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Facebook search enhancements could compel all businesses to participate in social networks

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Social networking giant Facebook is hard at work improving its search engine. According to a report on Businessweek that cited sources familiar with the project, the company aims to leverage existing content being generated on its Facebook platform such as status updates, articles, videos and even the "likes" of its users. You can read more about the report here.

In terms of sheer clout, with the 336 million searches conducted in February 2012, Facebook is a world removed from juggernaut Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), which saw a staggering 17.6 billion searches. However, Facebook has one key advantage that Google doesn't have--the updates, interactions and preferences of its more than 800 million users.

Clearly, it is in the interest of Facebook to tap into this goldmine of data that competitors such as Google simply can't reach. And if the profitability and incredible membership of Facebook is any gauge, there is little doubt in my mind that the company will be able to execute and deliver improved search capability.

What does it mean for businesses?

So what does all this mean to businesses, which may have just gotten the hang of concepts such as search engine optimization and setting up their own website and online storefronts?

For one, businesses that have been ignoring social networks as a passing fad will need to realize that this is not the case. With a better search engine, it is not inconceivable that an increasing number of users will rely on social network-centric search engines to find what they need. And just like how it has become vital that businesses have their own websites to get listed on traditional search engines, businesses will similarly need to establish a presence on social media networks to be able to appear in searches conducted within them.

Unlike a static website which can be setup and ignored, maintaining a social networking presence demands continued effort and attention. Invariably, both irate customers and potential new customers will start interacting via comments and feedback, with the unspoken expectation of the rapid response time inherent to social media platforms. With the possibility of complaints and unhappiness being openly aired, businesses will also find it in their best interest to react quickly anyway.

What I'm trying to say here is that a pivotal moment is approaching where a social media presence is no longer optional. Rather than be caught off-guard, businesses will do well to prepare themselves by incorporating the various social network platforms into their marketing strategy--and budget. - Paul Mah (Twitter @paulmah)