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Facebook, Search and the best way to probe your connections

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
17 September 2012

As most of marketers will know, the world of search and social media are becoming more and more intertwined every day. As an agency with a long heritage in both, we at Tamar are more than aware of the integration of the two – ensuring our social campaigns have maximum search benefit has been one of our key aims with clients for several years now. And the impact that social media has on both search results and the ‘reputation’ of your brand (as seen by search engines) is evident to everyone, so it’s also one of our key focuses when it comes to integration.

However, whilst the world of search and social are moving closer and closer to becoming one discipline, there is a very ironic and unfortunate issue which all marketers need to be aware of: Namely, the ability to actually SEARCH on social media sites is woefully poor. Facebook and Twitter both utilise notoriously buggy search algorithms for their internal site search, and the limitations this present for people hoping to mine the data of the masses are obvious.

So why is this, and why don’t the social networking giants seem to care about it? And how CAN you harness your social connections for insight – aside from just asking for it, of course…

Thankfully, whilst the social platforms themselves don’t seem at all bothered (apart from trying to monetize their current search results – something that both Twitter and Facebook have implemented recently), other brands and sites are trying to make headway in the space.

One of the sites currently making a lot of noise is Trove, a search engine which integrates with Facebook to search through the data from your friends and connections – well, that’s what their blog says. Despite only 400 people having signed-up (according to the “how many people installed this app” info on Facebook) they appear to be queueing users before giving them access, so I’ve not actually been able to try it yet! But the promises being made are impressive – and what it does is actually less of the point.

Here’s how SearchEngineLand described it:

“After you’ve connected your Facebook account, Trove scans the content associated with your account — your own updates, links and photos, plus those posted by your friends — to build its searchable index. When it’s done, you end up with a way to search back through all that content (well, at least what’s allowed by Facebook’s API) to find links, images, names, and more.”

All sounds very impressive, and certainly very useful – especially if you’ve got a large number of friends and connections. But sadly it doesn’t solve the bigger issues lacking in Facebook’s own search engine – namely, the ability to actually find pages you need. If you’ve ever seen an advert for a brand with a nameless, text-less Facebook logo on it (like the one seen on the right) you may have come to realise just how hit-and-miss it can be – with sponsored results possibly making that even worse in a lot of cases.

So why do Facebook not consider this an important enough issue to address themselves? Sadly, the answer is almost certainly ‘money’ – or more specifically, there is no financial incentive for them to do so. Now that they’ve incorporate sponsored results in to their search engine, Facebook will doubtless move their ‘improvements’ focus onto other areas. Unlike Google where search is the main USP of the site (meaning a constant improvement cycle is a must to avoid losing visitors), Facebook search has never been something the site has pushed. So unless users start leaving in their millions (highly unlikely), OR one of their competitors announce a major improvement to their own search, Facebook are unlikely to address the issue any time soon…

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