Yes, content is king — that’s old (and very profitable) news.
Content is the fuel of permission-based marketing, and an excellent instigator of engagement.
It’s the marketing that your audience wants to receive.
There’s just one little problem.
Sure, content is king — but without an audience, the king can get awfully lonely.
Sorry, but even terrific content doesn’t get out there and find an audience all by itself. You need a practical plan for how you’re going to find and grow that audience.
Let me explain …
A cautionary content marketing tale: The notebooks of
Leonardo da Vinci
You may remember Leonardo da Vinci as the master who painted the Mona Lisa and sketched the Vitruvian Man. But did you know that he was also one of the most imaginative inventors who ever lived?
Many of da Vinvci’s most interesting and prescient imaginings were scribbled down in his notebook, and never saw the light of day.
We’re talking about sketches of submarines and helicopters in the 15th century. Clearly, the man was a genius, and his sketches, in the right (influential) hands could have changed the world as we know it.
These notebooks were filled with excellent “content” (once they were deciphered …) but because most of his ideas never got in front of the right eyes — nothing came of it.
No matter how good you are, if you don’t get your work in front of the right people, it isn’t going to matter at all — not for the world, and not for your business.
Find the Sneezers!
Before your content can do anything for you, you’ve got to attract an audience.
So when you’re starting out, if you put your content out there and some members of your target audience happen to see it and enjoy it — fine and good. But the people you really want to seek out in the beginning are the ones who can spread the word.
In his book Unleashing the Ideavirus, Seth Godin calls these people “Sneezers.” A Sneezer is someone who spreads an idea — and that’s who you want promoting your amazing content.
Some examples of great Sneezers include:
- Guy Kawasaki (Promiscuous)
- Brian Clark (Powerful)
- Kim Kardashian (Promiscuous)
- Robert Scoble (Powerful)
Some Sneezers are “powerful,” meaning they have a loyal fan base who have a high level of trust. Other Sneezers are “promiscuous” — they have a wide reach, but it isn’t as deep and the trust level isn’t as high. Both kinds are good, and there are different times when one or the other might be more helpful to you.
Every niche has its powerful and promiscuous sneezers — you just have to identify them, and get your content in front of them.
How to reach Sneezers and get them talking
I won’t tell you this is easy — but it’s not impossible, either.
There are more ways than I can count to do this effectively, and the best ones are probably still waiting to be discovered. But just to get you going, here are four examples of ways that you can try to reach out to your Sneezers and get them talking about you, your brand, and your content.
1. Involve them in a project
Last year, I wrote a book called Engagement from Scratch!, which has gone on to perform very nicely. (10,000+ downloads, more than 90 reviews on Amazon, and it’s been one of the 20 best-selling marketing books on Kindle since it launched.)
But I didn’t actually write most of it.
The reason the book was so successful is that I had thirty co-authors who contributed most of the content and ideas. Well-known, important, and influential people with successful businesses and huge followings.
So why did they choose to participate?
For the most part, they did it because I offered them a chance to work on a project with one another. Each Sneezer brought different readers in. And the book let them easily add a new “Author” entry to their professional CVs.
Sneezers are often interested in all sorts of projects, but they don’t necessarily have the time to do it themselves. If you can make it easy and rewarding, you’ll get a “yes” surprisingly often.
- Come up with project ideas. Brainstorm different ideas that will provide great value to the intended audience, that will also be interesting and rewarding for the participants, and that have the potential to be widely shared. Try to come up with ideas for several different projects that fit these criteria.
- Do your homework. Who stands to benefit from participating in this project? Who are the Sneezers that you most want involved? Look at your brainstorm list through this filter, and choose the ones you think will work the best.
- Prepare your approach. Outline what the project will entail and the results you hope to achieve. Make it clear what you want from participants, and make it easy for them to say “yes.” Try to anticipate what they’ll need from you to make their decision, and include all the key information.
- Go for it. Send your proposal to the Sneezers and hope for the best. Make yourself available to answer questions and provide more information. Be flexible — Sneezers often have input that can make the final product more valuable.
2. Conduct interviews or case studies
Right now, I’m doing a series of Naked Marketing Audits of a bunch of different businesses.
What’s a Naked Marketing Audit?
Basically, it’s an interview with someone who runs a business related to our audience’s interest and needs, in which their marketing is analyzed and exposed for their benefit, and the benefit of the audience (here’s an example). They come down to a few things:
- It’s you and someone you respect in your niche,
- talking about the finer points of an issue you deal with in your business or industry,
- made available to both of your audiences.
