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Five tips to master Facebook’s Graph Search

Facebook's latest feature is powerful, but also kind of confusing. Here's how you can use it in a smart way

Facebook started rolling out Graph Search to the public last month, and by now most people can use the feature. All you have to do is click on the search bar next to the Facebook logo at the top of the screen, and it starts showing you default search options.

Start typing, and you’ll get suggestions, prompts about people you might know, interests you might share, or places you might be looking for. Planning lunch and want to figure out where other people in the building eat? A search for “restaurants nearby that people who I work with like" would answer that quickly. And the best part is that you don’t need to know how to structure the search terms—Facebook automatically suggests them, and when it displays the results, it also helps you refine the results with simple menus, and suggests alternative searches.

In theory, this is all great, but actually getting useful results from Graph Search can be a little challenging. If you’ve just started using the feature, then here are five tips:

Use the Ctrl key to auto-complete terms

When you’re keying in terms, Facebook begins to show options you might want to search for. But of course, often you want to use those terms and then refine them again. You might be looking for “movie theatres near your home that your friends like", but Facebook will only suggest the location and friend modifiers after you’ve typed in every word of the previous term. Given how long these queries can get, it’s a little tedious—but if you use the arrow keys, you can go up and down the suggestions, and then press Ctrl+right arrow to auto complete and start on the next term. It saves so much time that it’s an essential tool.

Use the sidebar

It’s hard to figure out the right search terms at first—Graph Search is powerful but a little confusing initially. However, on the right side of the screen, you’ll get options to refine your search, by location or interest or even specifically by name. So if you’re trying to find out what gift to buy a friend, well, you can take a deep dive into their interests. Facebook lets you get incredibly specific with the queries, and it’s definitely easier to do so using the sidebar.

Research your audience

This point is really most useful for people who’re running a brand page on Facebook—as an individual, you might be curious about how many people who are friends of your friends also like Mumford and Sons. But as a page manager, Graph Search can be a powerful tool in understanding your audience.

What books do my followers read? What movies are they fans of? What have they shared about their political views? These can all be looked up easily with Graph Search, and can help you decide what kind of content you want to place on the page, making this a really powerful tool.

It is still limited in scope

Graph Search is built on all the data that Facebook has been able to gather over the years. It’s using your likes, interests, shares and tags to build up a lot of information. Those personalized recommendations can be very useful for things like movies, or books. Want to know what music is popular among students in your college? That’s easy, but if you’re trying to get a recommendation for a doctor in your neighbourhood? Post a status update and tag people asking them to offer advice, because your doctor probably doesn’t have a Facebook page.

Remember about privacy

Graph Search doesn’t really affect privacy directly; it’ll only show data that’s already public. But here’s the thing—unless you’re a celebrity, it’s very unlikely that people would just stumble upon your pictures and status updates, outside of your immediate networks.

That’s not the case with Graph Search though. Suppose a friend took photos of you running a marathon, tagged them, and then didn’t mark the privacy settings properly. Someone else does a Graph Search for people in the area who run marathons, and Facebook suggests looking for photos from marathons in the area. Your photo is now being seen by strangers.

That’s fairly harmless, of course, but it helps illustrate how easy it is to find things now. It’s more important than ever to look at tagged content, likes, and shares, and decide what should be public and what should be private.

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