Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Facebook's Graph Search and Prospect Research

“Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. The main way we do this is by giving people the tools to map out their relationships with the people and things they care about. We call this map the graph. It’s big and constantly expanding with new people, content, and connections. There are already more than a billion people, more than 240 billion photos, and more than a trillion connections. Today we’re announcing a new way to navigate these connections and make them more useful.”  [Facebook]

Introducing Graph Search

Last week, Facebook unveiled their new Graph Search tool, which allows users to search for Facebook users by interests, likes, relationship status, and location, among other qualifiers. Examples of searches include “Friends who like yoga who live in Chicago”, “Pictures of friends taken before 1998”, or “Friends who like Make-A-Wish”. The results of these searches can reveal full names, addresses, employers, friends and family, and photographs. Creative searching can yield some very telling results, as evidenced by a popular Tumblr site’s investigation into search possibilities.  Currently, graph search is still in beta, and you can join the waiting list here.

Specifics on Graph Search Data

In truth, all of the data gathered by Graph Search has been available for quite some time.  But the lack of an all-encompassing search feature made this data fairly obscure and hard to collect - until now.  So far, researchers aren’t sure how users will react to their personal data being more easily mined. Many users are likely to get a bit freaked out by their inclusion in these “big net” searches.  They’ll respond by making their information more private using Facebook’s existing privacy settings.  Chances are that most will passively accept this feature as an acceptable part of living in an age of social connectivity.  A few may even begin sharing more information in an effort to provide and receive more of the purported benefits.

Potential users of Graph Search need to remember the caveats.  Facebook’s information can be incomplete, deceptive, and even fictitious (“ironic likes” for example).  Then there are the obvious limitations – users need to like pages to generate searchable connections.   But the breadth and depth of data Facebook offers can’t be found anywhere else.  Leveraging the interlacing interests of individuals, businesses, and organizations into some very powerful insights is simply too valuable to ignore.

Using Graph Search for Prospect Research

So what does Graph Search mean for prospect researchers?  It means effectively mining the 8+ years of data that Facebook has been collecting just got a whole lot easier.  There are several ways that I see it helping immediately.

The ease of collecting data makes it easier to patch holes in current constituent datasets. With a little creativity, leveraging the new search options may make more imputation of variables possible, particularly by examining constituent relationships and interests. For example, age can be imputed by graduation year, which will become searchable.  

There will be better opportunities for identifying new constituents based on searches. Possible search ideas include: friends of those who are already involved with the organization, people who live nearby, people whose interests coincide with your institution’s mission, or any combination of the above. Finding friends of users who like a page is a quick search, and aggregating this list to people who live nearby will become a piece of cake.

Your Institution’s Facebook Page

On the flip side, the interest and ability of others to find you through a Graph Search should not be overlooked.  Information about fundraising organizations is about to become a whole lot more visible. The number of channels by which organizations can be searched will also greatly increase, which can mean more traffic for your page. Here are a few steps to take in preparation for the widespread release:

  • Fill out the basic information section of your page, and include as many relevant keywords as needed. This includes selecting a category and sub-categories if you haven't already. 
  • Make sure your address is up to date. Because users can search by address, you'll want this information to be as accurate as possible. 
  • Got photos? Label them with descriptive text, tag the people in them, and add a location to them. Photos are fair game for searches, and the more information you can provide at a glance, the better. 
  • If you haven't already, update your page's URL to be customized, preferably containing the name of your organization. This will also improve your SEO on Google. 
  • Check your content. Gathering and retaining followers is more important than ever. Make sure to keep things relevant and interesting to keep people engaged. 
  • Once Graph Search becomes available to the whole Facebook community, try constructing searches that you would hope your page would appear in. If it doesn't, look to those whose pages did appear and imitate what they did to list so well - the sincerest form of flattery!
For more information on Graph Search, visit https://www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch .

For follow-up questions, or help working with your data for this purpose, contact Caitlin Garrett at caitlin.garrett@rapidinsightinc.com. Our next exploration will be on using Graph Search for Enrollment and Recruiting. Please feel free to comment if you have thoughts on additional ways to use the tool. 

Caitlin Garrett, Statistical Analyst at Rapid Insight