The Path to Successful Content Promotion Is All About Relationships

As if creating high-quality content wasn’t already hard enough, content marketing doesn’t work anymore without a plan for relationshipspromotion. There’s simply too much content out there for you to trust that people will find yours if you don’t put some real effort into making their discovery of it easy.

Content promotion has become one of the most important components in content marketing success. But figuring out how to do it well is tricky.

You’ve got a few obvious places you can start:

  • You can make sure your blog posts are optimized for SEO.
  • You can push out your content on social media.
  • You can send your new content to people on your email list
  • You can pay for ads on social media or Google to get your content in front of new people.

All of those are useful and important tactics to help guide people to your content, but a lot of the most effective long-term methods for content promotion have one thing in common: they’re about building and leveraging relationships.

People who know and trust you are more likely to share your content.

In content, as in life, strangers are far less likely to care about or believe what you have to say than people that have had some past, positive experience with you. If anything, gaining trust is harder for a brand than a human stranger, since people know you have a (not so ulterior) motive: you want to sell something.

One of the most powerful ways to cut through that initial trust barrier is social proof. Your potential customers will always believe what a third party has to say about you before they’ll take your brand’s word on the subject. And that’s not just true when it comes to buying from you, it also influences how likely they are to click through to your content or care about what you have to say within it.

Think about it: if someone you follow on social media shares content by a brand you’ve never heard of with a resounding recommendation to check it out, how much more likely are you to click than if you see the same link in an ad?

For those people to share your content to begin with, they already have to have some relationship with your brand. Maybe they saw another friend share it, maybe they’re already a customer, or maybe they’ve been following your blog for a while – whatever the reason, their decision to share shows a level of trust that immediately makes others more likely to check your content out and consider your brand trustworthy.

Promoting others helps them self-promote.

The value of relationships in content marketing is behind the growth in influencer marketing. Mentioning relevant influencers in your content provides a reciprocal benefit. It makes them look good to be identified as an expert and it strengthens your content to have the insights of an influencer included.

More important, in terms of the theme of this post, when you include a quote or reference to an influencer in a way that makes them look good, the chances of them sharing your post with their network increases. It’s not guaranteed they will, but when promoting your content also means promoting themselves as well, a lot of people do.

If the person you highlight has a large audience of people that trust them, seeing that you have a relationship with them makes that large audience more prone to check you out and trust you.

How to Build Connections

As long as you’re a stranger, attempts to get an influencer or anyone else to pay attention to your content – even if it mentions them – will be an uphill battle. You have to put in the work of building those connections first.

While there are loads of ways to connect with people in the internet age, a few you might consider taking advantage of are:

  • Attend industry conferences. Conferences aren’t just good for checking out vendors and attending educational sessions, they’re one of the best opportunities out there for meeting other people working in your space. Go. Strike up conversations. Introduce yourself to anyone whose presentation impresses you. You’ll come away from the conferences with the beginnings of lots of new relationships.
  • Start doing more local networking. You can’t be at conferences all the time, but you can tap into the local community through networking events. Look into the relevant organizations and meetups available in your city, and get out there and start meeting people.
  • Conduct interviews. Interviews often strengthen content because you’re able to use the insights of other experts to lend weight to what you’re saying. Many people are willing to set up expert interviews because it gives them a chance to show their knowledge and reach a new audience as well. Once you’ve interviewed someone and used the knowledge they provided in your content, they now have a relationship to your brand.
  • Interact on social media. Reply to people’s tweets or Facebook posts. Share their content. Participate in Twitter chats or LinkedIn groups. Social media has vastly simplified the process of making connections with people in your industry. Use it.
  • Leave comments. A lot of people and businesses with blogs actually read and reply to comments. Leaving a thoughtful comment is a good way to get on their radar, especially if you do it more than once and interact with them in other ways on this list in the mean time.
  • Pitch guest posts. Guest posts can both be a way to promote your own brand (although not too directly, usually) and a way to create or solidify a relationship with another person or brand. If you do pitch a guest post, make sure you pay attention to any guidelines the blog has and pitch an idea that’s relevant to the blog’s audience. If you send a tone deaf pitch that shows you didn’t do basic research first, it will backfire.

How to Use Connections for Content Promotion

Once you’ve made enough of a connection, you’ll have a much easier time asking  people to help you out without crossing any lines.

