What Reviews Sites Need to Do to Prepare for Facebook’s Graph Search

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313585-facebook-logo-fIt’s well known that reviews, ratings, and recommendations are a major factor in driving consumer decisions. People put more weight behind reviews that come from those with similar interests (favorite foods, activities, etc…) and demographics (gender, age, number of kids). Sourcing friends or people you know to provide advice holds even more weight when it comes to personalization and has an added benefit of trust.

This is what makes the concept of Facebook’s new Graph Search so powerful. I recently noticed Facebook had made Graph Search available to me, and, as CEO of a reviews site, I started testing out the place search function to see how our sites could be impacted and identify ways to leverage Graph Search to improve our engagement.

First, I searched for nearby restaurants.  I was in Kirkland, Wash., where I know there are over three dozen eateries — but instead got a listing for Seattle and one place in nearby Bellevue. Lunch was out of the question, but the results were close enough to meet my wife for dinner on my way home.  Next I set the filter to places my friends had visited and “liked”.  The top results were mostly places I consider good.  I then remembered my wife would be picking up our son early so I typed in “kid-friendly restaurants,” which gave me a web search of Bing results without a relevant suggestion.  Then I typed in “vegetarian restaurants.” No Luck.

Facebook Graph Search Restaurant Results

So I started a new search. Since we’re planning a trip to Hawaii I was curious to see what restaurants my friends would recommend.  I changed the city in “refine search” to “Honolulu”.  No results even though I know that two dozen of my 227 friends have been there.

Facebook Places Graph Search No Results

Graph Search is limited to eateries, attractions, hotels, shopping, and a few other categories. Although I was impressed with what I saw on the initial search, when it came down to answering my queries, it would have been much faster for me to use a typical reviews site or Google. But knowing that this is a beta launch, and knowing Facebook’s execution record (and that it can’t really ignore the local search market), here’s how I believe Graph Search will change, and what local sites should do:

1. Continue to focus on your niche, especially if it happens to be a certain vertical or data element. There’s a reason why Google bought Zagat and Frommer’s. To make Graph Search for places relevant quickly, Facebook is going to need to integrate with established services that have rich content (listings and reviews). Examples that come to mind are Urbanspoon for eateries (or Yelp but I think there’s too much direct competition), Avvo for Lawyers, Zillow for Real-estate Agents, ZocDoc for Doctors, etc… Facebook has a large number of “likes” on places, but lacks reviews. While it’s easier for a user to “like” a place than to give a rating and write a two-sentence review, the review leads to more context and better personalization.

The Verge’s Ellis Hamburger recently wrote about that he is less apt to give “likes” to businesses, in order to avoid getting bombarded by a places updates in his newsfeed.  I agree, just because I “like” a restaurant does not mean I want to hear from them each week on the newest menu item. This is another reason for Graph Search to start using other data sources.

2. Hyperlocal reviews sites should invest in Facebook integration, to engage their user’s Facebook friends and gain distribution. At this time, Graph Search doesn’t seem to be pulling as much content as it can from friends’ timelines. Pulling content from prior posts into Graph Search would beef up the experience and could get a third party brand attribution and distribution. Of course Facebook would have to balance privacy issues as it does this. Services that make it super easy (with one click or less) for users to share reviews and content on Facebook will be well positioned. Developers can even include standard copy that encourages engagement on the source site.

Tripadvisor Facebook Friends Activity3.  The Facebook Graph API, and its unique content, should be leveraged by hyperlocal reviews sites to give their users a better experience. As Facebook makes more objects available (particularly place-related) in their Graph API, developers will be able to engage their audience in new ways. Tripadvisor has been doing this for over a year.  A user who has signed into Tripadvisor via Facebook will see friends activity near the location searched for, reviews from friends from places at the location being searched, and who has been there (This is how I found 2 dozen Facebook friends who’ve been to Honolulu). They’ve even incorporated this into email campaigns.

Do you think Graph Search will impact the way your business operates?  Share your thoughts with a comment below.

Ali AlamiAli Alami is the Interim CEO of Judy’s Book and KidScore, local search and review sites that connect families with local places.  Follow him on twitter @alialami