Leverage Your Network to Help Drive Your Own Branded Content
The Content Creation Conundrum
If you’re looking to grow your business’s online presence, original branded content is the way to go. According to a Forrester study, 74% of business buyers conduct more than half of their research online before making a purchase. Original branded content allows you to: proactively engage with these prospective customers, establish your organization’s credibility, and increase the chances that prospects find you in the first place.
The problem is that creating this content can turn out to be very time-consuming. And if you want to maximize the return you see on this content, the majority of the work actually occurs AFTER your content is published (if you’re interested in learning more about content promotion tactics, this blog post by Ameer Rosic is a great place to start). So what’s a business owner or time-constricted marketer to do?! Start here:
Interview people who are a part of your professional network.
In my experience, leveraging your network in this manner will reduce the time you spend on content creation AND increase the impact of whatever it is that you create. Furthermore, if done properly, this tactic results in content that is both compelling and truly unique to you and your organization. What follows is a 5 step guide that will show you how to: 1) create high-quality content in less time, and 2) increase your overall reach with less energy.
5 Steps for Creating a Better Engine
One of the most powerful takeaways I’ve gained in my time as an entrepreneur is that creating a written process for every repeatable activity that occurs in your business will help you grow faster and smarter. (credit goes to the amazing Dan Martell for that one!) With that said, if you have limited time/resources, here is a simply written process you can follow to improve your content marketing efforts:
- Decide on 1-2 key themes that will serve as the foundation for your branded content
- Identify people who will want to help you create this collateral
- Personalize The Ask to increase your “Yes” rate
- Create content in such a way that it is easily repurposed
- Offer to assist your people with their promotional efforts
To help ground this, I’m going to share an example from my current venture, Shelf.io. At the time we employed this process, we had zero individuals dedicated to marketing in our company and were in the midst of a fundraising campaign that took a significant amount of the founding team’s time and energy. So if we could pull it off, so can you!
Step #1: Decide on 1-2 Key Themes:
I don’t think I need to go into detail on why it’s a bad idea to create content in a haphazard manner, so I won’t. But I will say that entrepreneurs (myself included) have a bad habit of biting off more than they can chew. Resist the urge to whiteboard out a content strategy that consists of a variety of different topics. Not only is this approach overwhelming, but it makes it harder for you to achieve a critical mass of material on the topics that matter most to you (and by extension) your customers. In our case we settled on:
- User Stories so prospective users could easily understand how other, real people use our product.
- Expert Advice on subjects that were likely to be of interest to our users. This was NOT a covert sales pitch billed as advice – people tend to see through that pretty quickly. Instead, we focused on things like Productivity and Better Information Management since people who are interested in these subjects are predisposed to find Shelf interesting. Looking back, I realize that these pieces of content would have been more impactful if they had been more narrowly focused. So if we continue producing this kind of information in 2017, we will look to be more disciplined and I encourage you to do the same as you think about your topics.
These key themes served us well because we were a brand new company with a brand new product. So the most important things for us were to establish credibility and help early adopters understand our value proposition. Your key themes will be different based on your industry, your company’s stage of maturity, the problem you exist to solve, etc.
Step #2 – Identify People Who Will Want to Help:
Once the foundation for your content has been set, head on over to LinkedIn to identify people within your network that share an interest in your topic(s). Depending on the number of connections you have, this could take an hour or two, but the chances are good that you’ll come away with a solid list of people who are knowledgeable on one of your key themes. Then, block off another hour or two for online research to identify thought leaders who have the same interests. Make sure to create the list using Excel, Google Sheets, a CRM or other tool so you can refer back to it at a glance and track your outreach activities.
If you go through this exercise and come away with too big of a list, the next thing to do is prioritize. Some criteria to consider are:
- Are they a content marketing practitioner? The Posts section of their LinkedIn profile page will give you a quick indication of whether or not they produce content and how prolific they are.
- How big is their reach? Again, the Posts section will tell you how many LinkedIn followers they have, but you should also check their Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube profiles. People often have a disproportionately large amount of followers in one particular channel and checking each of the major platforms will give you a better sense of things. (Buzzsumo is great at helping you figure this out in an efficient way)
- Is this person an expert in their field? Keep in mind that expertise and reach don’t always go hand in hand. At the end of the day, the quality of what you produce will have a significant impact on your overall level of success with content marketing, and experts almost always produce high-quality content.
This exercise left me with a strong list of people to contact and a better understanding of who I was going to reach out to first, and why.
