How Facebook's new search tool could also help businesses

Graph Search feature could provide businesses with reams of information about customers -- and help find new clients

Businesses that aren't very active on Facebook might want to think about ramping up their presence in case Facebook's new service proves useful.

Facebook's new Graph Search, announced this morning but not yet available, could be a valuable tool for businesses, who increasingly use the social network to maintain contact with customers.

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Graph Search is designed to offer a much better search function for Facebook users to find material they and their contacts have posted on Facebook. It is not a full Web search tool like Google or Microsoft's Bing, but is rather meant to improve the fairly poor internal Facebook search available now.

For instance, users will be able to find all the photos they've liked, search for all photos of two particular people, and locate all their friends who live in a particular city, Tom Stocky, a Facebook product director, said on a video about the service. Other examples Facebook offered include looking for music that friends like or searching for people who like cycling who are from your hometown.

Facebook pitched the new feature as an end-user benefit, but in fact it could prove extremely useful to businesses who want to make the most of their presence on Facebook.

For instance, a retail business might be able to search among its users for everyone who likes posts about a certain kind of product in order to offer them a deal, or search for all followers in a city in order to invite them to an event. A business might be able to search for followers who have attended certain kinds of events or checked in at particular locations.

Business could use Graph Search in subtler ways. Searching for the kind of food and music followers in a city like could inform decisions about the kind of food and music featured at an event.

Eventually, Graph Search could become a useful tool for advertisers as well. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company is not displaying advertisements in search results at first, but as the product matures, this seems like an obvious way for Facebook to increase revenue -- and perhaps steal search ad budget from rival Google.

Facebook said that results will only show things that have been shared with you on Facebook.

For now, Facebook Graph Search is available in a "very limited program" in the United States. Facebook is offering a sign-up page for people interested in finding out when they can start using the service.

The concept behind Graph Search is reminiscent of a similar service from Microsoft's Bing search engine. Users who connect their Bing searches to Facebook will see results in the right hand column of Bing that come from their Facebook friends.

This story, "How Facebook's new search tool could also help businesses," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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