How Government Can Leverage Graph Search to Expand on Facebook

Facebook announced last week that it is rolling out a new feature for its social media empire called Graph Search, which is billed as a new way to discover information online. One of the notable parts of this new search approach is that Facebook is making user interactions a key component of the math that drives the results – which is unique from traditional search engines, and has implications for those in government and politics looking to succeed in social media.

Social Media Analysis

Graph Search is hyped as a powerful new tool that for the first time allows someone to answer life’s most important questions, like “What movies are liked by people who like Mitt Romney?“ or “Do my coworkers enjoy fly fishing?”

Not impressed?  Perhaps you should be.

This type of dynamic search could open up new opportunities and some pitfalls for those in government and politics who have a presence on the web.  Here is a quick primer of what you will want to know.

How Graph Search Works 

One thing to clear up right out of the gate, the term ‘Graph Search’ refers to the way that Facebook and others organize interconnected content – in graphs of intersecting data. Every piece of content on Facebook has its own audience, and it is all contained within a user’s own ‘social graph.’

To show how the new feature works, at the company’s press conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly asked the new search engine the following questions as examples, and got exactly the results one would want from these social queries.

  • My friends who live in Palo Alto and like "Game of Thrones"
  • Friends of friends who are single men in San Francisco and are from India
  • NASA Ames employees who are friends of Facebook employees
  • Bars in Dublin, Ireland liked by people who live in Dublin, Ireland


This shows the broad variety of applications that Graph Search aims to fulfill – travel, research, recruiting and even dating. It is currently in beta testing among a portion of Facebook’s 1 billion active users, and Graph Search is definitely unique among search options on the web.

Traditional search (Google, Bing) is designed to take a set of keywords and provide the best possible results from the internet that match those words and phrases.  The pages are ranked based on the prominence of the particular source on the web compared to others – generally with sites like at the top and smaller ones like a personal blog towards the bottom. 

On Facebook, Graph Search will be populated first with content from Facebook itself, limiting the scope for queries. Importantly, Graph Search will also base the top results on a user’s own social graph and the amount of interactions, likes and shares that a user and their friends have with a particular piece of content. This interaction-driven approach to search means if more of someone’s friends like a particular page, picture, article or link it will appear at the top of results, and this differentiation has implications for how an organization should approach Facebook as a tool for outreach in social media.

(You can find out more about Graph Search’s functions by checking out this official announcement, and summary articles here and here.)

Augmenting Your Approach to Facebook

Graph Search is a long way from replacing the big search engines, but this tool dramatically increases the number of searches that will start on Facebook instead of the broader internet – and that will change the way that any organization’s content is found online.

Here are some techniques to prepare for the new feature: 

1. Grow Your Network
Graph Search reemphasizes the importance of actual connection in social media, not just having a presence. When someone likes your page, you instantly become a part of the search database for every single one of that user’s friends (and friend’s of friends in some cases).

Not actively growing followers on Facebook means missing out on all of that potential search visibility and being excluded from the conversation. 

For example, if someone were to search for information about ‘civil rights’, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will only appear within these listings if their friend’s have liked the OCR’s page. If they have not (or the searcher has not), then results will show for other organizations with that focus.  If multiple friends have liked the page, then results will appear closer to the top.

2. Be Share-Worthy
While one person liking you will expose your page to hundreds of searchers, a user sharing content that you have posted will add even more dynamic results to those queries. 

Liking your page means that your general overview (and the keywords contained within) will become accessible through search, but blog posts, photos and articles you post and are shared by users will include that expanded content in their search algorithm and their friends’ searches as well, even if neither person follows your page directly.

That means you gain more exposure to the search algorithm and can be found by an increasing number of different queries if you are actively engaging with the Facebook community. 

The Army Corps of Engineers is commonly known for their civil works projects in the U.S. like dams and levees.  By spreading information through likes and shares on Facebook about the Corps other missions and objectives – like overseas or military projects, environmental work, or research – the ACE becomes a part of search results for all of these topics as well and will rise in the results as more users interact with them in different ways besides just liking their page.

3. Target Your Information
Graph Search also presents a major advantage for organizations in understanding their social networks and how best to target their content and information. With the demonstrated ability to layer a search query (‘Movies liked by people who like Mitt Romney’), any user can investigate the entire Facebook community’s interconnectedness and glean useful information about their own network. 

If an employee at the National Gallery of Art searched for ‘people who like the NGA and modern art’ or ‘African-American art’, they will get a list of Facebook followers that have both interests.  With that knowledge, the NGA could promote their recently acquired works from Glenn Ligon and know how many of their followers will be more likely to share that information with their friends.  Or in planning a new exhibit or promotion, the NGA could see which artists their followers like in general to know what pieces to highlight to attract more visitors.

Organizations can now know not only who likes them, but also what else interests those users, what they talk about, and what they share – a treasure trove of information for strategic outreach.  Targeting users with information they are more likely to promote and share themselves increases visibility for the organization and overall presence within every user’s social graph. 

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There is still plenty we don’t know about how exactly the functionality will be implemented. For instance, will Graph Search also search users’ status updates for keywords? But we do know that for the first time it organizes information  on the social network so it can be put to good use. 

Organizations should be mindful of the potential impact this new feature can have as they develop their strategic plans for outreach and marketing online. We have always known that engagement with audiences was the key to success – now, Facebook has created a formula to prove it.

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