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After a long beta test, Graph Search is finally available to all Facebook’s members in the U.S. The tool has mostly gotten buzz for giving people intriguing, and frequently hilarious, new insights into the people they’ve connected with on the social network. However, with heavy scrutiny on its financial performance as a public company, Facebook likely won’t be spending much time developing fluff features.

Now that the tool is available for all Facebook members, what does it mean for brands? Here’s a breakdown of what your business can and can’t expect out of Graph Search, and how to prepare for the feature to play a bigger role in your Facebook activity.

Current Capabilities

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Right now, gleaning a better understanding of the audience is one of the best uses brands can make of Graph Search. You can conduct queries about the details of a Page’s fans, which means a business could see things like a list of its followers who Like a certain musician, live in a specific town, or who are currently single.

These searches can show the composition of your Facebook audience or help you determine what those people might best respond to in an upcoming campaign. Rather than conducting formal market research, the in-depth analysis offered by Graph Search can help your company craft the direction of your social media projects.

Are you deciding on a music genre to accompany your new ad? Check out the general feeling about pop, country, or opera among your followers. Are you entering talks with a popular young actor to serve as a spokesperson? See what the women following your Page think of him. Are you considering sponsoring a major sporting or arts event? Crunch the numbers on how visible that partnership will make your business to potential new fans.

Another option with Graph Search is to get more detailed information about your available products. If there are brand Pages for your merchandise, keep tabs on the demographics of the people who Like them. Using the information from Graph Search to better understand who your followers are is essential to continue delivering the social content they appreciate.

Current Limitations

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Keep in mind that while this tool does have the ability to parse a huge volume of information, its success is still dependent on the data being provided by Page owners, whether that’s individuals or brands. Even though you can get a fascinating snapshot of a Facebook demographic through Graph Search, its results cannot be 100% accurate.

To this end, another important limitation with Graph Search is the response among some of Facebook’s members. Some people have voiced concerns about how the feature will relate within the framework of Facebook’s privacy restrictions. It is entirely possible that a sizable chunk of Facebook’s user base will restrict their data that appears in Graph Searches. The network has three levels of protection on personal information to choose from: one where information is restricted just to the user, one that only gives the user’s friends access, and one the makes information public for any readers. Obviously, this will somewhat curtail how full a picture Graph Search can present.

Just be aware as your brand starts exploring the tool that it can provide useful intel, but is not a definite answer to the query entered. Consider it a supplement to your other social marketing tools. The results of Graph Search can still improve your understanding of both your current and your desired audience.

Prepare Your Page

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As a company, make sure that you have all the sections of your profile filled out correctly, including your type of business. Not only do these categories appear on your profile, but they are a major component of what queries your brand appears in through Graph Search. Be accurate in these choices, but also keep in mind what likely search topics your business overlaps with. One general topic and one specific one will cover most of your bases. For instance a bar that specializes in wines and also serves snacks might want to identify as both a restaurant and a wine bar.

Another important idea to consider in planning for the increased use of Graph Search is how Facebook’s members will be using it. Much of the initial interest is simply in the novelty of a new feature and the fun of sleuthing about your friends, but it seems unlikely that this is all Facebook intended for its use. The type of searches available through Graph Search may be positioning the tool as a more direct competitor to Yelp. If that is in fact the case, potential customers could be searching for where they’ll have dinner that night, or what accountants their friends Like.

To be ready for that use, your brand’s Page should be able to serve the dual roles of social engager and customer review site. Enabling the Recommendations feature lets people leave starred reviews as they do with Yelp. This does unlock the same set of risks and rewards as you’ll find on Yelp, but if you’re able to leverage a base of dedicated fans, this can help your business look more appealing to potential customers.

For a visual look at what you can do to ensure the best results for your brand, check out this infographic about how to optimize your Page for the new feature.

Looking Forward

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At this early stage, Facebook doesn’t have an option for brands to use Graph Search as an explicit advertising tool. The network has been consolidating its programs for advertising in the past weeks, including the elimination of sponsored search results. Its leaders have been demoing a system where ads will appear at the page breaks when searches yield multiple pages of results, however, these ads have been unrelated to the query.

For now, the addition of Graph Search should not cause changes to your Facebook ad budget or strategy. Creative businesses will find ways to take advantage of the extra data-diving capabilities of the feature. Based on Facebook’s willingness to monetize and work with businesses, it seems likely that there will eventually be an option available for brands to pay for a higher position in search results or to appear in a larger number of queries. To launch such a feature successfully, though, Facebook will need to allay any remaining privacy concerns voiced by its members to convince them of its value.

What are your plans for Graph Search? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credits: West McGowan, Davidd, Luke Hayfield, Sam Howzit, Barbara Eckstein]