Earlier this week, Microsoft and Facebook held a press event to announce a new module coming to Bing. In essence, Bing is now a true social search engine, using your own Facebook social graph to inform and expand your decision-making process. Looking for a new restaurant or a good movie? The new Bing experience will enable you to see your friends' experiences as part of the searching process.
This, in and of itself, is big news. Search has been an evolving marketplace, but the searchable content has historically been similar from engine to engine. Whether it is Google, Yahoo or now, Bing, the major Web sites -- sites like Wikipedia -- have always been prominent on every engine. Image and video inclusion as well as that of news feeds may vary by query, but the general data sources have always been whatever could be crawled and indexed. That is certainly not the case, at least for now, with this deal.
But for most marketers, the implications of this have meaning far beyond search. The strength of search has been in its direct-response nature -- the ability to search, find, refine and ultimately act in some way. That way has historically been emphasized as purchase, but more and more brands are considering the intent expression as an important part of understanding who people are and what motivates them either into searching or where they go next on their consumer journey.
Contrast that with social media where, what was once a solitary island for friends to connect with friends has been infiltrated by brands wanting some of the benefits of friendship. Twitter and Facebook are leading a charge to convince marketers that the connections made through their social platforms is a crucial piece of the value exchange between consumers and brands.
What started as artists using MySpace to connect with their audience evolved into Twitter as a new-age customer-service vehicle. It became fashionable for brands to have Facebook fan pages and to tweet deals and information out to customers to help them stay informed. Beyond that, location-based services such as Foursquare have gotten into the act and given another layer of connectivity and currency between consumers and brands. Each of these engagements has a consistent value exchange that brands were giving in exchange for very little. Whether a band was trying to hit it big or Comcast was trying to resolve a disgruntled customer, it was the brand doing the heavy lifting. People use Foursquare to check in so their friends know where they are, but they also hope that businesses are willing to exchange that check-in for some discount or freebie.
The announcement of social as defined by Facebook into Bing both changes and amplifies this relationship. If someone is looking for a good restaurant in New York to eat, a query on Bing not only provides what they find to be relevant but also what your friend network has decided worthy of liking. Suddenly all the Yelp reviews in the world seem minimal in a results page if one friend you trust as your groups "foodie" likes a place. It means that every person who visits, interacts or buys from you can be a part of your sales force and marketing efforts. Or they can be that for your competition.
Brands like Zappos, JetBlue and Apple have grown in popularity because of their authenticity. At the ANA conference this week, I saw a tweet from Patrick Harris of Microsoft suggesting that the early themes for advertisers having success in this climate were "purpose, authenticity, heritage, service through people." Safe to say the brands I described above adhere to that. But how do small brands with limited resources, and "old" brands, turn the battleship to meet this challenge? The answers aren't clear, but what is becoming increasingly apparent is that as social and search fuse for consumers, the impetus for change is staring brands in the face. Those that do not provide customers with a sense of belonging, invite them on the journey together, and recognize the importance of "like" and its role going forward, are destined to be dead brands.