As much as possible, look for opportunities to suggest mutually beneficial modes of promotion. That could mean hosting a webinar together, partnering to complete a research study with both your audiences combined, or featuring them as an expert in your blog posts.

Even once a relationship is established, aim to help them with promotion and engagement at least as much as you ask them to do the same for you.   It’s gotta go both ways or they’ll have little reason to continue the relationship and view it fondly.

 

Making connections has a tendency to pay off in ways beyond boosting your brand. You might make some real friends in the process. You’ll meet people you can learn from who have real insights to add to your life and your marketing efforts. Building relationships shouldn’t be all about content promotion, but it’s one of the best paths you can take to get there.

 

Why Your Content is Facing an Uphill Battle

Content marketing is no longer optional for businesses – at least not if you care about being mountainvisible and reaching customers on the web. But a lot of people doing it are struggling to see the kind of results they want.

If you feel like you’ve been putting so much time, money, and energy into content marketing without seeing much response, it’s not just you. For anyone starting content marketing now, and even most of those who got started in the in past year or two, you’re facing a challenge on par with scaling a mountain.

Moz research found that the vast majority of content businesses are publishing never gets shared or linked to at all. In a lot of cases, that’s probably because the content’s not all that good to begin with. But that’s not necessarily the case across the board. In our era of content saturation, good content gets ignored too.

The odds really are stacked against the average joe business trying to get noticed on the web with content.

That’s because, right now, content marketing success primarily falls to two categories of businesses:

  • The early adopters

    These are the guys that started content marketing over five years ago, sometimes over ten. They were the first in their space (or close to it) and created some of the cornerstone, established content that people in their industry have been looking to for years.

    Other influencers in the industry (and Google) all see them as an authority already. They can keep doing what they’ve been doing and it will keep working for them, but if you try to do the same, you’re starting out much further behind.

  • The businesses with the most money to invest

    ViperChill recently published an eye-opening post on the companies that dominate search. They found that just 16 companies – behemoths like Hearst and Time – own the vast majority of websites that rank for a wide range of lucrative keywords. From software to food to health and pretty much everything else you can think of, these companies claim most of the top spots in Google.

Why It’s So Hard to Outrank These Guys

The initial thought that inspired this post came from working on a recent post on how writers choose what websites to link to, which gave me cause to really think about my own research process when working on a post.

When I go looking for examples, data, relevant extra info to back my points up – I go to Google. The stuff that’s already showing up on page one and two is the stuff I’m most likely to click on and read, and therefore the stuff I’m most likely to link to within a post of my own. Is it fair? No. But how much work would I have to do to find your awesome post – even if it’s better than the stuff on page one – if it’s sitting on page 13?

That creates a cycle. The content that’s already doing well in search is the stuff I’m most likely to find and link to, which keeps it high up in the search. And as the ViperChill article makes clear, since many companies are using their high-authority websites to link to their new websites, the new sites with the best chance of breaking that cycle are those that already have an unfair advantage.

What Can You About It?

It’s good to know what you’re up against to keep your expectations realistic, but that’s no reason to revel in doom and gloom. Plenty of adventurous people actually do manage to scale mountains – but only with the proper preparation and plan.

Content marketing is hard, much harder than it used to be. But that doesn’t mean your case is hopeless and it’s better not to try.

Commit, all the way.

First off, you can’t just throw up a blog, put together some haphazard content once a week, tweet here and there and think that’ll work for you. If you’re going to get anything out of content marketing you have to make a real commitment to doing it right.

That means:

  • Taking the time to understand your audience and develop a strategy based on what they care about and need.
  • Being consistent with your content production. Don’t overdo it in the beginning, get burned out, and let it dwindle to almost nothing. Figure out what you can do realistically and stick with that.
  • Don’t just produce content. That’s not all content marketing is. Do the work to get your content in front of people and stay connected with those people once they find you.

Promote.

Publishing relevant content was once enough for those early adopters, but if you don’t fall into that category, it’s not enough for you. You need to do the extra work of promoting your content to help get it in front of people.

At this point in the game, a lot of your best promotion options will mean spending some money or committing some serious time. That could mean buying social media ads, trying paid distribution platforms, or putting in the work (or hiring someone) to help you land some big guest posts that will get you attention.

You’ll have to do some testing to figure out what types of promotion work best for your content and audience. Whatever form it takes, promotion needs to be an important part of your content strategy.

Target and interact with influencers.

