The New Facebook Search Graph: Will It Change How RIAs Think About Social Media?

Posted by Mark Piquette on February 26, 2013

I get asked all the time about advisors being on social media.  We all know the issues: compliance scares people from taking action, lack of compelling content, who wants to follow their advisor on Facebook…to name a few. I, for the most part, have told advisors to concentrate on Linkedin for network building and Twitter for following the conversations happening.  Facebook was not a priority. Short-term I think I am still right. Medium to long-term…I am not so sure.

On January 15th, Facebook unveiled their new search functionality dubbed the Search Graph. Basically this new functionality allows Facebook users to use natural language to search across their social network (how wide depends on privacy settings) to get answers to whatever questions the user might pose.  For instance, say I was looking for a place to eat in Boulder, Colorado.  I could type in “who has eaten in Boulder this year?”, and I would then get a list of all my friends who have eaten out in Boulder and where they ate.  I could get even more specific and ask for only Thai food.  At this point you might be saying, “So what. Neat trick but how is this important?”  I was asking the same question until I read this great article from Steven Levy in Wired Magazine. If Facebook can harness the power of social connections in ways that other search engines (i.e. Google) can’t then the game might have changed.

Google and the other search engines work by using the ideas of relevancy and authority to look across all the websites on the internet and serve up the best possible match for the user.  Relevancy and authority are determined by a lot of different variables and algorithms that are both known and unknown (but pretty well guessed at, see: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Basics for Advisors). Things like search engine optimization, link building, paid-search, etc play a huge roll in how a website is served up to the user.

Facebook’s Search Graph is different because it is using a huge proprietary database filled with friends, family, brands liked, pictures taken, movies watched, clothes bought…you get the picture. This is all data that, for the most part, Google and the other search engines don’t have access to.  As Steven Levy writes, it makes Facebook a “vehicle of discovery.” Pretty cool. Pretty powerful. If people have an easy way to tap into their Facebook social connections it has incredible impacts on everything from what people purchase to how they look for and find jobs; and, maybe, even how they find their financial advisor.

The rollout of the Search Graph will not be fully available to all users for a little while… but it is coming. What does this potentially mean for RIAs and the use of social media?  I think at the very least advisors need to have a better understanding of their clients’ use of social media. I hear all the time, “my clients aren’t on social media.” This chart from Pew Research might beg to differ:

If your clients are older than 65, almost one-third of them are on social media. Between 50 and 64…more than half! Younger than 50…more than three-quarters and climbing.

I would suggest that each time an advisor meets with a client (or prospective client) they ask if one, the person uses social media and two, what sort of  interaction with their advisor they might want?

Also, advisors should think about the use of quick surveys to get a more global view of clients use of social media.  On-line services like Survey-Monkey or Survey-Gizmo make it easy to gather data and understand what your clients are doing with social media and how they might want to use it with their advisor.

The launch of the Search Graph starts to bring some focus to the potential of social media (and perhaps some of the lofty market caps as well). The challenges that RIAs face with social media around compliance and content that is sometimes not exactly compelling will still be there.  Figuring out how to work within those constraints, given what seems to be an ever increasing importance of social media, will be paramount…and fascinating.

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