I recently saw this commercial for the search engine Bing.
Bing Social 101
In the commercial, the protagonist, Kate, searches for the word “restaurants” on Bing. Because she is connected to Facebook, this is what her results page looks like:
The grey-colored column is the Bing social “sidebar.” It suggests to Kate “Friends Who Might Know,” i.e. Facebook friends who have “liked” restaurants, included information about restaurants in their profiles, or uploaded restaurant-related photos. Bing also suggests “People Who Know,” experts and enthusiasts who have blogged or tweeted about restaurants. Kate can then ask her Facebook friends a question and get their opinions and recommendations directly through Bing, like this:
Because of Bing, Kate and her date go to a trendy pop-up restaurant where they enjoy a molten-metal-filled meal! (I personally would find a restaurant filled with blowtorches, flying metal sparks, and hot liquid metal a bit overwhelming, but to each her own.) The essence of the commercial: Bing is a savvy search engine. By coupling search queries with social networking, it gives people customized recommendations from those whom they trust the most: their friends.
Getting Help from Yelp
Bing made another major change to its search results through a partnership with Yelp. Yelp now powers Bing local search results, so when I search for a local restaurant, I can see recent Yelp reviews on the results page:
Why Getting Social is Smart for Bing and All Businesses
Bing’s assimilation of Facebook and Yelp reviews into search results is a smart move. Bing has been trying to stand out amongst the giant that is Google ever since launching in 2009. In fact, providing people with social-friendly and personalized information is a smart move for all businesses, and here’s why:
1. The Trust Factor
A typical search generates millions of results, so navigating through SERPs can sometimes be a daunting task. Online customer reviews and recommendations from friends are like the rope Ariadne gave Theseus so that he could find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth: they give people a little direction and guidance. Plus, review-based sites are deemed trustworthy by a majority of people: 70% of people trust consumer opinions that are posted online.
If people trust opinions posted by total strangers, then imagine the faith they place in those closest to them! You don’t have to, because here is an eye-opening statistic: 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family. If paging through SERPs is like mining, then recommendations from Facebook friends are akin to finding gold. Yes, it simplifies the search process, but the crucial thing is that it gives people information from those whom they find reliable.
Who better to ask for a restaurant recommendation than a Facebook friend?
2. The Talking Factor
People like to talk about themselves, and they love to share their opinions. Consider this: a recent study found that sharing opinions is intrinsically rewarding. It stimulates activity in regions of the brain that are associated with reward. It’s so rewarding that when study participants were offered a choice between talking about the opinions of others and receiving cash or talking about their own opinions and not receiving cash, they chose to talk about themselves (and thereby forego the money).
Bing taps into this Chatty Cathy tendency people have by encouraging them to share opinions. It offers a digital, verbal meeting place.
Bing and the Bigger Picture
Bing is a sign of the times, and the changes it’s rolling out indicate a shift that’s underway in the marketing and advertising world. Online reviews are overtaking more traditional forms of advertising. People trust online reviews more than ads on TV, ads in magazines or newspapers, and ads on the radio. These sites also influence buying behavior: 83% of consumers say online customer reviews influence their purchase decisions. And with this love for loquaciousness that people have, there will always be people eager to write reviews.
Talk Isn’t Cheap: What Businesses Need to Know
I lived in New York City for a few months this year, and I noticed that restaurants posted Yelp stickers on their windows like badges of honor.
These stickers are visual proof of positive recommendations. Because restaurants abound in NYC, I sometimes found the task of choosing one overwhelming. Plus, I never knew whether the latest coffee shop or restaurant to crop up in my East Village neighborhood was a culinary jewel just waiting to be discovered or a hole-in-the-wall just begging to be avoided. So, if I saw one of these Yelp stickers tacked on to a restaurant window, I knew that restaurant was likely a safe bet.
I rely on online recommendations, and I’m not the only one. As of March, Yelp has about 66 million monthly unique visitors. Urbanspoon, another review-based site, gets 28 million monthly unique visitors. About a month ago, Google announced that Zagat, a restaurant-ratings publisher, would be integrated into Google+ Local.
People use the above sites, so (for better or worse) business can’t ignore them. These sites can actually be great resources for businesses because they offer a direct line from owners to consumers. They give businesses instant access to feedback. And, positive reviews can be extremely useful when it comes to marketing and advertising: they’re free, and they’re great selling points.
Although, a negative review can always be a selling point, too. Proof that any negative can be spun into a positive:
I’ll take a maligned meatball sandwich over a molten-metal meal any day. Now I just need Bing to find me some sandwich experts who can give me a recommendation. Guy Fieri preferably.