It’s Facebook Friday — each week we’ll offer one tip for leveraging Facebook to increase customer awareness of and engagement with your brand or business.

Nine years and 1 billion members later, Facebook has finally given its user base a powerful search tool. Graph Search lets you use simple phrases to search for people, places, and things that match specific characteristics.

For example, someone could search for “dentists my friends like” to find local recommendations. These search results help members explore connections between people, places, and things, as well as make fun discoveries.

With any new feature, companies are curious to find out how they can take advantage of the tool. Even though it’s currently in beta for English audiences only, we’ll explain what Graph Search means for small businesses and brands.

Learn About Your Customers

While Graph Search helps members sort through personal data, it’s also a powerful new tool that could help marketers better understand their fans and customers.

Right now, there are more than 1 billion people on the social network with 240 billion photos and 1 trillion connections — that’s a lot of data. You can use this information to conduct market research about your existing fans and potential customers.

Want to know what type of music would resonate with consumers in a commercial? Hypothetically, you could try searching for “music liked by runners,” for example. By using Graph Search, you can determine what type of content to share with fans, new audiences to target, and even who might make a good brand evangelist.

Don’t Be Present, Be Active

Graph Search makes it easier for local businesses to be found. This means that “being on Facebook” isn’t just about being present. Now you have to learn how to maximize your visibility through engagement and interactions.

Regular participation is key. Facebook will look at a wide variety of social signals when determining what to show members in response to their search queries. Restaurants, dentists, retailers, and so on will be highlighted based on what members are liking, using, commenting on, and responding to.

Additionally, make sure that the name, category, vanity URL, and information you share in the About section should all be complete and up-to-date. If you have a location or local Place Page, update your address to ensure you can appear as a result when someone is searching for a specific location — for example, “hotels near the Empire State Building.”

Facebook noted that it might also make search suggestions in the search bar that can trigger web searches. Web searches will display Bing results and Bing ads, similar to results on Bing.com.

Budget for Search Ad Units

Facebook essentially placed a spotlight on Sponsored Results, which appear to people whether or not they have Graph Search. The ad format was introduced in August and enables you to divert traffic away from other businesses by targeting specific Pages, Places, or Apps, rather than keywords.

While no new ad formats were announced this week, it wouldn’t be irrational to assume we’ll see one or two in the future. Analysts have speculated that search ads will soon appear along the right-hand column of Facebook’s homepage. The social network hasn’t commented either way.

Currently Graph Search is being rolled out as a limited beta and will become more widely available as more information is indexed. However, that shouldn’t prevent you from preparing your Facebook Page and marketing strategy. If you don’t yet have a Page, we recommend creating one, or else you risk missing out on a great opportunity to draw more awareness to your business or product.

[Image credit: Facebook, Nomadic Lass, Philo Nordlund, John Lemieux]