When you look at those early adopters, you shouldn’t just see the people that were lucky to get on the bandwagon early, you should see potential contacts that may be able to help you. Work to get on their radar.

Interact with them on social media. Comment on their blog. Go to conferences or networking events they may be at. Share their content.

One of the best ways to make the kinds of valuable connections online that lead to a larger reach and more links is to actually make connections with the people behind those websites and links. Don’t be creepy or demanding. But do let them know you’re paying attention to their work and appreciate it.

Over time, those interactions could lead to an actual relationship, a guest post on their blog that drives traffic to your website, or a tendency to share your stuff (now that they know it exists).

Expect to play the long game.

Even if you do everything right, it takes time to build up authority. Don’t expect any one thing you do to be the magic bullet that launches you to visibility online. You have to do a lot of different little things and keep doing them for a while.

Pay attention to what’s working as you go so you can tweak your strategy over time. And don’t get discouraged and drop everything when you don’t see results right away. You’ll just end up that much further behind when you decide in a year or five that actually you should have stuck with this content marketing thing after all. Better to stay on top of it now.

Don’t set all your store on Google.

Google matters in online visibility. Of course it does. But it shouldn’t be the end all be all of your marketing plans, if for no other reason than that, right now, it’s out of reach for a lot of businesses – at least if you’re interested in keywords that are at all competitive.

Focus on reaching people through whatever other channels you can find. As more people find and trust you through other places, over time you may find your authority in Google growing. But by then you won’t be dependent on Google anyway.

15 Tips (of Various Types) From Content Marketing World’s Experts

content marketing world 2014

The weather’s nice. The food is orange. And there are the biggest names in content marketing everywhere you look (and a constantly cursing Oscar winner to boot).

Content Marketing World is an experience full of unique character and packed to the brim with information, tips, and ideas. The speakers and attendees come from all types of backgrounds and represent just about every possible job title in the content marketing industry.

That makes for some good variety in the knowledge you walk away with at the end of the week. Here are fifteen of my favorite tidbits from those full days in Cleveland.

1) Forget funnels and focus on moments of inspiration.

Does the sales funnel still accurately reflect how people buy? With the way the internet has changed how people research and shop, Andrew Davis suggests we’re looking to an outdated tool to understand buying behavior.

There’s not a simple, linear process behind making a purchasing decision anymore. What there is now is an internet full of ideas and stories. To get the attention of your potential customers and make a connection, you need to play on the level of the things they’re paying attention to online. You need to work toward creating moments of inspiration.

2) Start using Google Trends. Yesterday.

Another tip from Andrew Davis who insists that Google Trends is the most underused tool in marketing today. If you want to understand what people care about, what they’re talking about, what they’re thinking about and searching for (and of course you do if you’re in marketing), Google Trends is the tool to show you.

google trends

What people are thinking about today

3) Speaking of Google tools, you’re not doing enough with Google Analytics.

Andy Crestodina (another Google Trends fan) has figured out a lot of the best tricks for getting more out of Google Analytics. Trends are good for figuring out what people are thinking about more generally, but Analytics is where you figure out what they’re coming to your site for and what they’re doing when they get there.

If you use Google Analytics effectively, the data you glean can help with keyword research, topic development, and refining your strategy as you go.

4) Use tools, but don’t let them take the place of strategy.

Content marketing tools abound. We’ve got the aforementioned Google tools, a dizzying array of software, social So many tools! Graphic via Curatanetworks, tools for organizing your content creation process, amplifying the reach of your content, tracking performance, and so many more.

Kristina Halvorson offers the reminder that we can get carried away with our tools and tactics. Content marketing isn’t just about what we can do or think might be cool to do, it has to be strategic. Don’t let those tools distract from creating and sticking to a strategy.

5) Use personas. But remember, they’re not a creative writing project.

Personas are content marketing 101. We all know we need them, but the harder part is making sure they’re based on something real.

It might feel fun and creative to sit down and write out what you think is going on in the mind of your ideal customer, but unless you’re basing what goes into your persona on actual interviews or data, you’re writing fiction. Jenny Magic and Melissa Breker brought up the inconvenient truth that for personas to do their job and make your content marketing strategy more effective, they can’t just be a creative writing project.

say "no" for a better content strategy6) When creating a content strategy, saying “no” isn’t just ok, it’s important.

This is another gem from Kristina Halvorson (and one of the pieces of advice on this list that can easily extend to life beyond content marketing). Marketers are creative people and, as such, we tend to have more ideas than we can reasonably execute.

