Facebook now lets users search posts made on the network. Facebook sees a huge number of posts every day. (The 4.75 billion figure, the most reliable one I could find, is actually from a Facebook report released in September of last year; it may well be higher now.) Having all of that content indexed and searchable is a major step for the network. The function is still new, and we don’t know everything about it yet, but it has the potential to radically change the way people use Facebook someday.
The feature was fairly quietly rolled out in the first half of December for mobile and web. It is currently available for many but not all users in English, and there hasn’t been official word on when it will be released to everyone.
The announcement said it would allow you to search posts that have been shared with you. Right now, it looks like the results includes posts from friends, page posts that your friends have liked (it seems like they have to like the post, not necessarily the page), posts from pages that you like, and, it appears, posts from friends of friends who allow people to follow them.
What it means for brands
The official announcement about the feature was fairly simple, and didn’t go into how finished the feature is, or how we could expect it to evolve, though it seems likely it will.
Techcrunch reported that page posts would not come up, but when I tested they did, only if a friend had liked the post or I liked the page.
This search for example, for best burger, shows several posts from friends, most burger related, as well as this post about a hidden gem of a hamburger joint from the page AFAR, a magazine, which comes up because a friend liked the post.
For brands, this means that people have a new way to find your content. It’s a further incentive to create more engaging stuff. Content that people want to interact with has been the best way to gain reach for reach for a while. Now, it will make a big difference in how many people see your content after its initial run in the Newsfeed, as the posts that people’s friends have liked are the ones that will surface in their post searches.
Since posts from a page will show up in fan search results, the update benefits brands with significant fanbases. The quality of fans also matters–if fans are truly involved in your brand, they are more inclined to like posts, and then those posts are also more likely to be relevant to those fans’ friends (who may have a lot in common with them, even if they don’t necessarily like your page) when they come up in search results.
How could it evolve?
There are a few plausible applications of the search technology that Facebook has developed to comb through those 4.5 billion daily posts.
One would be to use the information for advertising. There’s a huge amount of potential data about people’s interests included in their posts beyond just likes and profiles. For now, Facebook won’t be including paid results in the post search, and won’t be using the technology to search posts for information that could be used to target ads, but it’s conceivable that that could change one day.
Facebook could also open up the option to search for all public posts on the network whether from pages, people or groups, which would amplify the impact of this feature for brands, increasing the potential that their content could be seen by fans and non-fans alike if it was relevant to search results.
The future of social
Depending on what form the Facebook post search capabilities eventually take, they could signify a real shift in uses for the network. As Facebook, and social in general becomes more mature, more and more content is being produced. It’s logical that eventually this content, like that of the web at large, will be indexed.
But Facebook’s the one that controls that content, pretty tightly – the Newsfeed algorithm shows people the content it thinks will interest them. And there’s more content that could potentially be seen in the newsfeed than there is room for it there.
But, with the right search tools, all that potential content, with social context, could be shown to users when they want it.
Feeds are here to stay, people will always enjoy seeing content from people and pages they are connected to. But eventually, people who are looking for specific information–maybe first something like a restaurant recommendation, but later it could be something like, say, information on a political candidate could turn to social search for answers. There they could find primary sources (the person’s own words) secondary (links to articles about her), and more, all with social context. Social search may not rival Google for now, but as more and more content is created and distributed on social, and as search gets more and more sophisticated, that may change surprisingly quickly.