They are tremendously popular, and all parties involved (the interviewer, interviewee, and most importantly, the audience) all learn a lot through the process.
- Survey your audience. Either directly (by asking them) or indirectly (by paying attention to what they say) about what kind of information they are looking for from experts. Create a list of options that you are fairly confident will be valuable for them — and for people who aren’t yet a part of your audience, but should be.
- List the Sneezers you think can best provide this information, and whose audiences overlap with yours.
- Prepare your interview or case study questions. Make sure to leave some questions open-ended, so that a real discussion can take place — these are often the best parts.
- Contact the Sneezer and invite them to participate. Be sure to explain how easy it will be, and what the benefits are of participating — especially if you don’t have a previous relationship with them.
3. Try a Klout Perks campaign
If you’re not familiar with Klout or Klout Perks, take a look at Mark Schaefer’s new book Return on Influence — it’s the best primer you’ll find on social scoring and the marketing opportunities that it creates.
In a nutshell, you can ask companies like Klout to find key influencers in your niche, and you can give those influencers “Perks” in hopes that they will spread the word for you. This is usually free sample merchandise, but you could just as easily do it yourself using exclusive content.
The recipients aren’t under any obligation to share or promote you, but they often do, and this can be an effective way to create social media buzz around your offer.
- Familiarize yourself with the Klout Perks program.
- Identify the type of user you want to receive your perk. Remember to think about the scope of their influence, and not just the demographics of the users you’ll be offering your perk to.
- Design your perk. Make sure it’s something easy for you to provide, and try to make sure as many people as you can afford can take advantage of it. Be creative here — what sort of content can you create that will encourage both the Sneezers and their followers to spread the word?
4. Develop training or a presentation for their audience
It will come as no shock to you (I certainly hope) that Sneezers are busy people.
Building and maintaining a loyal following takes time, effort, creativity, and lots and lots of top-quality content. If you can offer them something incredibly valuable to give their followers, like we do with our live training events, they’ll often jump at the chance to help fill their editorial calendar.
We’re talking about content that’s so good and so useful that the audience will thank the Sneezer for introducing them to you. When done right, this is incredibly powerful.
Affiliate commissions can make up significant income streams for many Sneezers. If you’ve got a valuable product or service that their audience is going to be genuinely interested in, the sharing of a large audience becomes a mutually beneficial experience.
Products and services aren’t appropriate for every Sneezer. Look carefully at trainings and events your Sneezer has previously offered to their audience, to make sure you hit the right notes with your offer.
- Determine topics. Look at your audience (and the audiences of the people you hope to provide your product to) to see what issues they deal with and problems they need solved. You should also look at the type of products and services the Sneezers usually offer, to help you come up with something in line with those values.
- Create the product. You can make videos, reports, eBooks, training sessions — whatever will best answer the question or solve the problems of the audiences you want to reach. Don’t skimp here — it’s got to be good. If you’ve elected to try and sell a product or service at the end, devote some time to making the transition between information and pitch seamless.
- Propose your solution to the Sneezers whose audience you want access to. An email that offers excellent free content for their followers (and possibly a nice chunk of affiliate income) is almost irresistible to a powerful online figure. Be prepared to let them preview it, and be willing to accept criticism and make changes.
- Provide the freebie or run the training. It’s important to schedule this at a time when you are going to be available to answer questions, provide support, and generally get involved with the people receiving your free content. Remember, these are your new potential customers, so start your relationship off on the best foot possible.
Bringing it all together …
What all of these elements have in common is that you can provide genuine value and interest for these Sneezers by providing genuine value and interest for their audience.
There has to be something in it for a Sneezer — it has to be worth their while, and they have to be sure that taking a risk on you won’t damage their reputation with their own followers.
What makes something really valuable and worthwhile changes from person to person of course, but generally it’s something along the lines of:
- Free information for them or their audience,
- The chance to earn a commission, credibility, or exposure (the bigger your Sneezer is, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to provide this), or
- An opportunity to make a charitable contribution to a cause that they care about.
There are lots of different reasons why people form joint ventures or short-term partnerships.
Whoever you decide to target with your content, make sure that they have the influence you need to make a real impact on your business.
If you work at it hard and long enough, eventually you’ll have a large, dedicated audience of your own … and you might just become a Sneezer for the next group of up-and-coming content creators.