Content Marketing Best Practices from Online Influencers


From 123rf.com

From 123rf.com

As of July 1, Jeff Haden's June 8, 2015, LinkedIn post, "7 Things Employees Wish They Could Tell Their Bosses," had grown to about 481,000 views, more than 1,800 likes, and 307 comments. Haden, a ghostwriter and speaker, is a LinkedIn Influencer. Similar to other Influencers, his posts often go viral. Most of those who are attempting to engage with an audience online, though, struggle to generate even 100 views. What can the masses learn from online influencers, whether they are the capital "I" LinkedIn variety or from a wider array of content outlets?

Many influencers know that the best way to find readers is to go where they already are by reaching out to publishers with an established audience. The Huffington Post is probably the most well-recognized example of a site in which content has been, to a large degree, provided by "citizen journalists"-unpaid contributors seeking exposure and thought leader status. That model has since been copied and leveraged by many other media outlets-both new and traditional. Search a business topic of just about any kind, and the results are very likely to include links to Forbes articles. Many of those articles, though, are written by contributors hoping to promote themselves and their services.

Simon Slade, CEO and co-founder of Affilorama, says he responds to these opportunities "in an effort to help others in the industry by sharing our knowledge and to help promote our companies." There's a balance to be struck here, he notes. "It's my hope that readers find my content so helpful that they will turn to my biography section to see where they can find more from me." Slade's sentiment is certainly key to seeing your own contributed content selected from the growing number of contributions that editors and journalists receive.

Becoming an Influencer on LinkedIn, or through another channel, requires being an influencer, with a lowercase "i," notes Sean Allan with SiamMandalay. Doing that requires time, consistency, and commitment. Building a critical mass of followers, friends, and online allies often involves leveraging the audiences of others. The experts offer some best practice tips on how to do that.

Build on strategy- As with any communication endeavor, building a plan based on a thoughtful strategy is a very important best practice, says Steve Schuster, CEO and founder of Rainier Communications. The process begins with a customer-centered or client-centered approach, he says. "We help clients choose topics their own potential customers are trying to solve," he states. The process takes effort and involves careful consideration of the types of problems the marketer's audience is trying to solve.

Consider long-term search from the audience perspective- Once pain points are identified, Schuster says the next step is creating long-tail phrases that "resonate with the industry problem the client is trying to solve for its customers." These phrases are then used in headline and body copy, boosting the odds of being found by search engines. "Because it has been deliberately designed to be relevant, the content will resonate with customers, making it more likely prospects will want to read it, share it, and act on it," he says. 

Guest blogging- Guest blogging is a commonly used tactic for expanding reach, Allan says. "When doing content marketing on a large scale, you should go through a practice called ‘blogger outreach,'" he says. This involves finding bloggers who are likely to be interested in your copy and reaching out to them. Online publications can provide even broader reach, particularly those-such as Forbes-that have very large subscriber bases. Michael Peggs, chief content creator at Marccx Media, agrees that guest blogging can be a good way to build an audience. "You tap into an established audience and join the community as an expert," he says. "Sharing your expertise is the key to authority marketing."

Prioritize- With so many outlets available, it can be hard to know where to start. Jason Parks, owner of The Media Captain, a digital marketing agency in Ohio, recommends building a "top 10 dream list" to narrow the field of potential outlets-a list of the top priority places you'd like to see your content appear. Still, the time it takes to thoroughly research and reach out to these outlets can be extensive. That's where technology tools and applications can come into play.

Leverage technology- Ann Fabens-Lassen, communications manager with Contently, says, "We currently use Outbrain and Taboola to distribute our clients' content, but the distribution marketplace is getting really competitive." She adds, "We think the content distribution war will be won by the companies with the best algorithms that can bring in lots of data and accurately predict what content will resonate with consumers."

Invest in paid advertising- Investing a little in online advertising to support content can also pay off, says Parks. "If I create a compelling blog post, I will put advertising dollars behind it on Facebook," he says. "For $20, I'm able to obtain 300 to 400 page views and generate amazing interaction." The same holds true, he says, on YouTube. In fact, he adds, "It is extremely tough nowadays to grow your following organically. If you're already investing the time into creating your own content, it's time to start investing advertising dollars behind it. This will help you expand your reach and influence."

Work it- Just because you create it doesn't mean an audience will follow, says Peggs. "Spend 20% of your time producing content and 80% of your time promoting it," he recommends. For those without the time to spend, there are ample opportunities to connect with content marketing firms and individuals who can help.

While it may be tempting to save time by repurposing the same content across various channels, Marc Prosser, with Fit Small Business, advises against it. "Don't write long posts for your site and simply truncate that material for other outlets, for instance, or people will come to view your outside content as lower quality than the material you reserve for your own publication," he says. He recommends making a distinctive difference in tone, or subject matter, for different posts. For instance, he says, "I recently wrote ‘Why Do Small Business Lenders Avoid Talking About APR' forForbes, while publishing a detailed guide to short-term lenders on my own site."

The bottom line is that leveraging online content to build an audience and drive business results is a must-do for today's marketers-whether in the B2B or the business-to-consumer (B2C) space. But not just any content will do. That content must be high-quality and driven by sound strategy. 

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