The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance – Eric Schmidt – Former Google CEO
The search industry is all abuzz about the concepts around authorship markup (see postscript) and its effect on search results and content marketing. Authorship markup, introduced in 2011 and has been getting regular improvements since. Mostly applied to blog and news articles, the impact to the corporate world is just now being understood, and worried about. The use of Google profiles helps to centralize and focus the efforts of talented , enthusiastic writers, creating a lens onto their entire collection of work, increased click-through and a yet-to-be-fully-understood affect on their ability to rank in search results. In exchange, we can see that Google, in as many as 1 in 5 listings, provides a richer listing in the search results pages, including a photograph, Google+ info, an improved format and “more content from” links to explore their other work. As far as rank, there is a consensus that this can help you rank for top content, thanks to advances of social signals. Spending time on development and distribution of this deep content provides a much stronger engagement opportunity than an occasional post on Facebook.
Get the Experts out of the Closet and Put Them On Stage
I’m a big fan of giving experts a place to explore their ideas in public view, getting feedback from peers, mentors and even competitors. I also like it when that expert can be wrong without the PR team going apeshit. Clearly, even in 2012, this kind of active engagement model is scary for some. News stories about employees creating big problems via social networks are not hard to find, and studies show many companies are unprepared for any criticism that comes from what they publish. Companies with the most experts, publishing the best content, seem to be onto a winning, futureproof strategy.
“Over time, Google will care more about identity and social reputation” - Matt Cutts (Google)
“Google may look into company authorship, and then maybe people authorship underneath the company author umbrella.” - Matt Cutts (Google)
“Add authoring content to a part of a career path instead of making it something employees are asked to do on the side while the company benefits” – Duane Forrester – Bing
The Corporate Voice Becomes a Chorus
For the forward-thinking company with strong core values reflected in their social media utilization, much of this will feel natural. They are all about elevating talented writers, accepting their faults and relishing their rising authority. They realize that benefits to brand perception of such activity, while indirect, is difficult to obtain in any other way. For others this can be uncomfortable as it forces new thinking about transparency that may have been on the back burner for years because of other “corporate level” social networking efforts or simply fear of the risks.
The comfortable compromise many adopted in the form of corporate psudeo-blogging on “ghost blogs” suddenly doesn’t work as well. Authorship markup looks at individuals over communal voice, and this further implies that these individuals also must become the point of contact for subsequent engagement. The corporate voice is now a chorus. The anonymous content writer is dead, gone, finished.
While many manufacturing companies are well behind the “eight ball,” I was happy to see Jim Farley, Group Vice President, Marketing & Sales-Ford Motor Company talks about how he found authenticity in his brand by speaking to the people who build it:
So it comes down to who controls the company voice and how more traditional firms make this transition. Here are some ideas:
Executive/Leadership – Find your comfort zone, while letting others know you want them to show a human side.
- Make sure contributors feel safe in contributing. If they just echo the corporate line, you’re not getting anywhere. Find that special spark – and let it fly.
- Include the executive team – it helps to have an internal champion in the boardroom, especially to manage expectations and encourage patience.
- Meet with the contributors and discuss trust, authority, branding and any concerns you have. You may want to have a written social media policy that makes this clear, but make sure those writing it are really well versed in the social web. Topics might include team dynamics, intellectual property, defamation issues and appropriately mentioning their employer’s role in their work. If you’d like them to link to specific areas on your site in their external contributions, discuss those along with your motivation.
- Have everyone read “Cluetrain Manifesto” which is free on line.
Technical/I.T: Implement authorship tagging and make it effortless to the content creators.
- The technical team should understand how authorship works - find some good examples and get a sense for how it demonstrates contributor authority. Make sure that your corporate communications, legal department and executive team understand the implications, benefits and risks (including competition’s advances and the opportunity costs of not being found.) Give staff a profile page on your site so they can properly set up the authorship links.
- Provide your staff a content-publishing platform, with moderated comments enabled, that is part of your main website. Encourage and even incentivize participation, addressing their concerns and making sure they know it’s part of their job at the company.
- Provide your web content contributors an author page on your site where they can put a bio and information about their role.
- Have your web team set up the appropriate authorship markup coding / plug ins and test them. The result should make it effortless for content publishers to automatically have their content included in their authorship collection on Google.
Content Management: Weave this new work into your corporate story – find ways to spread beyond the website’s borders.
- Encourage your experts and content creators to contribute to other sites and to link to their Google+ Profile in the posts.
- Look for places in your main website content where links to these posts would improve the user experience and service the due diligence of your customers. People love the break from sales copy to read someone’s ideas and opinion – it’s a great way to build trust.
Author presentation in search results may serve as a powerful catalyst for discussions about changing the way companies communicate, and it can encourage new thinking about authenticity throughout the enterprise. I thing this is a good time to discuss corporate engagement and to empower top individuals to make an impact in a very visible, positive way. Don’t waste this chance!
(photo cc:a silcox/flickr)
Google announced that Authorship would not longer be part of the search results, but this does not mean it has become unimportant.
Raven just published this Ultimate Guide to Authorship Markup if you want a few minutes of full-immersion.
Another solid quick read on the SEO implications of authorship markup is here.