At some point during an all-night research session, I became curious as to how much data I could pull from Facebook, with the intention of furthering my content marketing strategy. This started as a curiosity, and after and hour or two of experimentation, became an entirely new and revolutionary way (to me, anyways) to tailor my content in a very effective way. I am definitely not the first person to discover this – however, I haven’t seen it in my research. Content marketers should be screaming this from the rooftops.

This article will start off slow, and mostly relate to marketing. If you’re here to laugh at creepy user data, or be amazed, scroll down to the section about privacy. 

Introducing Facebook’s Graph Search

When looking for ways to extract useful data about users, I discovered the Facebook Graph Search. Wikipedia defines it as “a semantic search engine that was introduced by Facebook in March 2013. It was designed to give answers to user natural language queries rather than a list of links. The Graph Search feature combined the big data acquired from its over one billion users and external data into a search engine providing user-specific search results”

How I found it

Like everywhere else I seemed to stumble upon, wikipedia was spoken in past tense. Google searches turned up nothing, and from what I could find of it’s history, FB Graph search was invite-only. I figured it was closed, or a failed project. Then I stumbled upon which explains how awesome it is. The button to ‘Try a search’ simply goes to my News Feed. I thought this was a dead end, and decided to try a query for the hell of it. I tried searching for “People Who Like Walmart”

Facebook Content Marketing

After my first query, I was slightly amazed that it worked. Then I decided to take it a step further. I tried “people that like walmart and live in rhode island”

Facebook Content Marketing

Woah, yeah. That works. At this point I was really amazed. I wanted to push it to see how much further I could take this. I tried “people that like walmart and live in rhode island and are male” thinking that it wouldn’t let me do a query that specific. Wrong:

Facebook Content Marketing

I then spent about an hour pushing the limits of what I can find through this publicly available tool that has been hiding in plain sight all this time. The results of which are almost scary. It will take very complex and creepily specific queries. Even “people that like walmart and live in rhode island and are female and attend new england institute of technology and under 60 and are single” returns a graph query:

Facebook Content Marketing

What this means for marketing:

The marketing potential for this is ridiculous. No longer are we shooting in the dark when we develop personas. Content marketers, you can find your target consumers – and see what content engages them, by checking what they have already engaged with. Rather than blindly producing content, we can go to an actual ideal customer, see what they like, and then produce content tailored almost exclusively to them. As stated, the Graph Search will take highly specific queries.

What this means for privacy:

Unfortunately, for the average person – this is a serious problem. When I decided to show this to people, I realized I would have to blur out names. What this means is we live in a society where a public search that anyone can access can reveal embarrassing facts like never before. Truly let that sink in for a minute. While I think this is wonderful for marketing, it is a horrible invasion of privacy. Facebook not only allows the public to search data you provide, but will categorize you by the pages you like and the type of person they think you are.


Not only can you search for employees, Facebook will also categorize you by what you seem to like.

Not only can you search for employees, Facebook will also categorize you by what you seem to like.

Can you imagine coming into work one day, and have your boss ask you why you are categorized as someone that likes smoking crack cocaine? Or why you ‘like’ their competition?

You may have thought it was funny to like a page about ‘Smoking Crack With the Homeless’ at the time, but you become forever branded by Facebook by someone who smokes crack, and searches will turn that up too. All those addiction recovery ads you may get in your news feed aren’t a coincidence. Those categories Facebook uses, are what we marketers use to target our ads.

So what else can it do?

In short, everything. You can find people by what bars they visit, their interests, their friends, etc. Interesting enough, you can also find all the photos and comments your friends like. I don’t think people realize the severity of this. That creepy ex-girlfriend/boyfriend that you have on fb? They can see every photo you liked, the places you frequent, and the things you comment on.

Some creepy graph searches for you to try:

  • “Photos liked by *friends name*”  Gives you a list of every photo they liked.
  • “Bars visited by my friends” Gives a list of all the friends who visited bars. Pick one.
  • “Bars visited by *friends name*” Gives a list of the bars that friend was at. (no check-in required, they just had gps on while making a status.
  • “Posts commented on by *friends name*” Gives a list of every post commented on.
  • “Pages/posts liked by *friends name*”

The list is endless. You can also try combinations to make it even more sketchy, like:

  • “Single friends under 30 who visited bars”

I have tried too many to list here. Experiment. If you found something that I might have missed, drop a comment and I will add it in.

I will be releasing more shocking facts about this phenomenon shortly – and in general, my blog will always have fun and interesting stuff like this. To keep up to date, follow my Facebook or Twitter.