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How Free Content Can Quickly Grow Your Business: Interview with Michael Stelzner

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Has your business been sluggish for some time? Are you worried that you’re not experiencing the growth you expected?

Well, there is no shortage of business advice, of marketing gurus and self-help literature out there. In fact, the number of self-acclaimed ‘social media experts’ continues to grow at a mind-boggling rate.

But you and I know that Michael Stelzner is, without question, the real deal.  He is the founder of Social Media Examiner, the author of the new book Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition and a keynote speaker at Content Marketing World. His remarkable success story over the past decade is the stuff that dreams are made of.

I recently interviewed Mike and we talked about the phenomenal accomplishments he has made with Social Media Examiner. He shared some very interesting strategies that he used to realize his goals.

Mike is a very pragmatic person, and when he says things like, “Here’s what I did, go do the same,” you get a sense of his authentic and uplifting personality. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Here are some of the topics we discussed:

A formula to grow your business

Patricia: Your book is centered on “the elevation principle.” Explain what it means and how content marketers can use it to propel their businesses beyond the competition.

Mike: If you’re using content to market your business or if you own your own business, the big challenge is that we’re being over marketed to.  We’ve gotten to the point where it’s numbed us and we completely ignore marketing messages.

Secondly, people don’t trust us.  There was an interesting study by Edelman Trust Barometer that showed only 1 in 3 people trust businesses.  If no one is paying attention, and they don’t trust you, how in the world are you going to stand out?

The way to do that is to focus on the needs of people. At their core, everyone needs or wants 1 of 3 things.  They want access to great information, they want access to great people and they want recognition. There is one thing that is highly scalable that will allow you to provide that without taking an enormous amount of your time and its content.

So the elevation principle at its core says, ‘Instead of focusing on your business needs, focus on the needs of your prospects and your customers,’ and I’ve come up with a simple formula to accomplish this:

Great content + other people – marketing messages = growth.

And if you think of your business like a rocket ship, great content is the fuel for your rocket, it’s the how-to articles, and it’s the success stories.

Other people means working with experts who have great knowledge that you can bring to your community; these are people who have written books, people who speak at trade shows, people who are bloggers who are really writing incredible things.

The third thing is minus marketing messages.  Figure out a way to take those marketing messages out of your content.  Everyone hates to be marketed to, so why surround your marketing message with content?  That’s the essence of the elevation principle.

Patricia: You used this principle to grow Social Media Examiner, and in the first twelve months you made over $1 million. Were you blown away by your overnight success?

Mike: I knew it would work. I knew that when I started Social Media Examiner in October of 2009 that there was this pent-up demand for rich how-to articles.

Our goal was to have 40,000 email subscribers in 12 months, and exactly on our anniversary we got 40,000 subscribers.  So I was not surprised, actually, that we were able to grow as fast as we did.

What I was surprised by was that when we were only 3 months old someone wanted to buy us.  Since then, on four different times, people have tried to buy ‘Social Media Examiner.’  What I’ve been surprised about is all the people who have come to us wanting to pay us money to market their products and services on our site.

That kind of thing has surprised us; but no, this actually has always been my plan, believe it or not.

Patricia: Someone listening to what you’re saying might be thinking, ‘But will the elevation principle work as quickly for me as it did for Mike?

Mike: Well, I wrote the book specifically with that objective:  To help any business figure out how to rapidly grow a very loyal and repeat following.

I am training businesses to become publishers, to bypass the middleman, to create stuff that’s sharable in social media, and to become big in your industry.

But I’m not going to lie to you. It requires a lot of sweat, a lot of effort.  I worked my butt off and everybody who knows me knows that. (laughing)

How to get rid of the marketing message

Patricia: You also talk about ‘minus marketing messages’, or caging the marketing messages. How does someone who depends on advertising monetize his or her blog?

Mike: Here’s how you do it. In the same way Social Media Examiner does it, you use your blog as your entry point. When people come to your blog and they read your great content you have some mechanism to get them to sign up to get more great content.  So your blog is your primary channel and your email list is your secondary channel.

So at Social Media Examiner with first-time visitors, a little pop-up box comes up that says, “Would you like to sign up for our Facebook marketing video tutorial?” or “Would you like to sign up to get our updates of our great articles? And as our way of saying thank you, here’s a free one hour video tutorial.”

Once these people have opted in to what I call back channel, or secondary-channel, we’re emailing 86,000 people every single day, and we get a 25-30% daily open rate.  Inside those emails we have about a 50-word summary and a link to the day’s article. Below that we have a sponsored post or an advertisement, so that allows us to monetize the email channel. One thing marketers will tell you is there’s absolutely no more powerful channel than email.

