As we move forward in the second decade of the first century of the third millennium, some things about the Web are becoming clear: In the beginning, we used the Web as a point-to-point communications tool. Then, we lost our way and used it as an advertising medium. Now, we’re back to communicating, only this time we’re focusing on relevance. We’re looking for conversation and shared experiences with people with common interests. It’s about time.

birds of a feather flock together in social media

The Ecosystem of Relevance

Three seemingly unrelated events got me thinking about this.

  1. Google came out with its own version of a social network, Google+. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, Google+ is primarily focused on relevant groups or “circles” of people who share common interests. By all accounts Google+ is growing faster than any of its predecessors.
  2. Google launched its “Panda” release last year, a big change in the way that the dominant search engine decides which content is the most relevant to your search criteria. The emphasis here is on “your” and “relevant” content. More and more, the Web is being driven (or is driving itself) toward a personalized experience that is most useful to you.
  3. Talk about wildly popular, TechCrunch reports that Pinterest has grown to 10 million users faster than any other site in history. In case you’ve been asleep under a rock, Pinterest is the latest hot trend in social sharing, a community where you can share ideas and photos by “pinning” them on a virtual bulletin board. Again, the key thing here is relevance – organizing things into topics that attract people with common interests.

In Google’s case, I have no doubt that the Ecosystem of Relevance constitutes a major part of their Master Plan – they just haven’t figured out what to call it yet. [Yes, Google, you can borrow my catch phrase if you promise to attribute it to me.] If you think about it, Google is herding us into relevant groups or circles, and at the same time we’re thrilled about it. This is exactly what we want – to stop wasting time weeding through the junk online and find the stuff (and people) we really like or respect. So for once, a major technology player is reading the tea leaves correctly and building something relevant.

As for Pinterest, they’re just smart about catching the relevance wave early on. Flipboard is another example of a really attractive app that shows us the headlines of things we’re really interested in.

What’s Next for the Ecosystem?

If you remember a bit from High School Biology, ecosystems survive and adapt by means of attrition. Only the strong survive.

What will survive is relevance. Blogs that are relevant to a group of like-minded people will be popular within the group and attractive to other people with similar interests. Likewise, Google+ circles, Facebook groups, Twitter lists, Pinterest boards, and so on.

What will surely die is mass marketing and its corresponding metrics. On the chopping block:

  • Technical SEO – gaming the system to rank high on Google SERP’s
  • Email blasts and direct marketing of any kind
  • “Influence” as measured by volume of followers and number of posts
  • Any kind of “grade” based on numbers of followers or fans
  • Automated tweeting, facebooking, etc.

The other thing that is likely to change is the way we do sales and marketing. In the Ecosystem of Relevance, it makes no sense to take a shotgun approach to attracting visitors, capturing leads (relevant or not) and nurturing them into customers. Instead, we should look to joining relevant groups, becoming a valued member and attracting sales leads directly by virtue of our superior goods and services. Traffic and leads will go way down, but conversion rates will skyrocket with this strategy.

It’s a brave new ecosystem folks. Time to start embracing it.

Photo credit: doviende

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