which in turn is incorporated into the Graph Search algorithm.

Retailers using Open Graph tags in their content have a better chance for that content to be discovered in Graph Search results when they use these tags – plus the content will look better too.

As Graph Search becomes accessible to tens of millions of Facebook users, the $1 billion question is: “Will consumers use it?” If consumers embrace it, Graph Search has the potential to transform search signals and lead to the dawn of discovery marketing for retailers big and small. But that’s a big “if.” Historically, consumers have been trained to turn to the search engines for this. Changing consumer behavior is notoriously difficult to do.

In the mobile space, it’s a slightly different story. Industry research suggests that many consumers turn to specific mobile apps to conduct “vertical searches.” For example, on an iPhone, consumer might use Yelp to find restaurants, the Weather Channel app for local weather, and Google Maps for directions. It’s in this app environment on mobile devices where Graph Search has the greatest potential to reach critical mass and experience rapid adoption. It’s unclear when this will happen, but it’s doubtful Graph Search will be available for mobile devices in 2013.

The potential for Graph Search is huge, but has to go a long way to be realized. Retailers should be taking steps now to benefit from it as it gets rolled out widely. A simple rule of thumb is that the more content that gets shared, liked, or commented on through Facebook, the greater the chances of discovery of that content through Graph Search.

Ben Straley is vice president, social technologies, at Rio SEO.

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