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Social Media Search: How To Find It

Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows
Facebook's 2012 Highs And Lows

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Until recently, I thought of Facebook as a search-free zone -- a fine place for browsing and sharing content, but an impossible place to find much of anything. Yes, there is a search blank at the top of the screen, but I'd never found it to be good for much besides a search for people or companies on Facebook. There seemed to be no provision for searching for conversations on a given topic or doing a LinkedIn-style search for people by employers or specialties.

It turns out some of those capabilities are there, but hidden. Topical searches are easier on Twitter, and search by hashtag is one of that service's strengths, but finding advanced search options requires some digging. Despite the advanced social data mining that's available for advertisers and marketers to use, conducting a search and narrowing it down through social services' native user interfaces is trickier than it ought to be. Rather than presenting a straightforward path to advanced search results, both Facebook and Twitter make you drop down a rabbit hole to get there.

Facebook in particular is a puzzle. Altimeter Group analyst Jeremiah Owyang recently wrote that "search is Facebook's tailbone," the vestigial body part the company is sitting on and failing to do anything with. He seems to think it's plausible that Facebook will grow a working tail sometime soon.

Meanwhile, my tale is this: while preparing a presentation for the Society of Professional Journalists about seeking out sources on social media, I was initially prepared to assert that search on Facebook was essentially nonexistent. My experience was that if I entered a search that wasn't a match or near-match for the name of a person or an organization with a Facebook page, I would occasionally be presented with a smattering of Web search results as a consolation prize. I remembered reading that Facebook had a partnership with Microsoft's Bing on search technology, but this seemed to be the only fruit of it.

While fact checking myself on this, however, I stumbled across a video by Jason McDonald of JM Internet Group revealing the semi-secret sophistication of Facebook search. Even though he starts out by asserting "Facebook search sucks," he revealed several tricks that I never would have stumbled across otherwise. Besides the fact that these features are hidden, my early, underwhelming experiences with Facebook search had discouraged me from seeking them out.

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The issue is mostly one of navigation. The initial screen of results Facebook displays, as a drop-down list, is more or less as I always thought -- limited to name-based matches to profiles and pages.

The first drop-down list of results.

However, if you scroll down to the end of the drop-down list and click "More Results," you don't get just more of the same. Rather, you open up a multifaceted series of search possibilities. You can't just hit Enter -- that will take you to one of the initial auto-suggested results on the initial list. You have to click "More Results." That brings up a second list of results like the one below, with navigation down the left-hand side allowing you to narrow your search to people, pages, groups, post content and more.

Clicking "More Results" takes you to a search screen that allows you to search people, pages, groups and posts.

The "people" search gets richer at this point, with additional drop-down lists allowing you to search by location, education and workplace, or some combination of these. For example, if I'm trying to find people with expertise in forensic accounting, I can now find my way to people who mention that term in their profile and live in my area -- not just pages with the words "forensic accounting" in the title. Instead of searching for "John Smith," I can search for a particular John Smith I know who lives in Boulder, Colo., and works for Wal-Mart.

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