Social Search Propels Bing, Will Hurt Google

by Charlene Li

Microsoft’s Bing.com search unit announced today that it is integrating Facebook’s social graph information into some parts of its search results. This is the long-awaited “social search” that I’ve been talking about and waiting for for years.  I was briefed by Adam Sohn from Bing.com this morning. [Update: Danny Sullivan has an excellent deep dive into the new offerings from Bing, as well as implications for SEO and Google.]

Search algorithms have used different types of “signals” like location to figure out what it is that the person is trying find or do. By integrating Facebook’s social graph and the “like” data generated by Facebook members, Bing is adding social signals to its algorithms.

In a nutshell, Bing announced two new features that take advantage of this new social signal: Liked Results and Profile Search.

Liked Results

When you are signed in to Facebook (more on what exactly that is later) and do a search on Bing, you have the option of seeing search results that take into account what your Facebook friends have “liked.” For example, if I’m searching for “restaurant Napa Valley”, I’ll see the 10 blue links that Bing’s search algorithm normally delivers. But I’ll also have the ability to see results that have been “liked” by my friends as well that also match the query.

It’s a way to highlight search results that your friends have liked. The fact that many of my friends are wine-drinking parents who may have dragged their kids along for a wine tasting tour means that the Liked Results are going to be just slightly more relevant to my particular situation.

Where it gets interesting is when the Liked Results don’t show up in the first page of the search engine results page (SERP). Bing then suddenly becomes much more relevant because it is personalized to you because of your social graph. Sohn explained to me that in the future, they plan to include what they call “algo annotation” that will show the signals that are being used to rank the result. For example, you’ll be able to see how many friends liked a particular link. There’s also the possibility in the future of showing not only likes, but also check-ins, photos of food and people, or reviews from friends associated with a particular restaurant in Napa.

Profile Search

About 4% of searches on Bing are name searches, amounting to about 1 billion searches a month. The problem is if you’re looking for a particular person — especially if they have a common name — it’s hard to differentiate. By tapping into your social graph, Bing looks at your friends, your friends’ friends, and your networks to return results that have greater “social proximity” to you. These search results will also appear as a separate module.

Privacy and Permissions

The key to making all of this work is that the person using Bing is logged into Facebook and thus gives permission for Bing to tap into his/her social graph and data. Bing is taking steps to make sure notifications are clear and require explicit opt-in. Over time, the notifications will cease to pop up, because the assumption is that the user will no longer want the notifications to appear after repeated acceptances.

Even if you are not logged into Facebook in another tab but have clicked on the “Keep me logged in” check box, you’re setting your cookie to sign you in for a set period of time, which is approximately two weeks right now. This usually isn’t a problem — as long as I’m the only person using the computer. But on a shared computer — like the one that’s in my kitchen — I am frequently inadvertently logged in as my husband and have done things such as accepted friends and Liked items on his account!

Now with search being impacted, I’ll have to make double sure that I’m logged in (or not) when using Bing.

Surfacing social graph information like photos and check-ins will raise even further the cries around privacy and permissions on Facebook. For someone who has set their privacy settings as completely public — and is careful about not putting up private items — this isn’t a problem. But most people are much more nuanced about this, maybe posting photos from an evening out that will now have the possibility of being taken completely out of context.

I believe that having social data in search results will lead to some inadvertent and potentially embarrassing and explosive situations, which in the end will curb people’s appetite for sharing socially. In the same way that college students realize that Facebook posts and photos will follow them into their professional careers, Facebook members will be more circumspect about posting when they see their friends’ social information showing up in general search results.

