As the Internet evolves it is becoming more about people connecting to people, and less about people connecting to web pages. How people share and engage with content is an indication of context. Context gets established in many ways; relevancy and authority over time are a big part of that equation. Establishing relevancy and authority for a brand and its content needs to happen for online success, regardless of the channels in which you execute a brand/communications strategy.
Google+, ultimately a social network, has been a difficult platform for brands to understand and manage. This is largely because the importance of Google+ has been unclear, and the future of Google+ is equally unclear.
Part of Google’s investment in Google+ had to do with AgentRank, a patent they filed for on August 8, 2005. “We know that great content comes from great authors, and we’re looking closely at ways this markup could help us highlight authors and rank search results,” said Othar Hansson, past engineering lead for the Google Authorship Project.
Google’s efforts to map the social web with Google+ have proven less successful than they would have liked. Despite launching with much fanfare, Google+ has seen relatively low consumer adoption, a lack of marketing, and frankly a lack of a value proposition differentiating it from other social platforms. Eric Enge, founder of Stone Temple Consulting and co-author of “The Art of SEO”, recently shared some insights into 10 key factors that will determine the future of Google+.
Whether Google+ lives or dies is ultimately irrelevant. This doesn’t mean I think Google+ is irrelevant to brands. It’s a great platform to engage your audience. But brand storytelling always comes first, channel/platform second.
What’s important to focus on is what Google+ has taught us about the importance of having a brand strategy that leverages the power of authors who have subject-matter expertise.
What Are Subject-Matter Experts?
Subject matter expertise, and the authority that it bestows on a writer, are the keys to the content, search, and social castle. Subject-matter experts are important to search engines because relevance and authority is fairly difficult to game. Just like in real life you have to work hard to earn authority, and that authority isn’t transferable.
Subject-matter experts are important to consumers because they bring credibility, inspiration, insight, and a trusted view to topics consumers care about.
Brands, authors, and the audiences they engage are the holy trinity of brand engagement. Investing in relationship between a brand and their writers is one of the most under-developed of the relationships in this marketing triangle.
The User Journey: Searching For Dog Food
Imagine a consumer who is trying to choose a dog food. She goes to Google and searches for “choosing organic dog food”.
The first organic search listing is “Choosing the Right Dog Food” at Cesarsway.com, Cesar Millan’s website. Millan fields a question from a veterinarian on choosing the right dog food, which she finds helpful and uses as guidance in making her decision.
As a respected trainer on “The Dog Whisperer” television show, Millan has established first and foremost his love of animals and his intention of helping dog owners. This gateway content provides the trusted guidance and answers she needs as a consumer.
Now, armed with the information she needs to choose a dog food, she digs into other dog-related topics – training, exercise, and discipline. She eventually discovers a community for dog lovers just like her on Google+, which she joins.
Our example consumer is now part of a CesarsWay.com audience. Millan is a subject matter expert with whom she wants to engage.
The content he shares on Google+ isn’t completely new storytelling. He’s leveraging Google+ beautifully as a platform to share his brand story.
If Google+ went away, Millan’s brand, storytelling and audience wouldn’t go away. To be fair, it doesn’t look like Google+ is going anywhere soon, but if it does, that shouldn’t change the brand story.
Brands need storytellers and authors to help them tell great stories. Good content writers are like good architects, you can’t build a solid foundation without them.
What Is High-Quality Content?
Though you may no longer need to invest time in the Google+ author hub and configuration details of implementing Google Authorship Markup on your website or blog, it’s still incredibly important to invest in writers/brand storytellers. Google’s desire to identify high-quality sources of original, expert content hasn’t changed. Those indicators still include:
- How often is the content shared?
- How quickly is your content shared?
- Who shared your content?
- Did those who shared your content have expertise in that topic?
- Do the same people always share your content?
- How many comments did your content generate?
- Who commented on your content?
- Did those who commented on your content have expertise in that topic?
- Were the comments on your content of high quality?
- Were the comments on your content of a positive sentiment?
- How often is your content endorsed? (i.e. – retweeted, Liked, +1’d)
Why Brands Should Nurture Brand Storytellers
When social platforms became important to the marketing mix, many brands rebelled and choose not to participate in social because they couldn’t control the conversation. Years later, the majority of brands have a strong, planned social presence because they understand the value of customer engagement and social platforms.
Brands that invest in subject-matter experts will similarly reap the benefits that authority has on customer-centric engagement.
Some brands are a bit skittish when it comes to promoting individual authors for their brand. Most of these concerns come from fears the author will inevitably leave the company and the brand will be tarnished in some way when this happens. So they decide not to participate.
Brands that embrace subject-matter expertise, from employees and customers alike, are gaining an advantage. They understand that, even if an authoritative author leaves the company, the signal created for the brand lives on, even in that authors’ absence.
Besides empowering brand ambassadors or brand evangelists to share branded messaging, brands can also use tools to help find authors and influencers in a specific category or topic.
Google’s initial algorithm focus of “which sites link to your site” has evolved to include “who wrote it, who links to it, and who shared it” to define how content should rank.
Understanding influential author data will continue to be important to organic search efforts. Abandonment of Google+ doesn’t mean it isn’t important to leverage the power of technology to build trust between strangers.
Rachel Botsman, sharing innovator and founder of The Collaborative Labs calls this the “reputation economy” and sees authority online as its own currency. As the algorithm continues to become more sophisticated, our digital identities will continue to forge and become representative of our real world identities.
Brands that position storytellers and the content they create as a mission critical business asset will continue to build trusting and engaged audiences. It’s your brand story, not any single channel or platform, that will help you capture audience and market share.
Google+ as we know it may go away or evolve, but don’t abandon expert subject-matter authors as a content imperative. Invest in the writer, not just the writing. That means the authors you hire as well as writers who are your brand advocates.
The accuracy and authenticity of your story, and your authors, are both imperative to brand storytelling.