And there’s no money in display advertising anyways, so the real money is in the email channel because it gets delivered to people’s inboxes as often as you hit the send button.

Using social media to get the word out

Patricia: Talk to us about the social media success summits that we’ve come to depend upon for our “social media education,” if you will.  How do you use social media to promote these very large online events?

Mike: We use social media in a major way to help get the word out about that. Since we have 86,000 email subscribers and 46,000 people on Facebook,  it’s very easy for us to just say, ‘Hey, come get a free sample class on our sales page from one of our other summits, and if you really want to learn a lot, sign up.’

Twitter has this cool little widget that allows you to take any search term and then put the widget on your website; At  Social Media Success Summit, we show all the tweets that are happening in real time on the sidebar of the site, which gets people excited about it.

We have retweet buttons, Facebook like buttons and LinkedIn share buttons at the top of the sales page, and all these kind of things get people excited about it.  We’ve got little badges that people can put up on their site that say ‘I’m attending Social Media Success Summit.’

We’ve set up private LinkedIn groups where people can come to socialize and network; so we’re leveraging every conceivable form of social media that you can imagine to just make these events be incredible.

A success story

Patricia: Mike, is there a specific company out there that you feel gets the elevation principle and is successfully implementing it?

Mike: Proctor & Gamble is a huge corporation, but P&G started ManOfTheHouse.com. They recruited dad bloggers because they realized a lot of dads are out of work and taking on new roles in the home and they are shopping.

They built ManOfTheHouse.com as a place for the 25-45 year old man who has young kids at home.  They encourage bloggers to write articles about how to barbecue a burger, to answer the question, “Am I too old to wear ripped jeans?” or how to build a man cave (a place where a guy can play video games).

They’re just writing about stuff that guys are interested in. They have more than one million people come into their site every month; the site is nine months old, P&G has done no advertising on this, and  it’s completely grown organically.

Patricia: Mike, do you have any closing thoughts for our audience?

Mike: Well, because this audience is so interested in content I would really encourage you to rethink the way that you create content for your business and for your colleagues.

Instead of trying the old product marketing spin on things, which is: “Here’s why our product is great.  Here’s what its features and benefits are.” I want you to step outside the box and instead ask yourself what do people really give a hoot about? What do they really care about?

Start persuading your company and your clients to see the value in creating stuff that people love and that’s highly sharable. These are the ways to stand out today and realize that people are never going to buy a product or service from you until they first trust you and know who you are; and the best way to do that is to give them exactly what they want.

So just make people the center of your marketing plan and I think you’ll have amazing growth.

Patricia: Mike, where can folks find you online?

Mike: Well if they want a free chapter of the book, no registration required, they could go to ElevationPrinciple.com. They can also find me on SocialMediaExaminer.com and that will link them to my Facebook page, my Twitter ID and all that fun stuff.

For the complete interview:

Listen to podcast [powerpress]

Download the transcript

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16 Tools to Turbo Boost Your Blogging Process

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Do you blog regularly?

Are you looking for tools to make the process easier?

Blogging is hard work and it takes a lot of time to do it well. Wouldn’t it be great if you could streamline parts of that process?

In this article, you’ll find a list of tools, apps and advice you can use to find your groove and take care of blogging business.

#1: Brainstorm Blogging Ideas

When you need inspiration for your next blog post, where do you go? You can avoid blogger’s block by trying out these idea-generators to quickly get your creative juices flowing.

How to Use Quora to Cook Up Great Content: Adrienne Erin writes a pretty inspiring post about scanning Quora to find popular conversations and using those topics to create blog content.

Don’t Know What to Write About? Get Ideas From the Blog Topic Generator [Free Tool]: Ginny Soskey introduces HubSpot’s handy new topic generator. You simply put in three terms (nouns) you’d like to blog about and the tool spits out several topics. Of course, the topics aren’t always 100% perfect, but you can tweak them to make them work for you.

Let HubSpot help you find a topic to write about.

Need a Google Alerts Replacement? Meet TalkWalker: Since the future of Google Alerts is unknown, this alternative tool, suggested by Gary Price, might do the trick.

SearchEngineLand.com shares Google Alert alternatives.

#2: Get Organized to Be Productive

You have ideas, but now what? Keep track of them and organize your thoughts with cool online tools you can access from anywhere. Check out these resources that help you manage your ideas so you can make the most of your time.

How to Use Evernote as a Blogger: Michael Hyatt kills it in this timeless post where he shares his personal workflow using Evernote. His suggestion for setting up a blog template in Evernote is definitely worth the click.

MichaelHyatt.com walks you through using Evernote.

