With so many companies launching Facebook fan pages, initiating paid search ad campaigns and developing ecommerce strategies on the site, it's easy to see how Facebook's social network could become the next-generation niche search engine for products and services.
Recent data and technology trends point to the possibility of this cultural shift.
For starters, Facebook gained the most growth in search queries, rising 10% to 436 million searches from January to February, according to comScore.
Friend referrals typically influence a person's decision to buy a product or use a service. Few will go to Craigslist or open an online phone directory and blindly pick a plumber or electrician.
Businesses are putting their ecommerce sites on Facebook to sell more products and gain greater visibility. This allows people to search for product information, find the fan page, and if the brand has an ecommerce app, the consumer can make the purchase from the page.
Some companies have begun to launch ecommerce platforms that allow consumers to make purchases through ads and fan pages. Others, like CoreCommerce, allow consumers to search for products on Facebook and make a purchase through the CoreCommerce store.
Consider the difference between two definitions of search engine: Princeton's WordNet lexical database defines it as "a computer program that retrieves documents or files or data from a database or from a computer network, such as the Internet." Wikipedia defines search engine more narrowly, as a tool designed to search for information on the World Wide Web.
Clickable Founder David Kidder says Facebook needs more advertisers that generate more data to truly move the social site into the category of niche search engine. While Facebook doesn't offer the ability to contribute value from intent-based searches as in Google, where people search on keywords at the moment they want to buy something, Facebook does influence the sale of products, he says. This means marketers can't instantly turn on a campaign to generate direct sales, but they can create momentum that influences product decisions, and link that campaign to search.
Kidder calls Facebook a combination of demand creation tool and a conversion platform similar to some features in Google. He says Facebook will see success as a niche search site at the expense of display or analog advertising.
Not all completely agree with me. When I asked Matt Lawson if Facebook will become the next niche search engine focused on consumer goods and services, the director of marketing at Marin Software says Facebook only works for certain advertisers that appeal to people who frequent social sites. It's more useful as a marketing tool for branding and awareness, he says -- which I believe creates the basis for increased searches and sales.
A post on SEOmozBlog on how the company's researchers have begun to switch focus from Google to Facebook because the social site can mine data from online social patterns between real life friends started me thinking about the transition from social to search.
It's only when we close our minds to the infinite possibilities gained from technology that we get stuck thinking about one concept only.