What the Hell is The Social Graph & Why Should I Care About It?

By Tad Miller | Jan 4, 2010
More Articles by Tad

A segment of a social networkImage via Wikipedia

Techno-Buzzword Alert, if you want to live up to your Social Media Guru status in 2010 you’re going to have to start bandying about the word “Social Graph” in every other sentence, and while your at it you should figure out what it actually is.

Facebook was the first to really talk about the “Social Graph” as way to describe their social network, but Brad Fitzpatrick, the creator of LiveJournal, and now an engineer at Google is really the first to really talk about practical applications and potential of social graphs.  Brad defined the Social Graph as “the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related”

Essentially, the Social Graph is a mapping of a Social Network, which is a social structure made of individuals (or organizations) called “nodes,” which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, financial exchange, dislike, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.

Obviously, the context we are talking about here is Online and the social networking communities that everyone seems to be participating in.  The problem with Social Graphs, as Brad identifies is:

there doesn’t exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that’s comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens.

Brad set out to knock down the barriers between these social networks, and make the Social Graph a community asset. Google, with Fitzpatrick, have even launched an Application Programing Interface (API) to allow web developers a way to use social networking user data.

“You can make it easy for users to bring their existing social connections into a new Web site and as a result, users will spend less time rebuilding their social networks and more time giving your app the love it deserves.”

Why Do I Need to Care About This?

If you can break down the barriers between networks its possible to see what everyone in your social network is up to in one convenient location – or at least bridge the gap between networks.  Guess who wants to do this the most: Google, Bing and what’s left of Yahoo.  Search Engines have deals in place to index Twitter and Facebook, and are already experimenting with incorporating “Social Search” results from people or businesses within your Social Graph into normal search engine results.

Google says of Social Search:

“Your friends and contacts are a key part of your life online. Most people on the web today make social connections and publish web content in many different ways, including blogs, status updates and tweets. This translates to a public social web of content that has special relevance to each person. Unfortunately, that information isn’t always very easy to find in one simple place. That’s why today we’re rolling out a new experiment on Google Labs called Google Social Search that helps you find more relevant public content from your broader social circle.

…With Social Search, Google finds relevant public content from your friends and contacts and highlights it for you at the bottom of your search results.

What we’ve done is surface that content together in one single place to make your results more relevant. The way we do it is by building a social circle of your friends and contacts using the connections linked from your public Google profile, such as the people you’re following on Twitter or FriendFeed. The results are specific to you, so you need to be signed in to your Google Account to use Social Search. If you use Gmail, we’ll also include your chat buddies and contacts in your friends, family, and coworkers groups. And if you use Google Reader, we’ll include some websites from your subscriptions as part of your social search results.

There has been a lot of speculation that Search Engines, particularly with Google, that the Social Graph is going to be a major part of the Algorithm that ranks search engine results in the future.  To what degree this will be happening isn’t clear yet, but it’s coming and likely coming soon.  In doing so Social Media Marketing and SEO will become inextricably intertwined going forward.

Traffic from content usually shared in the form of links in Social Media is already significant, a recent article from Ad Age recently said:

While verticals and brands vary, upward of 20% of traffic to many websites now arrives via shared link, and this traffic is growing and valuable. Indeed, the shared link is emerging as the essential unit of measure, the increasingly relevant currency.

The shared link story gets even more interesting when you factor in conversion-rate differentials. As it turns out (according to multiple studies by Razorfish, DM News, and Meteor Solutions, among others) site visitors arriving via shared links have a conversion rate two to four times other traffic sources (where “conversion” is whatever action the site owner decides, be it a purchase, download, registration, other).

There are multiple benefits for fostering the sharing of links – both the “Social” and potentially the SEO benefits of doing so will be served.

Does Your Business Even Have a Social Graph?

Obviously businesses that participate in Social Media have a leg up in this regard, and those that don’t do not.  But the key for businesses going forward isn’t so much about their existing Social Graphs, the key is getting into their potential and existing customer’s Social Graph’s.

The key is to actually participate (duh) and have something worth sharing that customers can in turn share with their social networks.  Facebook has given site owners an easy way to get those share links out there to its own Social Network with Facebook Connect.  Something as simple as giving someone the opportunity to share “I bought this / or want this / or think this looks cool” with a share on Facebook button on your site is a great way to infiltrate customer Social Graph’s.  The customers will do the work for you, you just need to give them the ability to do it.

The “Share” button isn’t just for blogs going forward if Search Engine’s start using Social Graph data in determining search results.  Any product that can be bought, built, configured or customized on your website could be potentially be shared across social networks. This could also help contribute to producing significant real time search results.  Example of what a share on Twitter button could produce in Google Real Time search is:

The point is that the Social Graph is contributing to Real Time search results and Social Search results already.  It’s very possible that it could be a major contributor in determining the “normal” search results you see on a page going forward. If you care about your search results you need to participate in Social Media and give your customers something worth sharing with their social networks.

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