FACEBOOK FORGES AHEAD: Facebook announced its latest attempt to further connect its hundreds of millions of users Tuesday with the introduction of Graph Search — and it’s likely to impact the way the retail industry behaves on the platform.

Rather than honing in on connections users already have, the tool helps in the formation of new connections by allowing users to search friends’ content. Users will only be able to search content that’s been shared with them — the main difference between Facebook’s social search tool and Google, a global search tool.

This story first appeared in the January 16, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst at Altimeter Group, said the tool will eventually help retailers personalize the Facebook experience, something she calls a “challenge” for many companies active on the platform. Once brands can see who is searching for what and when, as well as who they are connected to, they can start rolling out customized promotions based on people’s actual interests and relationships.

“You can see influencers and who influences sales. We aren’t talking about tastemakers or Rachel Zoe. We are talking about your friend who influences a ton of people’s buying habits and potentially even has a Pinterest board,” Etlinger explained of the database that has more than 1 billion users.

The beta version of Graph Search will only be available for desktop computers and in English — no mobile yet — but Etlinger sees an eventual mobile rollout as fueling the power of this tool for retailers.

“Imagine a world where this is mobile and brands can do something with this data. They can understand what people are doing in Milwaukee versus Seattle. They could look at seasonal trends and they have a better understanding of all of those expressed preferences,” she said.

Colin Gilbert, team leader on the research and advisory staff of New York University think tank Luxury Lab, or L2, also cites “local” as a buzzword with respect to Facebook’s new search function.

He believes that search results will go local — another trend primed to reign in the overall digital space — and this might force brands with strong, centralized presences to radically rethink their strategy on the social medium. For example, Macy’s has 10.2 million fans on its “global” page and 206,000 on its Herald Square page. Sephora has 4.7 million fans on its main page and just 128 on its “Fifth Avenue” store page and Neiman Marcus has 619,000 fans overall versus under 800 for its Wilshire Boulevard store.

“This balance of investment may need to be revisited, depending on the popularity and adoption of the new tool,” Gilbert said.

He also thinks that retailers and brands should expect to shift from broadcast to user-generated content.

Gilbert projects that this technology will put pressure on retail brands for content to get redistributed by fans (versus being broadcast by the brand).

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