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Facebook, Google and the future of search

Posted by Joe McNamara on 26th September 2012

Recent news reports suggest that Facebook may be looking to steal Google’s thunder through its Facebook search feature. Previously, Facebook search has been a simple way of finding friends or acquaintances – a search for people, as opposed to ‘stuff’.

However, as all of us in the tech PR industry are aware, Facebook is far more than a social network nowadays. It has become a hotbed for brand marketing, social and professional groups, and above all, a powerful collection of unique data that no market research campaign could buy.

At present, on the rare occasion I find a gap in my general knowledge, that void is quickly filled by ‘googling’ the subject. But it’s not those random facts that Facebook is pitching for. Far more interesting for Facebook are the products, brands, communities, clubs, sports, communities and locations that exist on the platform.

Search with feedback

A survey conducted by blinkx found that three quarters of people use social media platforms as well as word of mouth to gain information and recommendations on films and venues. The rationale behind this is that not only can you find the information you need from official pages, it is also possible to gain feedback from other users. Therefore, if I search for a film, I can find out who is starring in it as well as what my friends think of it.

Increasingly, we are seeing social media become the first port of call when a consumer takes to the internet to find out certain information. For users and brands, measuring the popularity of search terms has become more than a simple case of counting likes. APIs such as ‘talking about’ for brands and ‘were here’ for locations give users accurate feedback of how people are engaging with products, brands and locations on Facebook.

That does give Facebook a certain advantage over Google. Customers want objective feedback rather than advertising, which is more likely to come from social and traditional media sources than the official website. The research we recently conducted into influences on consumer technology buyers confirms the importance of online reviews and forums in a customer’s decision-making process.

Similarly, it makes perfect sense for me to search Facebook to see what my friends are saying about a product so I can actually make a judgement on it rather than simply believe the hype.

Stealing the thunder

If there were a Facebook-esque relationship status between Facebook and Google, it would have to be ‘it’s complicated’. The situation developing right now is the flip-reverse of Google’s raid on Facebook’s parade earlier this year with the launch of Google+.

Google+ recently surpassed 400 million users meaning that there is a whole host of data out there waiting to be used in search being generated by its own users. However, in terms of identifying opinions and attitudes towards ‘stuff’ on a personal and social level, Facebook wins hands down.

To make matters more complicated, Facebook has a deal with Google’s existing rival Bing, giving users the option to see web results powered by Microsoft’s search engine. So with this partnership, alongside the data and search capabilities at Facebook’s disposal, it will be interesting to see how this arms race of data management develops over time.