Nowadays we tend to talk as if Google sees everything we do, as if the Google search engines spider the entire net while we sleep, mining our data for their ad sales. But actually there's a cutout in the Googlesphere, an enormous blind spot where what we do, like and share is hidden from Google- and that's Facebook. In the Facehole-sphere, our billion users' worth of monetizable actions and choices are indexable only by Facebook, and the Zuck has been working on another way to sell that indexing (aka rescue the Like).
Today Facebook announced the beta release of Graph Search, a personalized, "private" social search function within Facebook.
You ask Graph Search a question like "What restaurant in Kansas City do my friends like?" and Graph Search takes you to your friends' content that relates to that question, using your Facebook data. That's social proof. And Facebook wants to monetize the hell out of it- if you doubt that for a second, I saw on my feed you're shopping for a bridge and my friends all like this bridge in Brooklyn.
Facebook needs this new function to complete their Ultimate Monetization Strategy because up to now, Facebook data-mining has mostly addressed the only the top of the funnel.
"Liking" a brand and "building a relationship" with it in the Facebook sphere are about long-term marketing strategy, creating brand awareness by content marketing and social proof. The difference between recognizing a brand frequently surfaced by social discovery and searching with purchase intent is about placement in the funnel- and when someone searches for a restaurant in SF, they're likely to be ready to spend money on dinner.
The lower in the funnel a lead is, the more likely it is to be converted to business.
The idea here is that users with purchase intent will search for a restaurant to eat dinner at on Facebook rather than Google, because the results will be socially mined. But do people want a friend's recommendation, or do they just want the place that got ok Yelp reviews and is right next door to the movie they're going to?
Is the filter bubble the future of search? Is social proof the only way we'll make consumer choices in the future?
Maybe I'm a goddam iconoclast, but as much as I like my friends, I don't value their Yelp review of a taqueria especially more than a stranger's, and I'm not more likely to shop at the Gap because my friends do. (Of course, my friends don't actually shop at the Gap, unless they're having a sale on black jeans.) Zuck and the Zuckflunkies have the usual chatter about just making a better user experience, but we already know Zuck defines a "better user experience" as "Mark Zuckerberg takes all my money and I like it that way."
So what does this mean for businesses?
Is this thing going to take off? Will you finally be able to advertise effectively and invest marketing resources safely on Facebook, once Graph Search is monetized? Guess who doesn't think so: investors.
Why is this rollout not the investor catnip it was supposed to be?
When the social proof marketing land rush is on like Donkey Kong? Because there is a limit to how much we are willing to sell our souls to get timeline views of our posts, and a limit to how much we want to do online, and Facebook is constantly underestimating those limits.
For example, last year my partner took me to Rome. At parties, we asked our friends if they had any recommendations for Rome. It wasn't because we wanted to use that data to make consumer choices. I'd already booked our hotel rooms by aggregating only the most recent reviews from three travel sites. It was because we wanted to see our friends' faces light up when they told us stories of their experiences, and let their hope and memory and pleasure color our anticipation. Viewing their "Like" icons wouldn't be the same at all.
When will we know the value of Facebook for businesses?
What is the value of a Like? Wired predicts "Facebook’s income will not explode as Google’s did 12 years ago when it debuted AdWords contextual advertising." Experts simply can't parse how disruptive social proof marketing will be in the next year.
And finally, there's little information about how Facebook will colonize the crucial area of mobile- although this article, released today, tantalizes. We'll keep you up to date as the situation develops, and hope that business, users and Zuck can all benefit, without anyone having to take their ball and go home.