Hero, hub and hygiene content – a strategy that Google has been touting for some time with special emphasis on Youtube – doesn’t need to start and end with video. As I explored in my last post on content strategy, there’s a very valuable place for it right there behind your blog or your brand’s website, and it can be a great structure on which to hang your overall story. For those at the back, let’s begin with a recap of what the strategy is. Google present it using the example of Volvo trucks and their success with Jean Claude Van Damme, so we’ll look at that first, before exploring an area where it has been applied successfully in the past.
Hub, hero and hygiene content – the Google explanation
Google begin with the ‘hero’ piece. This is the piece that probably has the biggest production value, the piece that you hope will take on a life of its own and work hardest for you. As such, it probably needs to be fairly universal – a way for the brand to appeal to the widest audience regardless of whether they’re interested in your brand or not. It needs to provide a halo effect which will make your brand glow.
Enter Van Damme and his amazing elasticated crotch. He may be well into his fifties, but that crotch still has more pulling power (wince) than the biggest truck Volvo could ever produce. So they aligned two of the beasts and got the Muscles from Brussels to do his party trick suspended between them. Cue over 70 million views in a matter of months. A really memorable piece of content, and as hero as they come.
The trouble with hero content is that once it has been seen, your audience may share it, but it’s unlikely they’ll view it more than a few times. Engagement is finite, and that’s not great when you’re trying to convert people into regular customers. In the hero, hub, hygiene strategy, the next step is to keep them interested by publishing content that continues the conversation. This is the ‘hub’ content – less expensive, but of a consistently high quality so that your audience keeps coming back and spending time with you. I imagine it as the pillars in an ancient Greek temple, holding up the ornate rooftop facade. It’s the supporting content – the behind the scenes content – and in Volvo’s case, it arrives in the form of Brian’s Truck Report.
These are a series of shorter, cheaper videos that follow Brian, a man who has been road-testing heavy vehicles for 25 years, as he meets other truckers and talks about their interests and concerns. He keeps the conversation going within the trucking community, and he spreads the goodwill (all the time driving a Volvo truck). He’s got the ear of that community to the point that his videos regularly top 30,000 views within days. Brian is the trucking king of hub content.
But where does the interaction with this wider audience take place? You can see it right there beneath the video, and over on Brian’s Twitter page. They natter away about engines, wheels and fuel ecconomy – not the kind of thing the general public would be interested in, but drool-inducing stuff for your average truckhead. You and I might know it as social, but Google calls it ‘hygiene’ content. And, to me, it’s the most fascinating part of the puzzle.
For a very long time, brands that work with content have used social media for two main purposes: distribution and conversation. It’s the first of these that brands grasp the most readily – with a big enough audience, you can push your message further. The second has perhaps been less easy to master – sure, we could talk to our followers, but what should we say?
Smart users of social have realised that to use social media well, you also have to be a good listener. You can use social listening to find out what your audience is saying about you, about the content you’ve created, about the communities that you sit comfortably within. Ultimately, you can use social – or ‘hygiene’ (which includes Youtube comments, blog comments, Instagram responses) – as an inspirational device as well as a distribution tool. After all, who better to tell you what your audience wants to view than your audience itself?
The key thing about the hero, hub and hygiene content strategy is that it works in a continuous, cyclical motion. You can begin anywhere – a well-informed hero idea, or an interesting Twitter post from an eager brand follower – and follow the process through. Paying attention to the messages coming out of your hygiene communication will prompt ideas for new hero pieces (and their accompanying hub pieces), meaning that what you go on to create essentially comes from a kind of brainstorm that your audience has been a part of. And on it goes.
Hero, hub and hygiene content – it has been done before
The truth is that Google have done a great package and resell job on what is actually a bog-standard content strategy. You can apply it to almost any content production that has an ongoing structure.
In your average magazine, you have features and section leaders, and you often have classifieds or letters pages. I think you can see where I’m going already. The lead feature goes on the front cover and is intended to call in readers, new and old. It’s always ‘on brand’, and generally ‘lowest common denominator’ (attempting to inspire purchases from anyone even vaguely interested in the publication’s area of expertise). If you’re talking about Time Out, it’s the ‘Secret City’ article that says you know London/New York/Dubai better than anyone else. If you’re Q Magazine, it’s your exclusive with Chris Martin/Bono/Paul McCartney. These are your ‘hero’ pieces, catching the most eyeballs while simultaneously proclaiming your authority.
But you can’t leave it at that. Your main piece (and proclamation of authority) needs support, and your loyal audience needs some kind of guarantee to keep it coming back. So you fill out much of the rest of your magazine with regular sections, often written by the same writers, and with a particular personality of their own. These, as you’ve probably guessed, are your ‘hub’ pieces.
Which leads to the third strand – ‘hygiene’. A good editor is always aware of the kind of classifieds that go into their magazines, and if they look closely enough, they’re likely to see hints as to what the magazine’s ‘community’ sells, buys and talks about. More direct and obvious, of course, are the letters pages – but any and all communication with the audience can be considered fair game, from market research to conversations with newsagents. It all gives you an idea of what the readership expects and would like to see more or less of.
The hero, hub and hygiene content strategy at work
The trick to getting the hero, hub and hygiene content strategy working is to have a more organic content calendar at the centre of your plans, working alongside the best data and insight you can get your hands on. That’s not as easy as it sounds, as any experienced inter-agency marketer will tell you. Agencies tend to be very protective of their individual skills, and most would sell a lorry-load of grandmothers before happily working with anyone else, but it’s this siloed thinking that hampers a lot great work.
Content calendars, editorial calendars, creative calendars, distribution plans – they’re all vital to the publishing process, and anyone working in the creative space will be used to their own version of them. However, combining them and allowing everyone involved to have visibility ultimately makes for stronger content. Imagine the possibilities if your senior content editors were allowed direct access to your social insights without having to chase and cajole to get what they need. Similarly, having several weeks of foresight on content production will allow the social team to start making and adjusting plans accordingly. Hero, hub and hygiene may sound like separate pillars, but they should be intertwined strands of a single content strategy. They should be bound by a single purpose.
I intend to put some time aside soon to put together a more in-depth blog post on how to operate a working, organic content calendar, but just noting down these initial thoughts makes me realise how crazy this must seem to anyone from a more process-driven industry. Why on earth wouldn’t you have communications departments working together? Why hasn’t this been seen to already?
The truth is that, while content marketing and content publishing are old industries (and the strategies used to power them as old in anything but name), getting their disparate modern descendants to work together comfortably is going to take a little more time. As someone said to me only last week, the content marketing industry is currently a bit like the Wild West. A lot of dust needs to settle, but the opportunities are already starting to become clear.
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