Step #3: Personalize The Ask to Increase Your “Yes” Rate:
It goes without saying that contacting people you know well will increase your (positive) response rate. But sticking within your comfort zone may not produce the best possible results. The good news? Spending a few minutes on a brief, yet personalized cold email can go a long way. Here’s a slightly modified version of an email I sent to a prolific author I wanted to interview:
You won’t hear back from everyone, but you WILL hear from plenty of people who would jump at the chance to be interviewed by you. And guess what?
I’ve found that people with large followings and major credibility are actually more likely to respond than the 2nd or 3rd tier experts on your list. So aim high for a better response rate! Plus, this will put you in a much better position to get the most out of your branded content when you’re ready to promote it.
In this example, I heard back from the author within a few hours and I went about setting up a time for our video interview.
Step #4: Create Content in a Way That is Easily Repurposed:
In my opinion, this is the most crucial step in the entire process. Each of these tasks on their own doesn’t sound like much, but checking off each To Do will ensure that you can get the most out of your branded content in the future:
- Pre-script the 3-5 questions you want to ask your interviewee. This allows your interviewee to prepare, gives them the space to suggest other questions that they might want you to ask them, and it forces you to focus the interview on a single topic.
- Set a time expectation of 10 minutes or less. Not only will this take some pressure of the interviewee (increasing the chances that the interview doesn’t get canceled/rescheduled for a TBD date), but it will simplify and shorten the post-interview tasks.
- Test out your virtual infrastructure to ensure that your video interview will go off without a hitch. In the past, I’ve used GoToMeeting for the live video chat + Camtasia to record the interview. Regardless of what tools you use, the setup is pretty simple but you should plan on doing a few dry runs with someone in your organization to get comfortable with the flow of starting, recording, and saving the video file.
- Upload the video file to a transcription service like Rev to create a text-based version of the interview.
Once you’ve made any necessary edits to your video and received your transcript back (often within 24 hours) you’ll have some assets to work with. Now it’s time to repurpose! In the past, these are some of the ways in which we’ve turned one interview into multiple pieces of marketing collateral:
- Posted the video to our YouTube channel.
- Used the transcript to create a blog post. Oftentimes we would take the opportunity to embed the YouTube video in the blog as well.
- Sliced the transcript up into Tweets. For each “Tweetable” idea, we would create at least a few variations, which would equate to dozens of tweets. Then we would schedule them to go out over the course of a 3-4 week period with a tool like HootSuite.
- Repeat the same process for Facebook and LinkedIn posts, even Ads. You can’t get away with dozens of posts the way you can/should with Twitter, but I still recommend using this baseline content at in the least a few posts.
- Include a brief synopsis in a newsletter, with a link to the blog post or YouTube video.
- Since these interviews are centered around 1-2 themes, you can then use a portion of this content in a compilation article/post once you have achieved a critical mass of content on the topic in question.
And just like that, you take a single piece of content and turn it into 40-50 digital touch points where your customer can find you! It’s also worth mentioning that over time this effort will accumulate and translate to your content organically appearing on Page 1 of Google for the keyword terms that are important to your business.
Step #5: Offer to Assist Your People With Their Promotional Efforts
This final step is an easy one to overlook but do so at your own risk. The goal of creating compelling original content is to get it in front of as many prospective customers of yours as possible. And if you’ve chosen your interviewees wisely, there should be plenty of prospective customers of yours in their online follower base.
So don’t leave it to chance – if they’re happy with the content of the interview (and I’m sure they will be) – then a simple offer to assist them in their own promotional efforts can go a long way. Why bother? Because people are busy and oftentimes “best intentions” fall short of reality. The interviewee may be more swamped with work than usual and they might appreciate a bit of support in promoting this content to their network. Support can come in many forms but here are a few things you can do:
- Share your distribution process with them, so they don’t have to think through the nuts and bolts of sharing this content.
- Offer to draft newsletter, blog, and/or social content on their behalf. Use your existing collateral as a starting point and adjust it to fit the tone of your interviewee. Share this with them in a document or spreadsheet so they can review, approve, and adjust them however they see fit.
Not everyone will accept your offer, but those that do will provide you with an opportunity to amplify your reach…and in an exponential way in some cases. Others will decline…due to the fact that they already have a process in place that works. Take this opportunity to share notes! The process I’ve just outlined is just a starting point to build from. By exchanging notes with these individuals you’re likely to come away with some other great ideas and tactics for continuing to improve your marketing reach.
About the Author
Colin Kennedy is a 2X software entrepreneur with ten years of experience in the industry. Currently, Colin is the COO of Shelf.io, a venture-backed SaaS company in the enterprise content management space. Shelf.io has been featured multiple times by Google in their Chrome Store for its solution to easily capture, organize, and find web content across an organization.