An important part of developing a content strategy that will be effective and sustainable is the ability to say “no.” Producing a blog post a day, a weekly video series, and an infographic all this month might sound like a great plan ­– but do you actually have the resources to execute that plan? Carefully consider what you can accomplish, so you create the most effective and efficient strategy within your means.

7) Always ask “why?”

Another Halvorson tip: think like a five year old. Every step of putting together your strategy and creating your askwhycontent, ask “why?” Why are you doing this? Why is this important?

Just keep asking until you get down to those big, hard-to-answer philosophical questions. If your content answers everything up to that point, you know you’ve dug deep into something really useful.

8) Writing is not grammar, it’s thinking.

You may have noticed a few sentences in this post that start with “and” or “but.” Well Ann Handley told me I could 🙂 .

The grammatical rules that may have seemed like gospel when you were learning to write in school aren’t the most important part of writing well. In fact, any time they have a negative influence on the readability or personality of your content, they should be set aside.

What matters is the thought that goes into the work. Writing must be useful and meaningful and something your reader can relate to. More than any proper use of a semi-colon, that’s what makes writing good in the world of content marketing.

9) Whenever you could use some extra writing inspiration, check out style guides.

Do you ever look over the style guides produced by some of the companies putting out great content? I have to admit, I never really thought to, but Ann Handley recommends it as a way to keep your writing fresh.

A few she specifically recommends are:

If you know of any other good ones worth checking out, let me know,

influencer marketing

Find influencers with Followerwonk

10) If you don’t have one already, develop a plan to start connecting with influencers ASAP.

In his talk on influencer marketing, Lee Odden stressed how people are much more likely to trust experts than brands. This is a pretty intuitive point: how much more likely are you to make a decision based on the advice of a person you trust versus that of a brand?

That makes any expert in your industry with an engaged audience somebody you want to know. And more to the point, somebody that you want to know and trust you well enough to share your content. This isn’t easy though, you need a plan to best determine which influencers you want to connect with and how best to establish, nurture, and maintain that connection.

11) Be sure to target actual influencers, not just people that are popular.

It’s possible for someone to have a large following and obvious popularity, without being a person with influence. Odden explains the distinction: a brandividual is popular, but an influencer can create popularity.

Popularity might be measured in things like followers, but an influencer is likely to have a more engaged audience. Their followers aren’t just passive listeners, but make a point to interact and become a part of the their community. That’s how you tell the difference.

12) But don’t just target the already influential, look for people on their way up.

Every powerful influencer out there started as someone with no fans or audience. The road to cultivating influence is long and slow and most of those who reach the end get some help along the way. And they remember the help they got.

Says Odden, “Work with an influencer, they’re friends for a day. Help someone become influential and they’re a friend for life.” Keep your eyes open for the people who are on their way up and look for opportunities to connect with them as well.

13) Get ready for adaptive content.

Context plays a huge role in how and why people buy. How huge of a role? It turns out that personalized content can mean 3-10 times as many conversions.

Jenny Magic and Melissa Breker talked about the growing trend of adaptive content. You’ve already seen glimpses of this ­– things like personalized ads based on sites you’ve visited and seeing different versions of a website on different types of devices all count as adaptive content.

The technology for businesses to do even more personalization in how they deliver up content is already there; it’s just a matter of jumping in and using it. But you can’t jump in without a plan. In the mantra familiar to any and all Content Marketing World attendees: the strategy must come first.

14) Slow down and fix your shit.

Both Kristina Halvorson and Jonathon Coleman gave this line a nod. Along with #15, it’s one of those pieces of advice that’s useful in pretty much all aspects of life. Rushed work and hasty decisions rarely produce results on par with what you get out of a well thought out and carefully executed strategy. Take your time and do it right.

15) It’s all about empathy.

To produce content people want to consume, you have to understand what they like and need. We talk a lot about personas in the realm of content marketing, but we always have to remember what the real point of those personas is. They’re worthless if they don’t help us empathize with the people we’re trying to reach.

In the emphasis on getting out a large quantity of content quickly (see #14), it’s easy to lose sight of what the purpose of the content is. Catchy headlines followed by posts that repeat familiar facts might help content creators reach their quotas and satisfy the higher ups, but are you creating something that people will actually appreciate?

Always have the people on the other end of the computer screen in mind. If you’re not making an effort to empathize with their needs, it’s time to start.