ADVICE FROM A NON-GURU
I’ve held many marketing and advertising roles over the past 20+ years. But, until a few years ago, I had minimal experience managing the various functions associated with digital marketing. I’m still not a digital marketing guru, and there will always be more to learn, but I have picked up a few valuable tidbits, and I thought I’d share some in hopes they might help other non-guru folks interested in enhancing their digital marketing skills.
Currently, I’m the CMO of a start-up, b2b, e-commerce business. Among the many marketing functions my team manages, one of the most important is making sure our customers and prospects know we exist. There are many ways to create brand awareness, but as a start-up with a limited marketing budget, we place a lot of effort on content creation and a lot of emphasis on media and influencer outreach and coverage. In a way, effective content marketing requires digital marketers to acquire some of the same skills typically associated with PR professionals—namely the ability to write quality content, the ability to pitch content ideas to industry influencers and the ability to maximize content distribution and exposure.
CONTENT CREATION HAS AN UNDERVALUED ROI
Sometimes our team produces content internally and we engage in proactive outreach attempting to get the appropriate media channels to publish it. Other times influencers write newsworthy content related to our business and we share it through our social media channels. But, regardless of the source and type of the content, we do this because successful content placement through media and influencer channels offers multiple benefits. For example:
Other than the cost associated with the time and resources required to produce, pitch and distribute the content, it’s a free marketing tactic.
We gain highly relevant brand exposure within targeted audience groups (did I mention the exposure is free?).
The non-promotional, informational nature of the content lends credibility to our brand in the eyes of our most important customers and prospects.
We always get a boost in site traffic when curious readers want to learn more – and while it’s not the primary goal, we occasionally close sales as a direct result of published content.
We get valuable backlinks from highly relevant media and blogger sites that ultimately help to drive SEO.
Once we make a favorable connection with an influencer, and especially after collaborating on some successful content together, we greatly increase the chances of earning additional opportunities with that influencer in the future.
ROOKIE PITCHERS OFTEN GET HAMMERED
In baseball, strikeouts are a good thing – but in the game of pitching content, strikeouts are not good and frankly, rejection sucks! In my early months as a rookie content pitcher I would just wind up and throw content pitches as hard and fast as I could. I pitched various types of content, ranging from press releases and newsy articles to infographics and blog posts. Quickly, I racked up enough strikeouts to realize I was not a very good pitcher. Most rejections were polite, but sometimes the influencers to whom I pitched displayed, shall we say, unsportsmanlike conduct.
(Side note: I keep an ongoing “sh*tlist” of the few unfriendly influencers that burned bridges with me. One day when our company is killing it, influencers will be reaching out to us looking for feedback for their content creation – and those on the list are going to strikeout. I can handle a “No” but there’s never a justified reason to be rude and/or condescending.)
INFLUENCERS ARE BEING BOMBARDED WITH PITCHES
So, I starting doing research to find out why I was striking out so frequently. Turns out, editors, publishers, reporters, writers and bloggers—AKA the influencers—get pitched all day long. And that makes sense because content has become such an important part of online marketing that every online business wants to produce and publish content. Influencers are so bombarded with content ideas and press releases that even really great ideas, compelling content and extremely interesting and timely news stories get overlooked.
GOOD CONTENT IS A BASELINE REQUIREMENT
I wondered, what makes an influencer choose to swing at one pitch versus another – in other words – how could I achieve more success in my pitching game? The foundation, of course, is that the content must offer value to the influencers, which means it must offer value to the influencers’ followers and readership. Influencers don’t want to disappoint their followers with irrelevant or inaccurate content – so whatever you have to offer must be good.
But beyond the obvious steps of choosing a good topic and writing a good piece, I wondered, are there other ways to increase my chances of gaining influencer buy-in on my content ideas?
After trying some different things and asking some different influencers, I began to approach the whole process in a new way. Here’s an analogy that has helped me understand how to more effectively connect with industry media and other influencers…
HOW WOULD YOU JOIN A NEW GROUP IN YOUR COMMUNITY?
Imagine you just moved to a new town. Because you have an interest in business and you value being around other people that share that interest, you decide you want to engage with and become an active part of the local business community in your town. So, you investigate to find out which individuals and organizations are the influencers in your local business community. You start reading the local business news – and you might reply to some of the articles you read online. You visit the Chamber of Commerce website and start attending some of their scheduled business networking events. You attend the business expo at the convention center and exchange conversations and business cards. There are many actions you would likely take to proactively insert yourself into that business community and before long, the other members (including the influencers) would know you, expect to see you, and feel comfortable around you. You’re in. You’ve proven that you value the community enough to show up to events, to engage, and to contribute your time and attention. You’re now part of the community. You’ve established trusted relationships; and now, other members of the community are much more likely to listen and respond to your ideas.
