What are publishers to make of Google +1?
Google's new +1 tool, which adds a social component to search and gmail, strengthens the argument that marketing through the recommendations of one's tribe is probably the way of the future. Google's venture into social -- the most important aspect of "Second Internet" companies -- underscores the growing importance of delivering a personalized experience. With that in mind, what is the takeaway of this development for publishers?
Enter: relationship marketing.
The end goals of relationship marketers and those of publishers coincide when it comes to the importance of customer loyalty. Publishers are in the trust business in that the usefulness and accuracy of information provided to their readers creates brand loyalty. Customer loyalty is engagement. "Social media is a critical enabler of engagement," writes Brian Solis in his Rules of Social Media Engagement, "connecting businesses with customers and the people who influence their decisions and perceptions."
Relationship marketing overlaps with a smart publisher's social media strategy at the data data -- because it's all about the data. Relationship marketers seek insight into customer behavior and motivation, insight that can be gained most effectively through measuring social media behavior.
Then there is the matter of ad dollars, and how Google is going to get data for ad targeting. The +1 feature, Google's answer to Facebook's ubiquitous "Like" button, is adding the option to vote +1 on ads. "Internal tests have shown that plus-one votes increase clicks; Google won't charge for the functionality, but expects better ads to return more plus-ones and, in turn, more clicks," writes Michael Learnmouth in AdAge. "Higher click-through rates can improve quality scores, meaning marketers with better ads could pay less for a given keyword or position."
It is not inconceivable that sometime in the near future the number of +1 votes a site gets will become integrated into Google's search algorithm, actually raising and lowering rankings. Search and social as one? "This is going to be very powerful," Brian Weiner, the chief executive of digital ad agency 360i told The New York Times. "A friend's recommendation is going to have greater influence on consumer behavior than a marketer's message."
It already does. Ninety percent of consumers trust the recommendation of friends of ads.
The better the reputation of a publication, the more that publication's recommendations in the social media arena matter. The social layer, when done well, facilitates collaboration between the community of readers and the publication's staff, offering a personalized experience with experts.
Ideally a publisher, vis-a-vis social media strategy, should be a "connector" in its particular category. In that sense, social media strategy has quite a bit in common with relationship marketing, which emphasizes customer retention and satisfaction, which also just happens to lead to engagement and robust community building. And that's a good thing.