Last week, Facebook announced a new tool called Graph Search. It allows you to search the Facebook network for seemingly endless combinations of people, places, likes and interests. When I heard this, I started thinking about how you could combine these attributes. Of course, the first option I came up with was a little off the wall and completely unrelated to higher education, but Christopher Conzen responded with a much more relevant idea:
@lizgross144 if we can search as pages, I see power in searching for students who like soccer to invite to intramurals for example
— Christopher Conzen (@clconzen) January 15, 2013
Christopher was right on the money. Colleges and universities have some advantages in this arena that many other brands don’t, and those advantages could pay off through graph search. I got access to beta tonight, and was amazed at what I could find. I haven’t used any screen shots because of the amount of personal information the searches revealed about people I didn’t know.
Why Facebook Graph Search Provides Colleges An Advantage
Students generally have a high affinity for their school, and are likely to like the campus page on Facebook. Think about it—you’re more likely to like your university Facebook page than the brand that makes the jeans you wear.
Most campus pages also function as a place, and students have a tendency to check in when they go to class. Most, although not all, universities have just one location. Unlike a national brand, which can’t take advantage of check-ins at your local store.
While many students keep their timeline information private, it’s quite possible that they’ll leave their likes, interest, and place information public. To test this, I visited a few profiles of students I was not friends with. Much of this information was still available, although the timeline was hidden. My personal, completely unproven theory, is that traditional-age college students want to leave some of this information open to facilitate meeting new people. While they might not like strangers to know what they’re talking about, they do want to give them a reason to connect.
Colleges are still the backbone of Facebook. Almost everyone enters their education information. Based on early information about Graph Search, the college someone attends is a searchable element.
How College Campuses Can Leverage Facebook Graph Search
So, back to Chris’s point. Assuming that 1) a student has liked the campus page or checked in while on campus, and 2) that information is available to the public, along with their interests, a savvy administrator could run the following Graph Searches:
People who attend Marquette University and are interested in Politics. An advisor could use this to recruit new students to the political science major, or a student activities professional could send an invitation to an SGA meeting. I ran this search using Marquette University and received over 100 results. I was not friends with anyone, nor did we have any friends in common, but they all showed up in search. I could refine the search in the following ways:
Music people who attend Bridgewater State University listen to. A campus activities group could plan what bands to invite to campus to ensure a higher turnout. In case you’re curious, the top results are Taylor Swift, Drake, Kenny Chesney, and Eminem.
People who like UW-Madison and are in high school and live in Milwaukee. Admissions counselors could tease out some more of the “stealth applicants” and contact them in advance of an area visit. It doesn’t look like you could actually run this search yet, at least not in this iteration.
People who went to Stanford and currently work at Google. An career counselor can quickly find alumni that work at companies of interest. (Yes, you could also use LinkedIn for this – it will be interesting to see which yields better results.) Facebook Graph search yields more than 100 people. I’m only friends with one of them. If you don’t use the word “currently,” you’ll also get former employees.
People who went to UW-Stevens Point and currently live in London. An alumni association officer can get a list of possible candidates to start its first international chapter. This search yielded nine results. If you don’t use the word “currently,” you’ll also get people who used to live in London.
Places people who attend Cardinal Stritch University have been to. A campus event planner can search for potential sponsors and make the “ask” armed with real information about their potential campus impact. In case you’re curious, CSU students seem to be big sports fans and like to travel. The top results are Miller Park, Mitchell Airport, the Bradley Center, and Lambeau Field.
Photos taken at UNO Welcome Week. The editor of the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Omaha can search for user-generated content for an event wrap-up (and ask for permission to use, of course). I found an awful lot of photos from this search.
I’m sure this is just the tip of the ice berg. There are still a lot of unknowns regarding Facebook Graph Search – will pages have access to information from fans that isn’t set to public? Exactly how can you use the natural language search? —There seem to be some pretty great auto-complete suggestions that guide you— Will users respond to Graph Search by locking down their privacy settings? Hopefully we’ll know answers to some of these questions in the coming weeks.
How do you envision being able to use Facebook Graph Search in your role? Share your thoughts in the comments.