BECOME AN ACTIVE PART OF YOUR TARGET ONLINE COMMUNITY
Influencers are called influencers because they wield influence within specific online communities. Because these influencers are human beings, they are inevitably far more likely to engage in conversation and content collaboration with other engaged members of their community than with unfamiliar outsiders slinging random pitches.
IMPORTANT: Make your very first step to shift your immediate goals of getting content published and earning backlinks to becoming a recognized and valued member of the online community you’re targeting. Content success and backlinks will come later and easier when the community influencers realize you care enough about the topic to be actively engaged—and you’ll see much more success if you have something genuinely valuable to offer the community. In other words, go earn the respect of the influencers by proving you consistently have something of value to share.
Here are a few key tactics that can help you become an integrated community member:
Identify the influencers and other sources of online community content – With a few minutes of Google searching, you can find the low hanging fruit – that is – the most popular sources of news and information, trade associations and high profile bloggers for your targeted industry. One of the ways you know they are an influencer is they rank well for Google searches. If you want to dig deeper, online tools like Buzzsumo and Buzzstream make it very easy to build and manage a robust database of community-specific influencers.
Monitor and engage with influencers – Read and respond to influencer content and interact with their social media channels and activities, join relevant online groups (Linked-In, Facebook), visit popular community forums and pay attention to the topics of discussion – you want to know what community members are talking about and what questions they’re asking most frequently. By paying attention to the type of the content being published by the influencers and being shared among the members, you’ll gain insights into content ideas that are timely and offer maximum value to the community. Feedly is a great tool for monitoring the most popular articles and content pieces being written by and shared among your influencers. Hootsuite is an easy way to monitor multiple social media streams in real time.
Voice your opinions – You’ve been following the conversations for a while now and you have your own ideas and opinions about what’s being said. If you have relevant questions, answers, feedback, valuable information or just something interesting to offer – share it to begin earning trust, credibility and recognition with influencers and community members.
Make a list of content ideas – As you read news and information, and respond to discussions and debates, content opportunities will reveal themselves. Keep an ongoing list. I use Trello to keep my list of topics, and as my content calendar to track content from idea generation through drafting phases, all the way to publishing and distribution.
Be patient – After a while, your influencers, and the community-at-large will get used to seeing your input, hearing your feedback, and assuming you’re offering something of worth, they will begin to value and interact with your contributions.
Introduce yourself directly – When your instincts tell you the time is right, reach out directly to influencer editorial staff, writers and bloggers. Introduce yourself and let them know that as a relatively new community member you appreciate the information they provide (no content pitches yet). Maybe request a LinkedIn connection here.
Pitch an idea – Look at your content topics list and, based on what you’ve been reading, choose one that aligns nicely with a particular influencer. Obviously, you don’t want your content to copy or duplicate what’s already been covered, but perhaps you have an idea that expands on an existing piece of content or approaches it from a fresh angle. You may pitch one, or even a few relevant ideas from which the influencer may choose to pursue. Be sure to specifically mention why you think your topic is a good fit for their readers and followers.
Be creative and flexible – Content can take on many forms. You may publish a post on your own site’s blog and share it with influencers in the hopes they will link to it and share it with their followers. You may be asked to write a guest post or article for an influencer to publish on their site. Influencers may request an interview and use your responses for the meat of their post. Or, you may share a traditional press release announcing a relevant and newsworthy development in your business. Make some suggestions for the format and channel, but be open to influencer preferences. Once you achieve successful placement with an influencer, the chances of getting more in the future are very good.
Nurture your influencer relationships – Media and influencer coverage is a value to you and your brand, and now you’ve proven that your ideas, expertise and content are a value to the influencer. That’s the foundation of a mutually beneficial relationship. Be sure to continue adding value in order to nurture and grow that relationship.
CAN YOU BECOME AN INFLUENCER?
The main takeaway here is that there isn’t hack or a trick to getting your content published, linked and shared by influencers regularly. It’s interesting that considering the long history of marketing in general, content marketing is still a new and highly impactful trend, but having success in content marketing depends on two timeless business principles: 1) Offer something of value 2) Establish trusted relationships by nurture them with your attention and involvement. Consider this…your primary function and objective may not be to serve as a news or information source for your industry or online community – but if you are an engaged member of the community and the community starts publishing, linking and sharing your content (even if it’s just your website blog), then, to a certain degree, you have become a community influencer too. This is another way effective way to approach your strategy… ask yourself, “What can I do to become an influential member of this group?” Now, go influence your influencers and drive home some winning content!