Despite the potential for search engines to leverage data culled from popular social networking hubs like Facebook and Twitter, it’s still unclear what social’s long-term role in search will be.

When it comes to Bing, however, one thing is clear: Microsoft ‘likes‘ Facebook.

Following the unveiling of Google’s +1 button, Bing is rolling out a tighter Facebook integration today that incorporates the Like button.

When searching, users will have the ability to Like the sites listed in the results. For those logged into Facebook, Bing will list the names of friends who have liked the site. For those not logged into Facebook, it will simply reveal how many Likes the site in question has received.

Wired.com explains:

…if you are looking for a specific site via search, say typing in “Wired,” you’ll now get the usual top box, along with links to individual stories that have been liked by your friends. If you aren’t logged into Facebook (or don’t even have an account), you’ll see the top stories liked by all Facebook users — just in case the recommendations of a bunch of strangers matters to you.

For other searches, such as “iPad review,” Bing will return individual page results. But to help you decide which sites are reputable, you’ll now see which sites your friends have liked. If you want more information or want to ask one of these friend’s a question, you click on their profile photo and you can then send them a message on Facebook.

The idea is, of course, doesn’t require a degree in rocket science: ‘Likes’ are a measure of popularity, and the popular content in many instances may be the most relevant or highest quality content. If Bing can use Facebook’s data to help its users find quality, relevant content, it should help its position in the market.

The question, of course, is whether Likes are actually all that important in the context of search, as it doesn’t necessarily guarantee relevance. A

n article about the iPad with a lot of Likes, for instance, may have won the Facebook popularity contest, but at the same time it may not be relevant to the query “iPad review“, “iPad alternatives“, etc.

This underscores the problem with Likes: all they really reveal is that at one point, a certain number of people ‘liked’ a page or site generally. What they liked about it specifically is unknown.

From this perspective, the inclusion of Like information is probably not the type of social integration that is going to inherently boost the quality of SERPs themselves. Whether consumers find the information interesting or useful in some other way time will tell.