Facebook as a Business Research Tool
Nowadays, you can – and should – be using Facebook for business-related research. Not only can you research your audience and your competitors, but you can also monitor your business interaction, perception and feedback by using Facebook activity.
You can find posts and photos you or your business are tagged in, search for local competitors or audiences, find posts or Pages containing specific keywords – and now Facebook is working hard to refine its new Hashtag functionality so that it aligns more with Twitter functionality.
Let’s start by seeing what you can do with Facebook’s new Hashtag feature…
Step 1. Facebook Hashtags 101
Facebook hashtags started as far from Twitter hashtags as you can get. They are evolving all the time, so right now your best bet is to put Twitter out of your mind and concentrate on what they can do for your business research.
- Using Hashtags
You can now create hashtags for Facebook and use it as tools for tracking your posts containing them.
You can also use them to track posts that others make, using:
- Your specific hashtags
- Hashtags you are following, tracking or researching
Right now, according to Edgerank Checker, hashtags haven’t caught on firmly enough to positively affect your viral potential or Facebook rank.
But they can be extremely useful in quickly tracking down random Facebook conversations containing them, via your Facebook Graph Search function.
- Searching hashtags
You can search for Facebook hashtags that already exist – and for those that don’t exist.
For example, say you wanted to create the hashtag #facebookcontests: Type it into your Facebook search bar.
- If it already exists and is in use, it will appear like this:
- If the hashtag you type in doesn’t exist, you will see this (and possibly other search results):
If you click on the yellow icon under a non-existent hashtag search result, you will be taken to a page like this, where you will be prompted to create your first post around that hashtag:
How to Find Existing Facebook Hashtags:
Note that you will not see similar hashtag suggestions in search results: You will only see Pages and People suggested, if appropriate.
Right now, in spite of TechCrunch’s recent article, there seems to be no searchable database of Facebook hashtags.
However, you can use existing Twitter hashtags for purposes of monitoring and research. You can find the best of these at Hashtags.org.
Step 2. Using Graph Search
Running Facebook searches is the other half of the “using-Facebook-hashtag” process. But you can search this social network for business research purposes without necessarily concentrating on hashtag-finding alone.
Facebook has already rolled out the graph search. If you have it, you will have already been invited to “Take a Tour”. If you don’t, expect any day now to see the popup inviting you to check it out.
With graph search, you can:
- Search for friends by name (“or anything else”)
- A simple phrase (e.g. “Friends who live in Wyoming”)
- Any information contained in your friends’ Facebook accounts (e.g. Photos, businesses, places, movies, music)
- Any information contained in Public accounts or your Friends’ Public categories
For example, if you want to search for “Coffee”, you will see results such as coffee shops, coffee brands, Pages about coffee (all Pages being Public) and similar results.
In short, anything you have ever posted to Facebook is now searchable. So before you start searching for friends, phrases or information, you’re going to want to quickly adjust your privacy settings to segregate anything that doesn’t fit with your business branding.
To see what is searchable on your Facebook account, click the little padlock icon:
It will display who can:
- See your present, past and future posts
- See posts and photos you are tagged in
- Send your friend requests
- Send you Facebook messages
You can also limit past posts and decide whether or not you want your Facebook account to be searchable by other search engines.
Your Profile – To control who sees your profile information, use your “About” tab. If you are still using a personal feed, click on your Name in your top, horizontal menu bar to the left of the padlock icon. You can then choose to edit your profile and its privacy settings by performing one or both of the following functions:
- Click on your About tab, under your Cover Photo
- Click on the Activity Log tab that will appear within your Cover Photo. If you are exploring Graph Search for the first time, you will receive prompts.
Use your Activity Log to review posts with location or other tags, or review tagged Photos
To make sure the right people find only the most appropriate information about you or your business:
Assign one of the following three categories to each type of contact:
- Only Me – Information you want to use for personal and/or business research or reference
- Friends – Information you want personal friends and family to see. (That would also include any networking peer or friend you’ve “Friended” on Facebook.)
- Public – Ideally, anyone at all, including your target audience, business peers, networking contacts, clients or customers.
A good rule of thumb is to never post anything that (a) clashes with your branding (b) you wouldn’t be comfortable with strangers or your grandmother seeing.
And here’s the best tip of all about Privacy settings: If you want a narrow, specific, target audience to see a particular type of post:
- Create a List containing that specific group of people (e.g. “Clients”)
- Use the Custom setting for posts you only want – for example – “clients” to see, specifying the particular list you have placed them within:
Finally, remember that Facebook Pages are always Public.
Part of business researching always involves controlling what others can research about you and your company – business researching being a two-way street! Do this intelligently, and it will have a positive effect on your monitoring.
How to Research Effectively with Graph Search
Just as others can research you, you can research competitors, business peers, industry influencers and your potential audience – keeping in mind that you too may only be seeing what they choose to share.
Just click on the Search bar to see what categories you can search in.
When you search, do keep in mind that you can enter any keyword or phrase with or without selecting a category – or even just “Take the Tour” again.
Of the categories suggested, “Pages I might Like” can be exceptionally useful – if you have optimized your Profile to your audience and adjusted your privacy settings effectively.
For example, if you have populated your profile with things irrelevant to your business – for example, favorite movies – you will most likely get suggestions for pages with no business worth whatsoever.
These pages will be presented based on:
- Related personalities, business entities and other things in that same category that you have “Liked”
- How many of your friends share those exact preferences too.
If, on the other hand, you have optimized your Profile for business, your “Pages I might like” results will be more likely to contain useful suggestions.
Finally, make sure you’ve also optimized Notification settings for your Pages.
(Note: If your Graph Search suggestions don’t contain a particular category, simply enter the best keyword you can think of.)
You can use Graph Search to:
- Search keywords for your own or a competitor’s Page
- Geo-target (using hashtags or keywords) for a local business
- Find industry influencers and potential followers – using keywords
- Generally making your Facebook business presence more searchable, if you optimize your profile in a focused manner
- Useful Links:
- https://www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch — If you don’t yet have Graph Search and you are operating from an English-speaking country, click on this link, scroll down the page until you come to “Try Graph Search”. Press the button.
This also works if you are not sure if you have Graph Search yet. When you mouse-over the “Try Graph Search” button, a pop-over will tell you whether or not it is installed on your account:
- https://www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch/privacy — More complete instructions on how to optimize your privacy settings. (Keep in mind that Facebook’s goal is always to get you to share as much as possible!)
Facebook is evolving and changing almost as much as mobile use and technology, in general, are evolving and changing.
What seems clear is that Facebook is actively doing its best to please both business and personal users – with the edge shifting towards business users (potential advertisers).
Follow Facebook’s official blog, AllFacebook.com, to keep on top of changes in functionality and find new ways to boost your business research.