Graph Search capabilities offer enterprise benefits

Facebook's concept of using natural language processing to offer context and deeper insight promises to improve organizations' internal collaboration and deeper customer engagement.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Improving marketing engagements with customers and internal collaboration are some benefits that Facebook's Graph Search capability will bring to enterprises. However, organizations have their work cut out to put the right IT systems in place to implement the capability and convincing employees to open up their online interactions with colleagues for data mining purposes.

Facebook announced Graph Search in January, saying it lets people use natural queries such as "people who like cheese pizza" or "friends born after 1979" to discover content within their Facebook online network, or "social graph". The capability is currently in beta and only approved users will have access to it, according to Facebook.

Commenting on the new feature, Jake Wengroff, social technologies analyst at Gleanster, an analyst firm, said Facebook is essentially injecting natural language processing functionality to its search algorithm so results can be delivered more intuitively and naturally.

The underlying concept of graph search has potential in the enterprise setting.

This functionality has a strong opportunity in the enterprise space and will "galvanize" the social software industry to develop similar search capabilities for various purposes, Wengroff added. For example, an employee would be able to search the company's social network to find out the relevant colleagues who had worked on a previous project using a query such as "employees in California who worked on exploration project X". This helps them avoid having to trawl through multiple staff databases and cobbling the information together manually, he explained.

One can easily filter out people from across the company to see which employee is the best fit for a particular project, he added.

The same capability can also help sales teams identify who may be connected to a prospective customer. In this scenario, "Graph Search-like technology can step in where the CRM (customer relationship management) database falls short", Wengroff noted.

Ken Mandel, managing director for Asia at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, said the idea of Graph Search is about giving users the ability to combine intent, social context and custom audiences. This is something any organization can benefit from, he said.

After all, an internal enterprise social network is a "wealth of present and historical intelligence" and having Graph Search-like capabilities makes it easier to locate the right executive in big, geographically-dispersed organizations, Mandel said.

Gavin Tay, research director of content, portals and social at Gartner, added that unlike most traditional enterprise applications, employees actually like using such using social functionalities, so it may have more organizational buy-in.

Marketing comes up tops
For now, though, Facebook's Graph Search will see the most prevalent use case in businesses' digital marketing efforts, Tay stated.

The vast number of users on the social networking site and their interactions present a rich data source for marketers to find patterns and events which might not be immediately obvious based on casual observations or top-level customer metrics, he said.

Mandel concurred. He said unlike Web searches, which are designed to handle open-ended queries and return Web links that might have the answers, Facebook's Graph Search takes a more precise query and returns answers based on the individual's social graph.

"What Facebook has done is create an incentive for businesses to make their Pages more engaging and relevant to consumers. With Graph Search, the number of 'likes' a brand gets takes on a new meaning, as pages with a higher fan base could gain greater visibility in search results," he noted.

Facebook's Graph Search is also a powerful tool for mining marketing data as businesses can learn an array of correlations which reveals deeper insights into their customers. These granular details then allow brands to reach out to customers with greater precision and further personalize their offerings to maximize outcome, Mandel explained.

"Facebook is also now conditioning its billions of users to search for what they're looking for. This combination of social context, or what your friends like, and intent, which is what you're looking to buy, will make it possible for marketers and advertisers to take Facebook targeting to the next level," he added.

Employee education needed
The industry watchers did say implementing such advanced search capabilities will throw up challenges along the way.

Tay said organizations will have to incorporate the right tools to capture and analyze the relevant data streams in order to map their entire employee landscape and reap optimal benefits.

They might also face difficulties in getting employees to agree to these data mining tools to analyze "intimate data streams" they might have in private online social groups, he added.

Wengroff pointed out another issue might be that certain employees do not engage as well as others online. As such, key details may be missed because an "unsocial" staff did not share information completely, and the content would not be picked up by the advanced search functionality, he said.

The "only bump in the road" is getting more organizations to understand the capability and be willing to explore it today, added Leandro Perez, head of global product marketing for tibbr at Tibco. That said, Perez predicted corporate use of Graph Search-like technology for business purposes will grow in momentum.

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