Part I was all about setting up a blog and all of the administrative decisions that go with it. Part II was all about the process of actually writing blog content. Now it’s time to talk about follow-through. Just like when you’re breaking a board with your fist, if you don’t follow through properly, blogging is just going to end up hurting you.
In blogging, however, follow through is about a lot more than aiming two inches behind the target — it’s an entire exertion all its own.
Step 1: Planning Your Content’s Ascent to Greatness
It’s useful in this context to think of media — the kind of media you can promote your content on — and coming in three types:
- Media you own and can use as you please — even if it’s on someone else’s site, such as your Facebook profile and your Twitter feed,
- Media that you can easily pay to have your content appear on, such as StumbleUpon’s Paid Discovery or Google AdWords,
- And media that you have to earn your place on, which ranges from the minor-but-important (Facebook Likes from an individual) to the business-shaping (the Huffington Post reprints your blog post with attribution).
The earned media, you can’t actually actively do anything to get onto except write amazing content and then pimp the hell out of it using owned and paid media — but you should literally do all of that with the intention of earning your way onto the earned media, because that’s where the jackpot is.
That means having a solid plan about how to use your owned and paid media in order to get as many eyes on your content as you can, and writing the kind of content that earned media loves.
Owned Media: Pages You Control
Lots of businesses have this weird disconnect where they say the words ‘social media’ in one breath, but then they don’t actually treat their branded social accounts as streams of media. Which they totally are. Your business’ Facebook page, your business’ Twitter account, your business’ LinkedIn Page and its Pinterest board and its Google+ page — all of them are media, and they’re media you control. If you’re not pushing your content on your own media, how can you expect other media to see it as worthy of pushing?
You probably also have at least one list of email addresses of people who have purchased something from you, filled in a squeeze page, or otherwise given you permission to contact them in the future. That should be treated as a media stream, too, because it actually totally is. (Email is a medium of communication. Media is nothing more than the plural of medium. Everything you can use to communicate with a bunch of people is ‘media’.)
The key to taking advantage of all of these kinds of media is that every platform, because of it’s form and function, has different abilities to communicate. You can’t put an infographic up on Twitter, and if you just put a link to your infographic up with no context, you’ll get no clicks. You have to extract a short but interesting and relevant fact from your infographic, Tweet that with a link to your graphic and a teaser, and then you’ll get some results.
Pinterest, on the other hand, is custom-made for putting up an amazing graphic all on it’s lonesome — but if what you have is a 2,500 word blog post, you’re going to have to find some amazing graphic that explains or goes along with that post and then Pin it with a fraction of a sentence to use as a hook. Taking the time to custom-craft your message for every platform is vital.
Once you’ve customized your message so that your one piece of content has a representation appropriate for each of the platforms you’re posting it to, you’ve done your part. You’ve put your best foot forward on each of the media streams that you have control over, which is the most you can do…without paying money.
There are oodles of paid media streams out there. Google Adwords is a paid media stream. So is getting a commercial put on YouTube to pop up before someone watches the next great Ylvis video (‘Massachusetts’ wasn’t it.) The problem with paid media is that the moment that a given paid method becomes mainstream enough that you want it, it’s generally also become too expensive per view to be worthwhile.
So in order to exploit paid media properly, you need to do some research and find ‘up and coming’ paid media outlets. At the moment, I can suggest:
- StumbleUpon’s Paid Stumbles
- Reddit Ads
- Twitter’s Promoted Tweets program
- A very tightly targeted Facebook Ad
You may notice that all of these are social media platforms that offer paid ads. That’s no coincidence — at the moment, this is the arena of ‘up-and-coming paid advertisements’. They work well, they’re still cheap, and the only hitch is that they largely target a younger, mildly liberal, slightly male-centric audience. If your target audience is older, more conservative, and/or more feminine, you’ll have to do some research of your own.
The big difference between using a social platform for a paid ad vs. a traditional one is that on a social platform, the ads themselves need to encourage interaction, commenting, and sharing. If they don’t, you’re missing out on a large portion of the point. You should actually literally say something like ‘do you agree?’ or ask a question and say ‘answer in the comments.’
The gold standard of modern advertising, naturally, is to create and successfully market something so viral that you make it onto a highly popular site. It’s an interesting kind of step-pyramid: you try your hardest to make something that will get a single influential Facebook or Twitter poster to mention you, and the results are amazing when it works. Once you’ve got that level of attention, you work your butt off to get a positive mention on a big news site or a infoporn site like Buzzfeed or Cracked or something. Then you step up again and try to nail a reference from an actual celebrity, even if it’s “just” George Takei or one of the other Lords of the Internet. Then, you go for the throat and ask Dr. Oz to tell everyone that reading your webcomic will make them lose weight and live longer.
So how do you earn the right to appear on earned media? It’s a simple, two-step process:
- Create content so good that people want to tell everyone about it.
- Market your content so hard that people see it.
