FBGraph_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


Your small business’s Facebook page is about to need a makeover.


Graph Search, the social network’s new internal search engine, is aiming to take away some of Google’s dominance by tapping into information that’s more personal to its one billion-plus users. The key question: Will people trust their friends more than the links Google’s search algorithm produces?


The new element is slowly being rolled out—so far, about five percent of users have access. But an early look at the technology shows why it may be a powerful tool for small businesses. Graph Search harnesses information that real people take their own time to post, identifying themselves along the way with the things that make them happy. The results could lessen the value of strangers’ opinions on service-review sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, Zagat, or TripAdvisor. After all, who would you prefer to listen to for advice about a business, an anonymous poster or a friend you’ve known since the sixth grade?


Think of Graph Search like this:


I’ve lived in my town for just a few years and I’ve come to rely on the advice I get from my hair stylist. Tiffany is not only a small business owner and wizard with color charts, she has always steered me right about other local things, like finding a reliable mechanic and the difference between October’s annual beerfest and brewfest (skip the beerfest).


Tiffany is also a Facebook friend of mine. When I recently got access to the Graph Search beta, I tested it with a question I might otherwise pose to her: I was seeking a pediatric chiropractor. The top result was a nearby office’s Facebook page—and there was Tiffany’s little profile picture below it. That’s because she became a fan of the chiropractor’s page, giving it her virtual recommendation. This is where my real and digital worlds collided.


What else can you now see?


From the new search prompt, once you type something like “People Who Like…” followed by the name of any business on Facebook, it opens a window into the profiles of everyone with that shared affinity, not just your friends. If that affinity happens to be you and your small business, you’ll see a scrolling list of all of the customers who consider themselves your fans, complete with other things they say they like, such as tastes in music, organizations, or what they watch on TV. You can even see if they have some affection for your competitors. One step further: Try typing in “People Who Visited…” followed by the name of your business and you’ll see who has checked in after saying they’ve come through your door. Within these lists should be the clues you need to figure out how to get these clients more engaged with your social media—and by extension, your business—and to become more visible to their friends, and potential new customers.


FBGraph_PQ.jpgThere are also going to be major questions about privacy, as with anything involving the massive social network. One example: A search of “People Who Work at XYZ Café” would bring up the profiles of any employee who identified themselves on Facebook as being part of that business. Paul Crossman, a marketing specialist for social media at Cybermark International, says the new search exposure could shed unwanted light on employees’ postings, particularly if it’s offensive material or conflicts with the company’s mission. One other interesting tool: Change the search terms to “People Who Used to Work at XYZ Café”, and the ranks of former employees pop up. (Check out this spot-on thinkpiece about privacy and other hurdles facing social search.)


It all could dramatically expand a business’s footprint on Facebook. Here are a few early tips from the pros about Facebook Graph Search optimization:


Make a Facebook profile, even if you don’t intend to use it. Local searches are going to bring up your business whether you like it or not. Take the time to make sure your URL is right, the phone and physical addresses are accurate, and you’re listed as being in the right industry. Even some old-school shops generate dozens of likes in some cases, outranking tech-savvy newbie competitors in small markets. Plus, claim your stake so that a hacker (or rogue competitor) can’t hijack it.


Fill in all of the blanks, the more the better. Make sure your “About” section is completely and accurately filled out, with all of the pertinent details and SEO-friendly search terms. “The more check boxes you have checked as a small business means the better chance you have of showing up in results,” says Cappy Popp, a principal and co-founder of Boston-based Thought Labs, a social media strategy advisory group.


Location data is very important. Like the hyper-local search that Google, Yahoo, and other giants are pressing, Facebook Graph Search—and the social network’s advertising setup—will be targeting even the smallest businesses—the enterprises that users see every day. A search for something like “Italian Restaurants Nearby My Friends Like” or “Flower Shops in North Jersey” will show the spots closest to users, so getting your business on Facebook’s map will be crucial. If your business has multiple locations, now’s the time to consider claiming and setting up a page for each of them and adding relevant information like each location’s hours of operation. That way, consumers can find individual locations in Graph Search results, rather than just your brand or main location page.


Likes will matter more, and so will check-ins. Under Graph Search, Popp says Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm for users’ news feed will calculate the timing of fans’ engagement a bit differently. While the equation once favored the reaction to the most recent content, now “likes” will never go away. “If I do a search on ‘Restaurants My Friends Like,’ the results of that will stay static forever,” Popp says. “The more likes you can get as a small business means, by far, you have a better chance of showing up in those search results.” So encourage people to like your Facebook fan page in your physical store and encourage them to also check in. Provide online coupons (through Facebook) that if they like your fan page, they get a certain percentage off their next visit.


Engaging content will remain paramount. The formula won’t change for what draws people to your social media offerings. Frequent posts of relevant and attention-getting information, photos, and offers are the lifeblood of Facebook for small businesses. The more your fans interact with your business on Facebook by liking, commenting on, and sharing your posts, the higher your EdgeRank score will become. And the higher your score, the more likely you are to show up in your fans' news feeds. By taking a look at the newly displayed interests of your fans, it will be easier than ever to see what might draw them to your business. For instance, Kate Dinkel of Cybermark suggests taking a look at the musical interests of your followers. If you notice a number of them are Beatles fans, why not play the Fab Four in your shop? Is there a band that many of them like that is coming to your town? Get tickets and run a contest for your customers. “I think it will be more about content now,” Dinkel says. “You need to be sure that each individual post has positive feedback. It’s also going to be better for promotions—and you’ll be better able to see what your clients really want and you can gear those promotions toward that.”


Think a lot about privacy, too. Access to this new treasure trove may be a delicate thing for some customers. Privacy settings on Facebook are always evolving and many users take months or years to adjust to their comfort level. So just because you have access to all of this new information doesn’t mean you’re now best pals with the fellow who stops in to your shop once a month. Over-familiarity can be killer and cost you a fan, and a customer. Keep the long view of what your demographic is—that’s what the “Graph” part is all about.