Power Shifts With Social Search

The rise of social search means that the people using it — and the companies who know how to leverage it — will have an advantage over those who don’t leverage social technologies. There are three major implications:

  1. SEO will lose relevance. Search engine optimization (SEO) — where a Web or content person tweaks a web page to get higher SERP positions — will lose effectiveness as search results become more influenced by social signals. While a company could potentially manipulate “likes” for an item or Web page, marketers can’t SEO your friends. The result: better search results for people who leverage their social graph, because the search results will include more relevant data.
  2. Socially connected people will make more money. If I have a great set of friends, I’ll be able to make better decisions because of more relevant search results. People in my network will start noticing the benefits of likes from their friends and be motivated to be more socially connected as well. It’s the classic network effect, but rather than be driven by purely social incentives, there are clear monetary ones as well — getting better deals, finding things faster, etc.
  3. Bing’s social search hits Google right between the eyes. Google has recently been making noises that it wants access to Facebook’s social graph, calling for the company to be more open. That’s because Google realizes that unless it can harness social graph data, it will be relegated to traditional algorithmic search based primarily on the information on the Web page itself and scrapping what social data it can. You can see some of Google’s early attempts at social search at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/introducing-google-social-search-i.html.

Because Microsoft’s Bing is the privileged search provider on Facebook, it enjoys special access to the social graph and data that no one else does. That’s going to be a huge competitive advantage in a social-driven world, where users and marketers (and their search dollars) will flock to the search engine that performs.

Does it seem unlikely that Bing could unseat Google? It’s happened before. Remember that Yahoo used to be the search leader until Google came on the scene because of its new approach to search. So look for this new phase to come with significant changes.

The Open Leadership Awards 2010 Winners

Back in August, we launched the Open Leadership Awards to recognize people and organization that best demonstrate the principles of open leadership. We received submissions from a range of individuals and organizations, and are excited to announce the winners onstage today at Altimeter Group’s first conference, Rise of Social Commerce, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto California.

While we saw many impressive case studies and intriguing use cases, the seven award winners best exemplify one of four key criteria needed to demonstrate open leadership: 1) Innovation & Execution, 2) Creating Impact, 3) Overcoming Barriers, and 4) Leadership.

Now, without further ado, the winners!

Innovation & Execution

Dell: A Company Built on Direct and Open Communications. Submitted by Dell.
Dell has been an active participant in social media but what continues to impress us is that they are committed to continually pushing the boundaries of social business by pushing engagement into all areas of their business practice. What started out as basic monitoring and reputation management has turned into a way of doing business that permeates through every department. This does not come easily or quickly and Dell is being recognized for their dogged determination to being “direct” with their customers in multiple ways.

Infor Promotes Open Communication With Its Employees, Partners and Customers“. Submitted by Infor.
Infor’s goal was to create more open and transparent communications with employees, customers, partners, and even prospects and competitors. To do this, they used a combination of Yammer, LinkedIn, and Twitter to engage these different audiences. But what really impressed us was their detailed implementation program, which included contests, parties, and incentives to engage people both at the grassroots level and also involve senior executives. It was the thoroughness of the thinking and excellence in implementation that brought Infor this award.

Creating Impact

AmericaSpeakingOut Helps Republicans Reach Its Consitituents“. Submitted by Microsoft.
Created by House Republicans in May 2010 to engage people in a virtual “town hall” type of discussion, the site drew hundreds of thousands of people, who submitted over 15,000 ideas, and voted over 1 million times for the ideas. The effort not only engaged an audience in a new way, but also is beginning to impact how House Republicans listen to people, and also information their legislative priorities and even the drafting of legislation.

Bringing Open Leadership to Government“. Submitted by City of Manor, Texas and Spigit.
The city of Manor, Texas has a population of 6,500 people and is blessed with city leaders keen to open up government. Last fall, the 24 year old CIO of the city, Dustin Haisler, set up manorlabs.org to gather ideas on how to improve city. Since then, over a third of the city’s population has participated, with over 80 ideas submitted. Five of those ideas have been implemented, including the suggestion to allow recurring payments for utility bills and an RSS feed for public work orders. For comparison purposes, typically only 10-15 people attended monthly city council meetings. To get people to engage, the city also created a virtual currency that could be redeemed for prizes like being mayor for the day or a ride-along with the police chief.

Overcoming Barriers

U by Kotex: A Breakthrough Launch Driven by Social Media“. Submitted by U by Kotex and Organic.

