Social optimization specialists and friends of SMF, Gigya, released a whitepaper explaining how the open graph and social search drive traffic, compared to the traditional, hyper-link based search. It breaks online content discovery into three categories: traditional search, feeds, and social network search.
Most folks in digital media already know how traditional search works. Companies optimize their site for specific keywords in Google searches, banking on the fact that the keywords they choose to represent their site or service will match up with the words people use when searching for those products.
Traditional search is great because there is strong intent amongst the consumer; they’re actively looking for that particular search item. However, there isn’t much influence in the results— there’s no personal connection, no human element in a search algorithm optimized for and based on keywords. Moreover, the single most prominent links displayed, the sponsored links, are paying for that prime real estate. Unsurprisingly, the current trend shows a shift from traffic driven by search engines to a heavy increase of traffic driven by social networks.
Social networks love their feeds. Feeds are your homepage on Facebook and Twitter— the streaming updates from friends or people that you follow in your social network. They are full of links and content that the people with whom you have an online connection are posting. They’re filled with content because people just happen to have this burning desire to share the best and newest content with each other. People love to share (who knew!). On the graph above, feeds lie directly opposite from traditional search. Feeds have lots of influence because the content is posted by people you know (or in Twitter’s case, people you wish you knew) represented by their very name and picture. People care about the content they post, people want their posts to be commented and retweeted, they strive for their discovery to be apprised by their peers. The very nature of feeds and showing off cool stuff is what powers “web 2.0” and gives feeds its inimitable influence. But when the user scans over a feed, intent is lacking — people aren’t necessarily searching for the content that is being pushed to them. This begs the question: When we want to find something in a feed, how do we sift through all the cat pictures, engagement announcements, philosophical venting, etc. and find the important and relevant updates?
Enter Facebook’s Open Graph. Facebook gave everything in their social graph a unique ID, essentially making everything an easy to find “social object.” EVERYTHING that is connected to Facebook is a social object. You are an object, your favorite football team’s page is an object, your alumni group is an object. With the introduction of the “like” button, Facebook gave publishers a way to include items that don’t live within facebook.com. So…now your website is an object, a specific post is an object, and even a specific comment is an object. When all these objects are organized in one, big standard way it allows for someone (Facebook) to create a search that looks through all those social objects and return results that are based off both search terms and social connections.
Thus, the third means of driving traffic: the social search. It’s a search that scours the social networks and the rest of the web, aiming to provide the most relevant, personalized discovery of content. The results yielded are social objects that are tightly connected to you, based on your social graph: your collection of friends and your friends’ friends, and their information/likes/tweets etc.
It is the most intriguing because it constitutes high intent—the searcher is actively looking the item up— as well as high influence because the primary results are going to be things that engage you, found in the open graph. They’re things that you or your friends like or tweet or post or comment on, not sponsored results (yet).
The way to optimize your own content or product or service in a social search is to actively create social objects and contribute to the graph. A facebook “like page” isn’t by any means the only way to create a social object around something. Including proper metadata in the html of a webpage that allows it to be indexed by search engines and define it as its own social object is a start. In a recent blog post, Dare Obasanjo does an excellent job outlying the technical ways tags can be applied to social objects and further explaining the idea of the open graph.
This whole thing is new and more or less up for grabs. Facebook took the lead in figuring out what to do with their large pool of personal data. However, all the players realize the changes going on right now and are putting a lot of weight into figuring out the best ways to push this movement forward. It’s organizing and connecting the web in a new way, which is very exciting. At least for geeks like us.