Is search marketing Facebook’s end goal?

Facebook’s June 20 new product announcement is gathering a lot of curiosity by the technology business world. We are all in anticipation over what Facebook will release and how we think it will affect the lives of Facebook users, which now account for 1 in 7 people across the planet. Early indicators based on code released by Facebook point to some form of an RSS tool.

From a user functionality point of view, a feature with RSS feed could be a new channel to find information, or track trending topics within Facebook. Similar to how Reddit has built a very successful aggregator of information through user submitted and promoted content, Facebook could potentially optimize its News Feed to include trending topics amongst Facebook users. Recent interface changes would also support this theory. For example, Facebook has added nested comments making it easier to for users to have conversations based on comments as is popular in Reddit.

Other changes within the Facebook interface seem to point in the direction that Facebook is working on a much larger goal. It would appear that Facebook has their sights set on becoming a player in the search marketing business. It started with the introduction of the Open Graph, as Facebook opened their walled garden to include objects that exist outside of the Facebook network. Then they rolled out Graph Search, which makes it much easier to search socially for things like “songs my friends like” or “restaurants my friends like.” We’ve also recently seen the addition of interactive hashtags, making it possible to search for trends and other popular topics.

From a business standpoint, it begs the question: Who should be worried about these changes? Google and Twitter have the most to lose should Facebook successfully enter the search game. In the short term, Twitter has the most at risk. Hashtags in Facebook are a clone of Twitter’s most popular feature and Facebook already has the larger network of users. If Facebook users quickly adopt hashtags, it could have an immediate impact on those Twitter users who use the service primarily to track trends.

In the long term, Google will need to keep an eye on Facebook as advertisers look for digital advertising options. Today, Google still dominates the direct response market, especially in key categories like retail and travel based on implied behavior from keyword intentions. For example, someone who uses the “Samsung Galaxy” is most likely looking to either buy the latest Samsung Galaxy phone or they are looking to research the product. Facebook’s Open Graph Search has the potential to be more accurate than keyword intention. Instead of searching just for a keyword, consumers can tap their social network for purchasing advice via searches like “what smartphones do my friends use” or “where is the best site to buy a smart phone?” Google+ already shows that Google is playing the defensive as they try to build up a social network to supplement keyword data with social demographics.

At the end of the day, Facebook, Google, and Twitter all run on the same advertising business model. The company that will succeed will be the one who can deliver the best relevance between consumer and advertiser. If Facebook can put together a search engine that enables a more natural way to find information via searchable web behavior based on Open Graph data, it will attract the big advertising budgets that currently flow primarily to Google. 

Joe McCormack has more than a decade of digital marketing experience and currently serves as the CEO of Adotomi, a Facebook PMD. Joe sits on the board of directors at multiple technology companies and is a long-time expert on the advertising technology industry. Adotomi is a Social Advertising Technology company which works with some of the biggest brands, developers and agencies in the world including SodaStream, OMD, Konami, Playtika, and Wix.

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