15 Tips & Tricks to Get More Out of Google Drive: If you’re not using Google Drive, you’ll be surprised how much you can get out of it! Brian Voo’s article introduces some cool ways to use Google Drive to do everything from mind-mapping to editing images.

How to Use Google Calendar to Create an Editorial Calendar: The best way to keep track of your ideas is an editorial calendar. Some people use spreadsheets, others use pen and paper. Rebecca Livermore explains why you should switch to Google Calendar and even gives you a step-by-step guide for getting started.

Learn to use Google Calendar as an editorial tool on AmyPorterfield.com.

#3: Optimize Your Content

Keywords not only help readers find you, they can also help you flesh out your post ideas. If you don’t know much about SEO (and really, even if you do), check out these posts that give you tips and advice about tools that can get you started.

Google Keyword Planner: The Ultimate Guide: Ask Ian Cleary any question about social media tools and he’ll write you an “Ultimate Guide.” So if you’re wondering about the ultimate tool for keyword research, look no further than his outstanding post about Google’s Keyword Planner.

Find out how to use Google’s Keyword Planner from RazorSocial.com.

Get SEO Tips When You Need Them: For novice bloggers who aren’t sure how SEO works, Matthew Tschoegl does a great job introducing InboundWriter’s WordPress plugin. It’s basically a “consultant on your dashboard.” It’s a paid plugin, but definitely check it out to see if it’s a fit for you.

The Beginner’s Guide to SEO: Moz is the SEO site. Their guide has been downloaded over a million times! That’s a good sign that it’s info you need. Even seasoned bloggers will learn a thing or two.

There’s a great SEO walkthrough on Moz.com.

#4: Find or Make Your Own Images (Fast!)

You know how important compelling images are for your blog, but it’s not always easy or cheap to find them. These articles show you how to find copyright-free images or make stunning graphics of your own!

How and Why I Use Photo Pin to Find Free Images for My Blog: John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing explains why he stopped using iStockphoto, Shutterstock and other image sites and started using Photo Pin. Be careful—you might be persuaded to change your mind too!

DuctTapeMarketing.com shares an image finding option.

Tool for Screenshots: Awesome Screenshot: If you’re still trying to capture screenshots using Command-Shift-3 or -4, stop! There’s a better way. Check out this simple demonstration by Amy Lynn Andrews.

How to Make a Banner for Your Blog Using Gimp (for free!): If you’ve ever wondered how to make cool banners and incorporate them into your blog post, this article by Karen Lewis of Simply Amusing Designs illustrates (complete with screenshots) how it’s done. Give it a try—it’s not difficult at all. [NOTE: This site is in construction until 2/28/14. Check the link next week.]

Creating a Header Image for Your BlogPicMonkey is an awesome free site (with a premium subscription option) to create and edit photos for your blog. Julie DeNeen, from Fabulous Blogging, also offers more advanced tips in her post, 10 Design Tips Using PicMonkey That You Might Not Know About!

Learn how to use PicMonkey over on FabulousBlogging.com.

#5: Tell the World

After all of the hard work of writing and optimizing your blog post, you’d better make sure everyone in your network sees it and shares it with their friends too. Here are some nifty tools and guides to help your blog post go that extra mile.

5 Social Sharing Plugins Reviewed: Dan Norris lays it all out with “what we like” and “what we don’t like” about five popular sharing plugins. Now you’ll know what to expect before jumping in.

Explore some great plugins on WPCurve.com.

Need a New Tool? 3 Social Sharing Tools That Do Something Specific: I like how Amanda DiSilvestro emphasizes the “do something specific” aspect of these tools. Indeed, these three tools are so specific you’ve probably never heard of them, but you should definitely give them a whirl.

Moz.com shares sharing tools.

The Essential Guide to Content Sharing: Yes, another Ian Cleary article (because he’s the tool guru, remember?). This time Ian’s “Ultimate Guide” includes 13 tools you can use to get the word out about new posts. Some of the tools you’ve seen, some you haven’t and some you should probably use more. Definitely check this one out.

What do you think? Which of these tools have you tried? Please share your experience in the comment box below.

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Borrowed Relevance: How to Engage Your Audience When You Have a Boring Brand

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“There are two kinds of brands – brands that people talk about and brands that people don’t talk about.” ~ Josh Bernoff, Forrester Research Analyst and co-author of Groundswell.

Sexy brands (Apple, Facebook, and Harley Davidson) are ‘talked about’ brands – they sell themselves. Boring brands are tough because people don’t care about them. Marketers of such brands have to figure out how to get people talking about something they really don’t care about.

Is there a way around this?

