People spend hours on Facebook interacting with their friends, posting pictures, "liking" companies and celebrities, and outlining their interests and hobbies. Now it appears that Facebook is in the process of building a search-related tool using the information it has collected about its users.
At the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco recently, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that the company is working on something related to search. "Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer the questions people have," Zuckerberg said. He gave search examples such as: "What sushi restaurants have my friends gone to in New York in the last 6 months and liked? Or which of my friends or friends of friends work at a company that I'm interested in working at because I want to talk to them about what it's going to be like to work there? These are questions that you could potentially do at Facebook if we built out this system that you couldn't do anywhere else," Zucherberg explained.
While little is known yet about the format or functionality of Facebook's potential search tools -- not to mention when they might be available -- there are a few predictions we can make about how this move might change the way people find your business online.
1. Potential customers will need a Facebook account to search for your business. Facebook's search utility will likely be internal. Given that Facebook's search capabilities will be based around people, places and businesses, it's reasonable to assume that any future incarnation of a Facebook search engine will exist as an expansion of the company's existing internal search toolbar -- not as a standalone search interface.
As a result, for people to find your business using Facebook's future search tool, they'll need to be users of the social network themselves. Companies whose target demographics aren't well-represented on the social network will need to continue to prioritize other means of online discovery.
2. Your Facebook "Likes" will become even more important. Businesses that are active on Facebook will want to continue to encourage fans and followers to interact on their Facebook pages as much as possible. Because Facebook anticipates answering questions such as "What sushi restaurants have my friends gone to in New York in the last six months and liked?" it's likely that performance in Facebook's search results will draw on page "Likes," place check-ins and wall posts that reference your Facebook business page.
Beginning to improve these metrics now should position your company well for future performance within Facebook's forthcoming search tool.
3. Users may still favor Google. Whether or not Facebook is successful with its future search endeavors will depend in large part on its ability to convince customers to use its tool, rather than default to Google for search. While it's possible for Facebook to steal market share away from the web's reigning search giant, it's highly unlikely that Facebook will execute a total coup.
No matter what Facebook is able to achieve it will still be important for small businesses to carry out local SEO best practices and social media marketing activities across a variety of networks, in order to increase the odds that people will find and do business with their companies.