On Thursday, Microsoft announced that the social sidebar on Bing’s search results page would now display relevant status updates, shared links and comments from the user’s Facebook friends.
In the social sidebar, which was released last year, Bing already found photos, Likes and Facebook profile information that was relevant to the search. Now they have introduced a three column design, separating relevant web results, photos and information from the most relevant result and results from social media sites.
In the announcement on the Bing blog, the Bing Team say that they have introduced the social sidebar in the acknowledgement that, “more often than not, we look to the people we trust to help us make decisions and get stuff done. At Bing, we believe that for anything you want to get done on Bing, there is at least one person out there who can help.”
With the update, five times the amount of data from the users Facebook friends shows up in the search results than before, claim the Bing Team. The content is also more accessible than before, with all the information immediately visible. In addition, users can click on a friend’s photos to make them full screen, and click the “+ see all” icon to display additional search results.
The three column design is also a vast improvement on how the results page’s layout used to be, with less blank space and more results immediate visible and clearly separated.
In the announcement, the Bing Team explain why they believe social media information is so useful:
“Imagine you’re planning a trip to New York. When using Bing, you not only will find great search results about the city, but you’ll also find information from your friends who live or have visited in the sidebar. Now you know which of your friends might have the inside scoop on what to do, or better yet might want to join you.”
So, essentially, the updated social sidebar is Microsoft’s answer to Facebook Graph Search, which was released last week. Graph Search is Facebook’s new social search engine, which can help users to connect with likeminded people and discover something new based on their Facebook friends’ recommendations.
Graph Search can also help business owners promote their brands, as it provides a vast amount of information – from Facebook’s database of over 1 trillion connections – concerning the activities, likes, interests and relationships of its 1 billion strong user base.
Although Bing doesn’t have access to the amount of information that Graph Search does, the personal nature of the information it can display – Facebook friends’ activity – and the information’s immediate relevance to whatever was typed into the search bar means that users are likely to interact with whatever results show up in the social sidebar.
For businesses to take advantage of the fact that social search results are given almost as much prevalence as web search results in Bing’s new three column format, they must have an active social media presence.
Taking the example that the Bing Team gave on the Bing blog, if the searcher’s Facebook friend had liked the Page of a New York based hotel, it would show up in the Bing social sidebar when they were using Bing to plan a “trip to New York”.
With search engines giving an increasing amount of relevance to social media related search results and social media developing their own search engines, it has become imperative for companies to have an active social media presence.
The update, however, does give Bing a significant advantage over Facebook, as the social sidebar also displays “expert opinions from Twitter, foursquare, Quora, Klout, Google+ and more”, providing companies with the opportunity to prove their expertise in certain fields.
Say someone searched Bing for “Social Media Promotions”. Not only would the Social Media Frontiers blog show up in the web search, but relevant Twitter posts from the Social Media Frontiers Twitter account would appear in the social sidebar.
“When you search for New York we’re going to surface people who may have valuable insights on restaurants or attractions”, say the Bing Team, referencing their “trip to New York”. So it is becoming increasingly important that companies prove themselves as reliable sources of information on social media.
To use the social sidebar, all a user needs to do is connect Microsoft Bing with their Facebook account in the top right hand corner, where they would normally sign in with their Microsoft account.
The update does not interfere with Facebook privacy settings.
What do you think of Microsoft Bing’s new social sidebar?
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