There is much debate today as to whether or not the end of the corporate website is near, or perhaps has already come.

Global brand leaders like Coca Cola, IBM, American Express and so many more have turned their attention to building communities based upon providing useful information, engagement and building a sense of community for visitors that has never been felt on a traditional corporate website.

Nowadays readers have so many options and their first destination is rarely a branded site, unless of course we are talking Google or to a lesser extent Bing. According to one study more than 74% of people turn to Google to start their information gathering. By the time you add in a few lesser-used search engines it is hard to believe that 80+ percent of people don’t hit search first. Meaning that less than 1 in 5 people immediately go to a defined URL.

Ultimately where the user ends up going will be the first few search results. According to a Search Engine Watch study, 84% of people will wind up clicking on the first five links - meaning that you are pretty much dead in the water if your formula for site traffic depends on being in the top 5 of any competitive keyword search (or any search for that matter).

First Click on Search

Courtesy: Search Engine Watch

With web content being pumped out at an unimaginable pace, leading the glut of information to double every 9 to 24 months (depending on which study you read) it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no shortage of destinations on the internet for consumers to gather their information, begging the question:

Why on earth would anyone want to read, watch or otherwise consume your content?

As a brand, the majority of the content produced on most owned media is brand favorable if not pure advertisement. Although brands are becoming increasingly creative in their native efforts, consumers are following suit as they have become more capable than ever of spotting out an ad. This is putting immense pressure on brand marketers to create content that the reader would want to consume. I don’t envy these marketers one bit as they are competing with the traditional competitive forces but now also forces they don’t even know exist.

The extraordinary amount of content coupled with the increasingly short attention span of consumers needs to drive brands to start asking themselves an old question in a new way:

In a world where search, social and content are changing at breakneck speeds, how do we put more eyeballs on our brand content?

What Smart Brands Are Doing To Earn Readership 

The brands that are rising above the noise in the cluttered digital universe are doing something that most brands simply haven’t figured out yet.

They are building an eco-system for their consumers that drives not just readership, but activates a sense of brand advocacy that keeps them coming back.

A great case study for doing the paid, owned, earned strategy well is American Express and their “Open Forum” project. Back when they started they identified that 60% of their target clients, (note target) which were comprised of small and midsize companies found the new world of social media challenging and therefore only 13% of their businesses were leveraging social in their strategies. Based upon these findings American Express Open Forum was created based upon the opportunity to educate their ideal clients on this topic. Later the community became far more expansive to cover many of the topics that kept small business owners up at night.

Amex Open Forum

While only one example, American Express Open Forum has paved the way to a new kind of online brand community that builds loyalty and readership through delivering utility such as timely information and thought leadership to those they “Hope” to serve in the future.

From that utility an almost unbreakable bond is formed between the consumer and the brand that not only keeps them coming back for more, rather building an advocacy that will lead them to bring others with them. This is founded in a brand that truly seeks to not only win a click, but to win your heart for the long term.

In the end, the result that American Express sought for you to investigate becoming a cardholder, or expand upon an existing relationship. But they realized that the desired end result would happen more often if they could connect with their customers on a deeper level.

Companies like American Express were the early adopters, but other global leaders like Coca Cola, IBM and SAP are all doing similar things by aligning their online efforts in lockstep with the buyer’s journey so instead of the old school brand site that reads:

“Hi, buy something from us, and if you really want to you can dig deeper and learn about us too, but we would really rather just start selling you something right now”

Instead the smartest brands are saying:

“Come hang out with us and learn all about the things you most need to know about to run your business. If you don’t like what we are teaching, feel free to leave, but we think you will and we really hope to earn your support in the long run, and if we are really lucky you will tell your friends!” 

Community Drives Social Activation Which Brings Readers To Your Door

Today nothing drives your content up the search rankings faster than Social and guess what the traffic it is generating to websites is growing at an astounding rate as well.

In 2013, referral traffic from Social Media to top publishers on the web grew at a rate of more than 54% and while only about 15% of the traffic referred to sites was based on social referrals, the growth is a leading indicator of what is to come.

Social Referrals On The Rise

As consumers who are highly influenced by those in our network, we tend to seek out sites to gain our information from those we know and trust. Once we find a source of information that we really believe in we tend to consume more, stay on the website longer and share the content with our friends predominantly using social media.

Whether the corporate website as we know it is dead or not is to be determined. What we do know for sure is that the way people are finding information, connecting and engaging with brands and ultimately recommending and sharing with others is shifting the way brands need to approach their owned media strategy.

It is no longer reasonable to expect consumers to find your site and be satisfied with a heavy dose of “The hard sell.”

The future is here and brands need to take note that eyeballs will be reserved for brands that deliver real value to the reader or they will merely take the ever shrinking content consumption budget someplace else.