Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who ya gonna trust?

The announcement that Bing will incorporate Facebook likes into search rankings is a big deal.  All of a sudden, the mechanistic algorithms that determine what we see when we do a search will get a helping hand from real live human beings.  Search results will be influenced by Facebook likes in general and more specifically by your friends (if you happen to be logged-in to Facebook at the time).

This is a game changer in four ways:
  1. The Bing brand of search just became a lot more differentiated.  My curiosity to see what the crowd and my friends like in search results will cause me to use Bing more.
  2. We all have more incentive to make Facebook an "always on" utility in our online lives.  Welcome even more Facebook ubiquity.
  3. Knowing my vote really will be counted when I like a brand will cause me to like brands on more occasions while making me a little more selective in awarding my endorsement.
  4. Facebook likes just became a much more important tool for businesses seeking to improve their page rank in search.  Gaming the algorithm with clever page titles and link building campaigns could take a backseat to cultivating Facebook likers if this initiative succeeds.
The trend of aggregating active human endorsement in search is bigger than this Bing announcement.  Google is making strides toward social search with it's plus-one initiative.  Social search is where things are headed because it's human nature to trust in your friends' opinions.

The implications for marketers are profound.  Delight a customer and step to the front of the line to be found by others.  Offer an average customer experience and be consigned to invisibility among the herd of the mediocre.  Disappoint or anger the customer and end-up on page 29 of search results.

Smart brands will not only improve their customer experience but will solicit likes by showcasing less tangible aspects of their brand that appeal to people on a values level.  A brand's enlightened environmental, sustainability and labor practices are all now potential marketing tools.  The issue cuts both ways.  Polluting a local stream or off-shoring jobs could have a substantial marketing cost if the Facebook community takes note and decides to get active.

This is going to be interesting.

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