Inspiration for writing columns comes from many places. Sometimes it’s from timely news surrounding companies or new research, and sometimes it’s from something completely benign, like a horse head mask for sale on Amazon.
On Black Friday, one of the fine employees in the office posted that horse head mask on Facebook as his pick of the day for best deal online. As is the case with Facebook and inane items, a few people liked his post and a couple more commented – and suddenly it became a Facebook Sponsored Story being shared with his network. (You can tell he’s a search expert by the witty pun in the copy.) In this model, Amazon is paying for the push of a horse head mask. I’m going to leave the ROI calculation of that alone for the moment.
Instead, let’s think about how Facebook Search might evolve the model, generate a boatload of cash, and still be largely useless to consumers and brands.
Why Facebook Search?
Money. Next question.
Why Would Users Benefit From Facebook Search?
Think about the sheer volume of questions being asked by individuals on a daily basis to their Facebook network, and think about the potential of marrying that hand-raising with more informed responses. For example, you want guidance on the right car or diaper to buy, and your network, via association with brands, surfaces “liked” choices. Or you enter a query into the oft forgotten Facebook toolbar and it would return to you not only people and pages, but ads. There are forms of this already in play with Sponsored Stories, but the explicit association is the next step and could be beneficial to all…maybe.
What Prevents Facebook Search From Working?
There is a mindset around social search that suggests that your friends are highly influential to your decision-making. That’s why you ask for their opinions in the first place. If you go to Facebook versus a comparison shopping engine for reviews, you are prioritizing your network over a network of random opinions. This is why Sponsored Stories include the friend that liked the horse head mask over a standard ad.
But, is your network better than a comparison audience? Facebook is built on the social graph of your friends. The wisdom of that crowd is skewed based on how they became “friends” in the Facebook sense. Most Facebook friends are high school, college, and work connections, which means they may not have opinions worth considering on many topics of interest to me. On a one-off basis, sure, but does knowing two of my friends like a car brand constitute an endorsement worthy of action?
Social search starts with that base, a social network. To steal a concept from Google, it’s not a circle of enthusiasts around a given topic that I am searching for opinions from. Google works in no small part because it is able to algorithmically decipher what is most relevant based on my query. For Facebook Search to work it needs a much heavier dosage of interest graph or it needs to properly align with a true search engine that makes the basis of the process search, and then layers in seamlessly the social component it does so well today.
Anything else and it’s a bit “cart before the horse,” with brands and consumers in search of horse head masks and other queries to feel like the horse’s rear instead.
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