The Kotex brand team wanted to reinvent a brand for young women and create dialog around a taboo subject, vagina health. They had to overcome tremendous barriers around this subject and create a cultural shift with a key audience. This required a tremendous amount of preparation around guidelines, training sessions, and worst-case scenario planning, as well as putting in place collaboration tools to be able to quickly respond to sensitive comments. Crucial to the success of the program was trained Conversation Managers and Community Planners who were prepared to talk about and respond to questions and concerns.

TurboTax Live Community. Submitted by Intuit.
After a technical launch of the TurboTax support community in 2007, the company found that only half of the asked questions were being answered. Moreover, only 12% of Intuit employees had answered questions. It took Patsy Nations and her team to create a culture at Intuit that not only created opportunities to engage with customers, but they also made it fun. Using a combination of incentives and internal competition, employee participation in the community rose to 85% this past year. Moreover, it included the GM of the Consumer Group, as well as every VP and Director in the company.

Leadership

Driving Best Buy’s Social Customer Success. Submitted by Best Buy.
When Best Buy started monitoring customer comments in social media in 2008, they had no intention to actively and directly engage customers. Gina Debogovic, BEST BUY’s Communities Manager was told straight out by an executive that there was no way they would launch any type of customer community before the end of the year. Not one to take no for an answer, Gina doggedly set out to make it happen, and on September 18, 2008, the community was launched. The result: in the past year, call deflection and sales influence thanks to the community is estimated to be a $5 million benefit.

Special Thanks

And a special thank you to Spigit, which built and managed the award platform, and congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everyone who participated this year!

New video with Brian Solis on “Open Leadership”

Brian Solis recorded a video interview with me discussing the concepts in my book Open Leadership – it’s part of his excellent new video series.

You can watch the video and I also got a transcript made if that’s an easier way to take in the information. The video is 14 minutes long, and a great introduction into some of the foundational elements of open leadership – consider sending it to a leader in your organization!

A special thanks to Brian for taking the time to delve deeply into this topic with me, and to KickLabs for the use of their start-up space for taping.

(R)evolution with Brian Solis and Charlene Li
October 1, 2010

Brian: Hello everyone. I am your host, Brian Solis. Welcome to another episode of (R) evolution. I am excited and extremely pleased to have with us a very special guest and also someone who I get to call a good friend, Charlene Li, who is the author of the best selling new book, Open Leadership. She was also the co-author of another best seller, Groundswell, and today we are going to talk a little bit about what it takes to be an open leader in this era of social media and social technology.

I have this saying that I often share with executives that if a conversation takes place online and you are not there to hear it, did it really happen? And as we look at words that are becoming pervasive in the social era, such as transparency and authenticity and openness, we have to look at the greater meaning of not just these words or these buzz words, but actually what it takes to become an open leader. So the name of the show is (R)evolution with an emphasis on both on Revolution and Evolution, and with that I would like to welcome officially, Charlene, to the show. Thank you very much for being on.

Charlene: Thank you very much for having me.

Brian: The transformation of leadership is no small undertaking. And, I wonder in your experience if you see it to be more of a revolution or an evolution in order to at least get the process moving in the right direction?

Charlene: Well, I think, first of all, by nature leadership doesn’t go in fits and starts. It is something you evolve and move into, but I do fundamentally believe it is an evolution of how you get to that point. Especially being a leader in the social media space. It is so different, and requires that leaders to think in a completely different way. One where they are going to open up and share information, decision-making, where everything, every single fiber in their body says control it; command it. That is what it means to be a leader; be in charge. And yet, in this new era, I think it is much more about what you can enable and bring in, and bringing people together by giving up that control and in that process you actually get more power. But the revolution part is very interesting. I think most leaders won’t get to that point. They will not move into that era, because it is so difficult for them to do that. Therefore, it takes a revolution. It takes a breaking point where they realize they cannot survive anymore, even. They have to be forced and pushed into that new space. Dragged, kicking and screaming, oftentimes, as you have probably seen, and usually, unfortunately, it comes to this cataclysmic external forces, a really bad situations that makes them sit up and realize – I have to do things differently.

