The Advanced Guide to Facebook Graph Search

Joshua Kraus

In 2013, Facebook rolled out Graph Search, a powerful semantic search engine that granted users more control over Facebook’s ever-expanding universe of big data.

Over the past several months, however, Facebook has begun to scale back Graph Search’s capabilities – a setback for many businesses which have come to rely on the service to gather useful consumer insight.

Fortunately, while Graph Search isn’t as all-powerful as it once was, plenty of its advanced functionality is still operational. You just have to know how to use it.

How It Works

Facebook’s Graph Search responds to natural language queries, and is able to process multi-faceted orders. This makes searching Facebook something like a game of Mad Libs.

For example, if you’re interested in finding someone who works at a certain company, lives in a certain city, and likes a certain type of food, you might use the following query:

“People who work at Starbucks and live in Dallas, Texas and like Mexican food”

The terms people, Starbucks, Dallas, Texas and Mexican food are all fungible, depending on your search objectives.

When you understand how queries can be structured, it’s easier to determine what type of query will yield your desired result.

It should be noted that Graph Search can be fickle, more so now that it is devolving. Trying to identify Starbucks employees who live in Dallas and like Mexican food may come up empty, but replacing Dallas with New York, or Mexican with Japanese, could generate a long list of results.

Achieving success with Graph Search, then, requires trial and error. This is partly due to a user’s particular network. While Graph Search doesn’t necessarily limit itself to your friends and mutual friends, the size and diversity of your network does play a role in how Graph Search achieves results.

While the precise nature of the search engine’s complex functionality isn’t public knowledge, the following guide will provide you with all the necessary information to get you started.

People-Focused Search

There are currently 1.49 billion active Facebook users, so trying to find someone named Paul, for example, is like finding a needle in a haystack factory. Needless to say, the more information you have on someone, the better.

Lucky for you, Graph Search can handle a surprising number of criteria. Here are some people-focused queries to experiment with.

“People named [name] who like [something]”

“People named [name] who like [something] and work at [company]”

“People named [name] who like [something] and live in [city, state]

“Fans of [page] who visited [city, state]”

You can also take a more general approach to a people-focused search. For example, you might search for something like:

“People who live in [city, state] and are [single/married] and like [something]”

“[women/men] who work at [company] and live in [city, state] and like [page]”

Queries like these can connect you with single Chicagoans who like turtles, men who work at Crossfit and like the Murder She Wrote fan page, and more. And while it’s no substitute for a match-making service (one would hope), it becomes useful when trying to network.

Business-Focused Search

If you’re more interested in finding businesses than people, give these queries a shot.

“[type of business] liked by people who like [something]”

“[type of business] liked by people who like [page]”

“[type of business] liked by people who live in [city, state] and like [something]”

[type of business] visited by fans of [page]”

[type of business] visited by people who work at [company]”

[type of business] visited by people who work at [company] and like [something]”

A business-focused search can be extremely helpful when it comes to marketing and promotions.

For example, imagine you run a NYC breakfast food truck – we’ll call it The Winnebagel – and business is slow. By using a business-focused query, you might discover that a lot of New Yorkers who like food trucks also like a certain city park. Setting up shop near that park might attract more customers.

A business-focused search can also help you identify cross-promotional opportunities. You might find that many people who like your food truck also like a certain smoothie bar. Maybe that smoothie bar would be interested in partnering with you for a special event, or a cross-promotional coupon initiative.

Page-Focused Search

Similar to a business-focused search, a page-focused search can provide valuable insight into customer interests and behavior. Here are a few nifty page-focused queries to tinker with.

“Favorite pages of [company name] employees”

“Favorite pages of [profession]”

“Pages liked by people who like [something]”

“Pages liked by people who like [something] and visited [city, state]”

Queries like these can paint you a more three dimensional picture of your ideal customer. They can also introduce you to potential marketing ventures.

While conducting market research for The Winnebagel, you might just learn that many fans of your business also like Facebook page for National Bagel Day.

“Oh gosh!” you might say. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as National Bagel Day.”

Well there is, and it’s a very promising promotional opportunity.

Post-Focused Search

Facebook posts are treasure troves of useful data, and the right post-focused query can help you enhance your business’s own posting strategy.

How? By studying your competitors and identifying what kinds of posts land the biggest reaction from potential customers.

What are your competitors doing with their posts that you’re not? Why are customers responding to one post and not the other?

For post-focused searching, try these queries:

*”Posts liked by people who like [page]”

“Posts liked by people who like [something]”

“Posts liked by people who live in [city, state] and work at [company]”

Through these queries, you might discover that people who like food trucks responded well to a competitor’s post about a negative review, and responded poorly to a post about a news story.

If you notice this behavior occurs enough times to be considered a trend, you might try emulating the strategy.

Mutual Friend Search

Outside of Graph Search, Facebook offers a powerful mutual friend finder which allows you to filter results based on a number of criteria, including location, school, and workplace.

This feature can come in handy for cultivating contacts, as the presence of a mutual friend is far more likely to encourage a response.

To garner some much needed publicity for The Winnebagel, you might think it wise to pen a Op-Ed about how new city regulations are harming the food truck industry.

To increase the odds of your story being accepted, or even looked at, search for friends of your friends who work at the publication you plan on pitching. Then approach that person through your mutual friend. Knowing someone on the inside is always preferable to an unsolicited pitch.


Facebook collects data from nearly one fifth of the world’s population, making it one of the largest libraries for consumer insight in existence. And while its search engine isn’t the most reliable, it can uncover some remarkable information with the right query.

To take advantage of the engine’s semantic search capabilities, establish your search objective, and focus the query accordingly. Researching what businesses interest your customer base? Curious about what kinds of posts your competitors prefer? Dying to know which Battlestar Galactica fans recently visited Puerto Vallarta?

With an advanced understanding of Facebook search, you can discover all that and more.