That’s it. If your content is good enough that people want to tell their family, friends, and neighbors — and then enough people see it and do tell their family, friends, and neighbors — you’ve successfully used earned media to market your content. And the wonderful thing about earned media is that there’s no divisions anymore — it used to be that getting to the first page of Reddit didn’t mean anything except that you got on the front page of Reddit (which was huge!)…but today, you have reporters who use Reddit to find stories, you have people on Reddit who will Tweet interesting things to thousands of followers, and you have plenty of people who are more than willing to post a link to Reddit on their Facebook account. So success tends to snowball once you’ve made it past a certain point. That’s what ‘going viral’ is all about.
So, how can you make your content more ‘earned media friendly’? Here’s a few of my best ideas on the matter:
- Do Intensive Research and Cite It: There are an infinite number of claims being made about stuff on the Internet. If you believe everything you read, you might just think that the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer is in fact the best way to slice a banana. Instead, find top-tier sources and cite them. Scientific journals, credible mainstream newspapers, and quotes from acknowledged experts in the field are all gold — and the dropoff between gold and crap is steep and slippery.
- Think About Ways to Re-Use You Content As You Write It: As you write, consider what else you can do with the same content (or a rewrite of the same content) elsewhere. Maybe your section on how to craft amazing headlines would make a great guest blog post on someone else’s blog? (Or maybe you stole it from a previous blog post on your own blog — reusing it in reverse?) If you can consciously create each section to be strong enough to stand on it’s own in a different context, not only will you be making use of the ‘sandwich bar’ concept mentioned in Part II, but you’ll also be prepared to farm out chunks of your content to act as bait to lure people in to the mother lode.
- Work Social Media In To Your Process: Twitter has this amazing tool called Twitter Web Intents, and it allows a reader to tweet a chunk of your text with a single click. Working that into your content (obviously highlighting the most intriguing insights and statistics) makes it significantly easier for people to share what you’ve done — way beyond the now-normal social buttons that accompany every blog post ever. Calls to action that encourage sharing, commenting, and tweeting are also solid if you can work them naturally into the flow.
- Aim For Your Target Remember the step-pyramid I mentioned above? If you know what level you’re at, and you know who you would LOVE to see mention your stuff next, look at what they do. Look at their structure, their audience, their subject matter, their schedule — and modify what you’re creating so that it would be perfect for them. You don’t have to come out and ask them to repost your stuff (though you could, if you were able to come off as more charming than desperate), just do something to give them a good chance of seeing it — like post it to their Facebook page.
Bringing it All Together
OK, so we have individual strategies for each of the Owned, Paid, and Earned media areas — but can we create some synergy here beyond the ‘get your way onto the Earned media’ maneuver?
Of course we can. All forms of media are capable of amplifying one another — so if you get a big win on the earned media with a killer article, you should immediately get on your owned media channels and start promoting whatever article, blog post, or other external content is pimping you. The reasons for this are two: first, you want to increase exposure of the earned media post in general — but more importantly, you want new visitors who have just shown up on your owned channels to see that you have a third party backing you.
The effect is so strong that it’s occasionally even worthwhile to spend some of your paid-media budget advertising someone else’s content — as long as that content leads back to you and gives you a strong testimonial. Getting someone to click on a HuffPo article about you is way easier than getting them to click on your blog post directly, and it’s even more effective.
Focusing Your Effort
So, we have a grand plan for getting the maximum amount of eyes on every piece of killer content — but there’s one problem to all this. It’s a boatload of effort. It’s not smart to apply the entire suite of media options to every single post. If you look at a post and you’re not immediately convinced that it’s in the top 10% of everything your company has ever done, you might need to scale back. Keep the effort level appropriate to the awesomeness, or you’ll get a reputation for pushing poor content out hard and fast…that’s bad.
Instead, do a little bit of market research — figure out where your primary audience ‘hangs out’ online. For example, if you have a product that you think will appeal primarily to fans of the BBC’s Sherlock, you probably want to advertise on Tumblr — that’s where the Sherlock ‘fandom’ tends to hang out. That’s an extreme example — deliberately — to give you an idea of the specificity that I’m talking about.
It’s one thing to say that your target audience is ‘soccer moms’ — a pretty useless thing, actually. It’s entirely another to say that your target audience is ‘soccer moms who have blogs about being soccer moms who also frequently have trouble making ends meet.’ The first set of people is an amorphous blob of millions of individuals. The second is probably on WordPress right now, posting about how they’re teaching their kids the value of making your own lip balm on the stove. That’s a platform you can target — and thus a group you can reach.
The point here is that you need to know not just who the target market for your product or service is, but who the target market for each and every piece of content is — and the second set should be a subset of the first. You want every piece of content to be aimed at the heartstrings, cerebrums, or guts of a segment of your total market, and you want it to pluck, stimulate, or sucker-punch those things (respectively). And you should be able to understand as you create a piece of content where the small subset of customers that you’re targeting can be found — and be able to advertise directly to them where they already are.
The market research necessary to achieve that understanding is an entire other blog post, and this is already long enough — and regardless, the vast majority of you are better off outsourcing that part of your operation and concentrating on putting the knowledge to good use.
No one ever said blogging was going to be easy — but it can be fun and it can be highly profitable. Hopefully, after three huge posts, you’ve got a good idea of what it’s going to take — if you need more, feel free to call me at my office and hire me. I make an excellent consultant.