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Will Facebook’s Upcoming Search Engine Offer New International Marketing Opportunities?

in Education and Training, Market Research, Retail and Ecommerce

In recent months, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been openly discussing the potential for a Facebook search engine.  As he explains, Facebook is uniquely positioned to provide the best search results for certain types of queries.  While Facebook may not want to compete head-to-head with Google when it comes to indexing and crawling the web (just ask Bing), Facebook’s tremendous wealth of social data may actually provide the basis for a new type of search engine.

As Zuckerberg explains – while a list of results like those offered by Google’s search engine may be appropriate when users are doing background research on a topic, looking for news, or trying to find web content – it’s actually not the best format for answering subjective user questions – a function that Google has come to take in our daily lives.  How many times have you “asked” Google about the best sushi in your city, for interesting things to do on a slow weekend, for the hot nightspots in your city, a place to getaway for the weekend, or even just for some new tunes?  With a massive database of candid details on our relationships, demographics, habits, interests, and much more – a Facebook search engine may be revolutionary in terms of recommending products, services and experiences based on the recommendations of your peers – rather than on the strength of a webpage’s links.

Social Search

Perhaps an example can better illustrate this point.  If a user wants to know a great local place to eat sushi, do they want a map dotted with local sushi restaurants and a smattering of reviews and random articles – which is what you would currently get with Google – or would they prefer a short list of carefully filtered recommendations based on the likes and experiences of a friend with similar tastes/interests?

Here’s another example of where a Facebook search engine could really excel:  say you want to plan a vacation and you want to look up potential vacation destinations.  By analyzing vacation photo albums, “likes” of certain destinations, actual comments and status updates regarding recent vacations, and analyzing your relationships (a destination favored by your best friend or significant other, for example, is likely more relevant than a destination favored by a co-worker with whom you have no online social interaction) – a sophisticated algorithm could leverage this data to identify relevant recommendations – results that are much more relevant than those provided by Google’s current search model.

The result would be a search engine that can answer subjective questions – not based on the strength of a webpage’s links – (the primary way Google currently ranks results) – but based on the actual recommendations of other people you trust, as well as people who share your likes and interests.  The trick of course, is creating the incredibly sophisticated algorithm capable of intelligently filtering these millions of data points and sorting them in a way that truly reflects real life recommendations and preferences.

What Opportunities Will This Offer For International Marketing?

A Facebook search engine will likely show results as an organic mashup of content shared and liked by Facebook’s users.  It might have elements of social proof associated with it – perhaps  listing your friends who enjoyed the product/service, showing photos from their experiences, or displaying old status updates that are relevant to your query.

At this stage speculating on specific methods and techniques would be futile, we can certainly point to broad trends that international marketers should be aware of.  We can even draw clues from Google’s attempts to integrate social factors into their search engine results, with their search plus your world program for Google+ users.

If Facebook does launch a search engine – and all signs point to this occurring in the relatively near future – the value of a social marketing strategy will be significantly higher than it is even now.  A successful Facebook search engine would combine the value of appearing first in targeted user queries – currently associated with ranking high in Google – with the relevancy provided by social data and the trustworthiness of social proof currently associated with the random likes/photos/status updates found on your Facebook newsfeed.  For certain types of queries, this will mean results that are more targeted –  and for international marketers – all the more valuable.

If you’re a hotel in China looking to attract more tourists from Australia for example, can you imagine the value of showing up as a search result that has been previously “liked” or been visited by a close friend?  What if pictures of that friend enjoying themselves at your hotel shows up in the search results?  While Social Media is already a well-established channel for generating organic interest, the introduction of a Facebook search engine would transform social media into a channel that puts your business directly in front of individuals in “buy” mode.

Growing Clout

For those looking to prepare themselves for future marketing opportunities, it means that a strong social strategy that encourages users to like and share your content is more important than ever.  It means that social media will be about more than organically growing your loyal customer base. It will also be about showing up for targeted search results.   More specifically, generating social activity in new international markets will be key to ranking within those markets in a Facebook search engine.

For companies already creating great content and pushing it forward with a strong social strategy in their target markets, an upcoming Facebook search engine means that the incentive to invest further is greater than ever.  For companies that are more focused on SEO than on growing their Social Media following, this news is another signal that a long term investment in social media will be a key to growth and survival throughout the next decade and beyond.

Author Bio:

Nat is a blogger and SEO for WhoIsHostingThis – an Alexa top 10k web property. Nat’s writing focuses on social media, search engine marketing, and technology.

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