The answer is “Yes!’ Borrowed relevance is a fairly new concept proposed by Josh Bernoff, in which he suggests that boring brands must encourage people to talk about something – even though the conversation is not about the brand itself.

There are several ways to do this:

  • One way is to identify your organization’s core values and then start a conversation about them. Those values might be community, work-life balance, diversity or empowerment. Liberty Mutual (from the boring category of insurance) launched the Responsibility Project as “the place to discuss doing the right thing.” By creating a platform where moral decision-making was the trending topic , Liberty Mutual shrouded themselves in relevance and (more importantly) social conversation.
  • Another way is to invite your community to talk about their own set of circumstances. Johnson & Johnson for example created a Facebook page for mothers with ADHD kids. They figured that they couldn’t spark an engaging conversation about their ADHD drug. But they correctly concluded that sufferers of the ailment (and their families) have their own set of interesting problems and why not talk about that? Their Facebook audience is a whopping 19,000 fans strong!
  • The other way that ‘borrowed relevance’ could be applied is to start a conversation about an entirely different brand with the intention of ‘borrowing’ some of their appeal for yourself. In 2007 Doritos invited customers to create their own Superbowl ads –  Turns out, that Superbowl (or any ad contest for that matter) are more exciting concepts than corn chips.

So if you’re a business that’s selling a product that doesn’t generate much interest, then the key is to borrow something that is relevant to people (topic, issue or concept), create a platform to discuss it while treading lightly on your own branding. This way, you will be able to identify your own (few) brand enthusiasts who will become very influential in spreading the word about your organization.

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9 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Content Marketing Consultant

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Hiring the right content marketing consultant is a significant business decision. Ideally you want someone with whom you will enjoy a great working relationship, but you also want to make sure that the person has experience, vision and business knowledge.

Here are 9 questions to ask yourself when vetting your potential hire.

#1. How much content marketing experience do they have?

To be a consultant of anything, you need a set amount of experience. But with content marketing, the concept, the talent, and the technology are all new (even though the practice of telling stories to promote a business is not).

If you consider that veteran content marketers have been at it for about 10 to 12 years now, that means the majority of consultants have much, much less than that. It’s important to keep this in mind as you decide whether you will hire based on experience.

#2. Do they understand the basics of content marketing?

Even more important than experience (I think) is the understanding of what content marketing is. Most organizations are still confused by the term, so it is even more important that the consultant is able to educate authoritatively on this subject. For instance they should know the difference between content marketing and social media, or similar subjects such as inbound marketing, and digital marketing.

#3. Do they understand the business value of content marketing?

Your potential consultant should also understand that content marketing is business marketing. She should be able to connect the dots between the creation and distribution of relevant content with the achievement of tangible business goals such as customer acquisition and retention, increased sales, reduced marketing costs and even operational efficiencies.

#4. What type of content marketing campaigns have they initiated in the past?

You want to see what kind of content marketing projects your potential consultant has done in the past so that you can evaluate her effectiveness as a professional. Her portfolio is a good indicator of where her core strengths lie and whether her past experience is a good match for your organization’s needs.

#5. How much do they value measurement of content marketing strategy?

The old adage ‘what can’t be measured, can’t be managed’ rings true for content marketing as well. A consultant who neglects measurement tactics cannot be trusted to steer you in the right direction. Find out what methods she has employed in the past for measuring content marketing and watch out for ambiguous answers as these spell major weaknesses in her strategy.

#6. Does their personality match your needs?

People do business with those they know, like and trust. Spend some time getting to know your potential consultant and dig deeper by asking questions that reveal her personality. Ask her how she would handle specific situations. Remember that a consultant is responsible for guiding your business. Be sure that you choose someone you can trust, respect and generally feel comfortable with.

#7. Do you have a common connection or referral?

How did you connect with your potential hire? It’s a wise idea to choose someone who has been recommended by a friend or peer. This way you can find out more information from the one who referred her, and cross-check the information that she has given you about herself.

#8. Do they use content marketing themselves?

The seller has to believe in the product they are selling. So when choosing a content marketing consultant, be sure to check that she is practicing content marketing herself. Does she have a consistent blog, does she send out a regular newsletter, does she use social media, what kind of online communities does she belong to? Remember, consultants are business owners too and they should practice what they preach.

#9. What’s your gut feeling?

After all is said and done, what is your gut feeling about this person? Does she make you feel uncomfortable? Do you trust her? If something doesn’t feel right, your best bet is to ditch her and start over. Trust your intuition to guide your decision and try not to second-guess yourself.

Over to you: I feel like I’ve missed something. What other questions would you add to this list?

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