What Google+ Has Taught Brands About The Power Of Subject-Matter Experts

What Google+ has taught us about the impor­tance of hav­ing a brand strat­e­gy that lever­ages the pow­er of authors who have sub­ject-mat­ter exper­tise.

Lisa Williams By Lisa Williams from Sustainable Digital Marketing. Join the discussion » 1 comment

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.

Cesar Millan Google Plus

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.

Lisa Williams

Written by Lisa Williams

President, Sustainable Digital Marketing

Lisa Williams is the President of Sustainable Digital Marketing. She is a 19-year veteran of online marketing and has been featured in Kiplinger Magazine, Glamour Magazine, Boston Globe and The Oregonian. She recently authored her first book, "When Everybody Clicks: Sustainable Digital Marketing". Lisa is on the SEMpdx (Search Engine Marketing Professionals of Portland Oregon) Advisory Board. She speaks at regional, national and international conferences on the topics of digital strategy, marketing integration, team development and leadership. She is available for training and consulting.

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