Plenty of people are adopting blog-publishing platforms like Tumblr, which has been growing rapidly over the past year or so, but few have made the leap in the way that Steve Rubel — EVP of digital strategy for the PR firm Edelman — did recently. He started a new Tumblr blog, then deleted the hundreds of posts he had created over the years on two other blogs. I wondered why he would take such a radical approach, so I called him and asked. Rubel said he was driven to do it by the fact that Google (s goog) is paying more attention to social signals for search, and being on a social platform like Tumblr is more important than having old blog posts, whatever their Page Rank might be. But is he right?
In a blog post about the move, Rubel said he believes media is becoming an interlocking system of four elements he describes as a clover-leaf — with traditional sources, newer web-native digital entrants, corporate or branded content, and social media. People are increasingly looking across all four of these different sources or networks to find out what to believe, he said. With a news event like the death of Osama bin Laden, for example, reporting occurred on social networks like Twitter, but at the same time, “people were still going to media sources such as the New York Times (s nyt) or the Huffington Post (s aol) to validate what they were hearing.”
More and more of those media entities are using Tumblr as a way to redistribute some of their content, which is part of the reason Rubel said he wanted to move his online identity there. But the main reason for the switch was the need to have a more social platform, because of a sense that Google is increasingly focusing more on social cues and information as part of search rather than just traditional links. “I think with Google relying more and more on social signals, you’d better make your website social in a big way or you will be in trouble,” Rubel says. “Blogs that aren’t social are effectively islands.”
The extent to which Google is using social cues for search is unknown, but the launch of real-time results from Twitter and “social search” — which shows results that users in your social graph have posted or retweeted — as well as the new +1 ranking system are signs the web giant is definitely trying to add more social data. As we’ve written before, social is one of the areas where Facebook has the upper hand, given its knowledge of a user’s social graph and how it reflects their search interests, and this is potentially a serious threat to Google’s dominance.
“I think +1 is their play to get more authoritative signals, and to weed out lower-quality content and find better quality content,” Rubel said. “I think that and [your social activity] is what will control your presence in Google in the future.” Rubel says he chose Tumblr because “I wanted one domain, to centralize everything in the middle of that clover leaf,” and Tumblr was the closest to offering what he wanted. “I wanted to have all the content and the social signals — the plus ones and the likes and the retweets — in one place.” Tumblr is also inherently a much more social platform, he said.
There’s no question that Tumblr has more social elements, and seems to be closer to a social network than competing platforms such as WordPress. The reblogging function is much more like Twitter’s reweet feature than a traditional blog publishing tool, and the way that posts can “go viral” and be retransmitted across the entire network of blogs is fairly powerful — which likely helps explain Tumblr’s dramatic growth.
But why the “scorched earth” approach of deleting all his old content? Why not keep those posts available for the “long tail” of Google search — not to mention retaining all the old links to his posts that other bloggers have made, as some observers have pointed out? Rubel says he considered that, but decided not to because he didn’t want to have multiple sources of content, for fear of confusing Google. Tumblr also doesn’t have any easy way to import old blog posts from other publishing systems, so Rubel says he would have had to pay someone to manually recreate or duplicate them.
So would he recommend that clients of Edelman do the same? Rubel said that for most companies, that wouldn’t be the right approach, but for “thought leaders,” it makes sense to be where the action is, and for him, this was more important than having older content. It’s a dramatic gesture (and likely also a marketing exercise on Rubel’s part, since he is selling his services as a consultant on exactly these kinds of issues) but in the end Google will be the one to decide whether he was right or not.
Disclosure: WordPress is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.