Some of this is generational. I am more comfortable firing up a search query than polling my Twitter followers or Facebook friends. But as social media activity increasingly has an impact on Bing and Google search results, it makes me wonder whether it will become an annoyance for me rather than something truly helpful, which mostly has to do with how I have approached social networks as a quasi-public person in what's turning into a private networking world. The possibly logical assumption that Facebook friends are my actual friends is causing me to wonder whether I have missed the point of Facebook.

From the beginning of my Facebook experience, I decided to accept every friend request sent to me. I did so because I figured that I would have no way of knowing whether that person had read one of my books, or saw me speak, or is a regular newsletter or blog reader of mine, or something else. They might even be someone that I met or even worked with—my memory for people is not exactly stunning. As someone with a minor degree of notoriety, I didn't know how to decide that I should block some people from my network when they might legitimately be interested in connecting with me.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

And it's not just Facebook. I've never blocked a Twitter follower. I've never turned down a LinkedIn request. I even joined Plaxo because someone asked me to. I have several distinct social networks full of people that I don't know.

And what's worse, I've only recently begun to invite other people to friend me. And I have made no attempt to invite Facebook friends to connect in LinkedIn or any other place. So, my current networks are full of people I don't know that were bold enough to send me a friend request, and those same networks are simultaneously missing lots of people that I know and work with all the time.

I don't think this is how Mark Z thought I would use his creation.

To show you how out-of-kilter this is, I have often had real friends ask me to pass along their requests to "friends" in my network, but the problem is that I don't know these "friends" at all—so I am turning my real friends down. It's a little embarrassing, to be honest. I am supposed to be a social media expert, but I have social networks that don't reflect my real-life network.

So, I have had to live with the fact that my social networks aren't that useful for me. I can tweet blog posts and ideas, but I can't really use my networks to help me. I watch how my kids use their Facebook networks. They frequently ask their friends questions when searching doesn't seem personal enough for the answer. They often want to know, "Which is the best for me?" not "Which is the best in general?" Facebook answers the first question and Google answers the second. I can't really get that second answer from Facebook or anywhere else.

But all of this pales with what's going on in search. No matter how much I might regret my approach to social networks that have removed all value for me, now I face the loss of value from search, too. Bing is already incorporating Facebook data into its search algorithm and Google is taking similar steps. As search engines become more personalized, they are increasingly taking activity from my networks into account, which I suspect does nothing but screw up my searches.

I'm not sure how to fix it now, but it has made me hesitant to join Foursquare or Gowalla. I don't want to suddenly start turning down people from connecting with me, but I also don't want to broadcast my location to almost perfect strangers. Some people have told me that I need a Facebook fan page, which strikes me as someone entirely too full of himself. I mean, I'm not Lady Gaga. (Really. I know that you mixed us up right up until that point.)

The more I think I know about social media, the less I think I actually know.

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January 17, 2011





Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, Web personalization, and Web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.

Mike also founded and writes for the Biznology newsletter and blog, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.






Comments(13)

On a number of levels I agree with you and empathized with your point(s). That being said, I'm not so sure Facebook's intention is for you to find anything - other than "friends". From there I would take it a step further and say that your expectations are more likely than not atypical as compared to 99.44% of all FB users.

Does Facebook have the potential to meet your needs? Yes, I believe it does. However, when view through objective rose colored glasses, Facebook is actually quite a bit of squandered potential, and unlikely to progress past the fodder it currently celebrates.

IMHO, of course.

I never considered the search aspect of Fb. Never used it that way.I can see how my list of many unknown friends might sway search in the future if it's connected with the search engine. I have started to forms groups on Fb which helps me keep track of people I actually know. There are several levels in reality. There are friends, people I used to know, followers for business and business prospects. I did finally start a fan page just because it was easier for me to send invitations to our events but I repost on my personal Fb anyway. It really covers all bases for me. Having my personal Fb account and a fan Page satisfies the social and business aspects for me. If our tweets and facebook updates are important enough to us to keep up with then certainly a Fan Page is no less important in reaching those who want to be reached. It's really just giving them every avenue to get what THEY want. Is in not really just the same as a blog with different parameters? I think I will try searching on Fb today. You got me thinking.

Hi Jennifer,

Glad you took the leap to the fan page. Keep us posted on how that works out. People have advised me to do that, so maybe I need to take the plunge, too.

Finding things in Facebook is part of what I am driving at, but if you search in the Bing search engine, your Facebook data is also affecting THOSE search results, so it's very interesting to see the ramifications.

Thanks for your comment.

I took some time to test the social network activity. Presently I am a member of two networks, facebook and LinkedIn. facebook is my "social" network. People I know personally and wish to maintain a continuing personal relationship. LinkedIn is my "professional" network.