Brian: I like to call this the ah-ha versus the oh-oh moment where very few leaders look at that ah-ha with the opportunity that is present before them before they react to the oh-oh moment where we see something like the BP oil spill account on Twitter, where suddenly BP had to start to consider a social presence. Or with the unfortunate videos that hit YouTube for Domino’s, where suddenly Domino’s needed to now have a social strategy. But we are looking at decades of closed, top down leadership where even engagement was outsourced to outside agencies, or to overseas agencies. What is it that you are seeing in terms of the individual within the organization? Is it really the leader who says we need to embrace social? Or is it a champion or a catalyst internally that says let’s think about this differently and here’s why?

Charlene: It is all of those. I have talked to a lot of these social media strategists, the sort of realists, optimists, is what I call them. Somewhere in the middle of the organization, or sometimes in the front lines. And they are the ones who oftentimes are that catalyst, who live in that space. But I have met quite a few CEOs also who get that ah-ha moment, and they lead; they lead absolutely strongly from the top of the organization. Howard Shultz at Starbucks, Chris Conde at Sungard Financial Services Retail, at the top of the game. And what is interesting is they are leading at the very top. They have front line people who are right behind them and then you come into this thing called middle management, and they are incredibly threatened, because they hang onto the hierarchy that closed-ness actually creates, information sharing up and down stovepipes. Authority inside decision-making. And so when the CEO is connecting with the front lines through these informal channels, guess what happens? Chaos. All this angst comes up, and I think we are going through that period now where it is not so much about enterprise 2.0, as it is about leadership 2.0. What does it mean to be a leader when you don’t have control anymore?

Brian: That is a fantastic question, because we look at what is going to put the leader in open leadership, and we see over the years different types, I don’t want to say leaders, because that could be questioned, but we will just say different types of CXOs. And those could be either risk taking or risk adverse. And I would imagine that with social there has to be a common trait in terms of one willing to take risks. But I also see push back in the sense of how big is social, really? And when we look at the idea of that if a conversation takes place online idea, how big does it have to be for them to pay attention or to commit resources, to commit teams, to commit budget for them to actually go down this path?

Charlene: I don’t think it has to be that big. In fact, it is huge, because if you take away the social technology part of it, take away all the things around Twitter and Facebook, and sit down with the executive and say, how important are relationships to your business? And they will say absolutely central. It is the most important thing. Business is all about relationships. And you go, what relationships? Can you define them? What kind of relationships do you want with your employees and with your customers and they describe that sometimes in great detail. And then you show them this is how social can enable that. And it is in the context of regular every day doing business that you have to explain social technologies. Because if you try to bring leaders who have no idea what this new world looks like, kicking and dragging and screaming into it, they won’t understand it. But if you can go into their world, and live and understand what their most important goals are, and most leaders only focus on maybe three or five goals, period.

Brian: When you are dealing with the executive management level, the question that they have is whether or not these are the playgrounds of the younger generations. Because many of them aren’t necessarily on Facebook or Twitter as individuals. And so what ends up happening a lot of times is that they put certain people on the front lines, just because they understand how to use these social technologies. Not because they feel that it is the right thing to do, and definitely not with a direct adverse strategy that is going to help business outcomes. But I wonder at some point we have to figure out a way to change not just the operation of this, and definitely not just the leadership, but also start to take a crack at shaping or shifting the culture of the organization to be more open, and it definitely takes a leader, but at the same time do you see that there is a chance for outside influences, within the organization, for example, to help change or transform or expedite the need for change of the culture within?

Charlene: So, I think, again, externally, the group that is going to cause the greatest amount of change are the customers. The customers being out there, if you are listening to them at all, they are saying, knock, knock, knock. I am here on Twitter. Are you listening to me? I am here on Facebook. B2B companies say, oh, I don’t need to be on Facebook. Well, we just do a quick search for their product or name and services and lo and behold they are on Facebook. So, where are you? Do you want to be part of that conversation that people are having or not? You can chose still, but they are there. So I go back to what are the places organizations, when you have a look at, what are their external forces? This is, again, the most important one, the one that pays the bills, is your customers.

Brian: And do you believe that there are others, maybe the champion within, who is also maybe someone who has the ear of the CEO. Is this book for them as well?