My sphere of influence is relatively small and therefore the number of unsolicited "friend" requests is still manageable. I do ask "friends" to move to the appropriate network based on the social or professional nature of the relationship.

Depending upon the size of an organization and their business model, I could make a case for a network presence on Twitter, facebook, linkedIn, or any one of the other networks. These networks are business tools and as such should be applied according to the business case. An artist friend of mine has very successfully used facebook as a business marketing tool. The social network fits perfectly to his business model

Your concluding comment, "The more I think I know about social media, the less I think I actually know" indicates you know much more than you realize. A good problem solver will "observe", "evaluate", and "act". You have already recognized a situation and started to place it in your context. I look forward to your future writing on your decisions.

Mike, you pointed out perfect the "weird" side of social media - connecting with plenty of people you actually don't know, all these only for business. Frankly, I'm using those sites only because is trendy and to promote the websites I manage, however I don't like at all this kind of "socialization". Unfortunately, the tomorrow's world is getting more and more impersonal...but with lots of "friends"!

All the best,
Victor Tuszing

Facebook is by and large a recreational social media channel – at least for the moment. As brands stampede to Facebook, that may change, but let’s consider the dynamics as they stand. For about a year, my main activity on Facebook was playing Farmville – a non-business endeavor if ever there was one. But, while playing the game, I was exposed to many ads I took action on (they were relevant to my business and personal interests). While playing the game, I checked out Fan pages my friends talked about in my News Feed. Not only did I frequently become a Fan of those brands, I spread the word to my friends. From what I can tell, my behavior is typical. Bottom line: Business and pleasure mix on Facebook. Brand exposure and conversion opportunities can spread through Facebook networks quickly and in high volume....
Best regards

Mike,
Well written post. I think the future of search has really changed with the ever increasing popularity of Facebook. I can definitely relate in terms of "accepting" everyone as well, and having that back fire in terms of an actual usable network. I have started to take the power of Facebook more seriously considering the world wide impact and audience. Thanks again for writing.

Arnold

Mike, 2 words: Facebook Lists

You can use them to separate your various "friends" into categories.

I too started the same as you with Facebook and didn't see its potential or really understand how to use it. But then I started adding family and people I knew in "real life" as Facebook friends and it did get confusing.

With Facebook Lists I now have categories such as:

Conference Friends
Family
Real Life Friends
Industry people I've never met

etc.

Then I can quickly browse through each of those streams separately and they don't get jumbled up. Of course, what's missing right now is the ability to create status updates just for a certain list. I imagine FB will eventually do that as that's more in line with what you need.

Mike,
I share your doubts about the usefulness of adding social media into the search nexus. I'm also perplexed with the overall business use of social media in general. I understand a certain value to an overall TOMA (top of mind awareness) campaign -- and perhaps greater value to *certain types* of businesses -- but ultimately I think it dilutes the value of having a standard Web presence.

It seems that the narrowcasting value promised by the Internet is quickly turning toward the hit-and-miss broadcasting of older media. Adding social media palaver to SRPs will only make finding relevant results that much more difficult.

Mike-

I think you've missed the potential of Facebook (or social media). I just gave a presentation on this topic of how social media will present a clearer picture for search results than an algorithm can solely by itself.

Friends, by nature, have common interests - not all common interests, but some common interests. While not all of your network may be intimate associates of yours, you do have some common interest (books, subject matter, actual friends, etc.). And, by the way, you should really have a page so you can keep your "worlds" separate (business associates vs social networking friends) - as opposed to using your own profile to connect with every and anyone...but I digress.

Here's how I see this going down:

Search Engines return information based on an impersonal algorithm of 200+ pieces of information. But, it's not "information" we seek.

Social media provides perspective and opinion based around experience from a (trusted) network of friends and associates.

When you take "information" and layer "perspective from a trusted network" on top of it, you have "insight." Insight is what searchers are REALLY looking for when they query...not just information. And, it is a shame that you've missed out on this wonderful opportunity for the next generation of search.

This is no different than word of mouth...if 2 friends say to see one movie and 10,000 say to see another, my bet is that you are taking the recommendation of your friends. Friends within a complete social network are the ultimate search engine...I am so interested to see where all of this goes...

Thanks for the thought provoking post. I enjoyed it.

So many good comments from everyone--thank you. I am going to ask my kids about Facebook lists, Jill. Thanks for the advice.

Yes - grouping friends into lists is helpful. I have a Facebook friend who has two separate profiles - one for work and one for her personal friends/family. Keeping track of two profiles might be a little more work, but it would allow you to post separate updates.

My feeling is that if you create great content, people will share this via FB or Twitter, whether you are an active user of either of these social media networks or not. If I am not mistaken this will me far more important to your search position than how many friends you have.

(I sincerely hope I'm right because nobody wants to be my friend!)

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