Charlene: I think the book is for multiple people. There are, first of all, the CEOs, the obvious, the executives, and leaders inside the organization. But is also for those people who are trying to influence them, and they, themselves are trying to figure out how do I be a more effective leader. I talk about four different archetypes of leaders, and one of them is the realist/optimist person who is really the change agent. But I also have one of my favorite people, the worried skeptic. This person is just worried to death about what is going to go wrong. How do you get this person to feel comfortable? And actually be a leader in their own right, because they actually are very right in being worried about things. How do you leverage that and how do you work with the other archetypes to support that person, to feel comfortable with this?

Brian: And one of the things that I have seen as well is this idea of experimentation or pilot programs, not just for leadership, but also with social technology and one might experiment outside of just the need to realize that there is an opportunity to change the leadership, but mostly because this is a have to, because competitors are on Facebook and Twitter or they are reading about it in Ad Age or Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, and so in those cases where it begins, let’s just say from the bottom up, and definitely not a top down strategy, what is the switch when the executive role realizes that there is a bigger opportunity here to socialize the business?

Charlene: So I think all of these organic kind of initiatives, the Twitter here and a little bit of YouTube there, and people just sort of doing it, because they can get away with it, I guess, is the way I think about it. Usually at some point there is a conflict internally. Or they are trying to go after the same customer and fighting over the YouTube channel, for example. But somebody in the corporation says, stop it. This is irrational. We have sixteen different brands on Facebook and one knows which is the real us. Or, the CEO goes, all right, which of these things are us? Or what does it look like? Who are we as a brand and what kind of relationship do you want. Usually it grows up and grows up and at some point everyone blows it up and reforms it again into something more rational. That is exactly what happened with HP. They had all these great initiatives, very good homegrown initiatives, but it wasn’t coordinated. So they did this thing called Operation Clean Sheet. They basically started from scratch saying what is it we want? And did that at the corporate level and put enough structure in there. Again, interesting thing, they put structure around being open, but enough structure so that everyone had the freedom to do what they needed and wanted to. But now it is consistent and instead of having fifty-eight different Facebook pages, they have something like nine. It is rational; it is in line with their strategic goals and business units and different areas. And they have all the same branding and clean look around things. And they have tremendous freedom within those templates to make it work. They created all these sandboxes and everyone is in agreement about it.

Brian: I believe that is actually a lot of what the future of social business looks like, and I hope that this is what we see sooner than later. Because there has to be structure to this. In fact, at some point, we are going to have to embrace the groundswell and then play a top down strategy and leadership program so that this is not just driving the team, as well as the innovation behind what the team is capable of, but also by maybe not controlling, but definitely leading the marketplace. And I think that is what individuals are looking for. They are looking to be heard; they are looking for resolution. They are looking to be part of the process, but they are also looking to have something to believe in. And if organizations aren’t embracing this opportunity to demonstrate leadership, I believe that someone else will. And so with that, I would love Charlene for you to give us a few parting words or bits of advice for those watching.

Charlene: I think most importantly than anything else is to redefine what leadership means. It is no longer about controlling resources, or controlling people. It is about inspiring people, and if you think about the best leaders, the people you will follow to the ends of the earth, they didn’t command and control you. They inspired you towards a common goal. And the tools that leaders have to use today are tremendous. You don’t have to just be able to sit next to somebody to inspire them. You can inspire them with your words, with your image. And to be able to use these tools is something that leaders have to get good at. Be really good and confident and excel at this art of sharing.

Brian: And that is Open Leadership, and that is what it is going to take to win. Not just in business, but just in general. And this is what it is going to take to earn the relationships of your customers, your prospects and the individuals that connect them. Open Leadership to me is exactly what Charlene said. It is about inspiring people and if you can’t inspire people, then how can you possibly expect that they can follow you to wherever it is that you are going? How can you possibly expect that they will support you in our endeavors? Leadership, inspiration, empathy. These are all emotional ties, and that is what we find that really powers and connects social media is the idea of emotion, the idea of self expression, the idea of being part of a very personal community or network where individuals are connected around themes and interests and passions. And you have to earn your way into that. So this is your moment to define who you want to be today and tomorrow.