Michael Stelzner is one of the biggest success stories online. Five years ago, he launched Socialmediaexaminer.com, a site dedicated to helping social media marketers promote their businesses on social media. Within two weeks it was ranked by Technorati as one of the top 10 business blogs, and it is now one of the world’s largest social media magazines.
In his book Launch, he explains exactly how he did it – and how other businesses, in all sectors, can copy his model.
His formula for success is this: Great Content + Other People – Marketing Messages = Growth.
The secret is to constantly produce material online that is genuinely helpful to your potential customers, while significantly toning down your marketing messages, so that they feel that you have their best interests in mind – and are not just pushing your product at them.
This forms the core of the book, with Stelzner providing a useful guide to the types of content that elicit the best results. But it’s not a new message, and mostly not new advice, to anyone who’s been involved in content marketing over the past few years.
Where Stelzner offers added value is in the other, more unusual part of that equation: “Other people”.
Not just any other people, mind, but experts in your area from outside your company.
Stelzner recommends promoting them on your own blog, social media channels and even in the ‘real world’. You can write about them, interview them over the phone or on video, ask them to be on panels you organise, and use them as judges for competitions you run.
He even recommends cooperating occasionally with your best direct competitors.
Why would you do such a thing? According to Stelzner, providing a platform for other experts is “one of the least utilized yet most powerful ways to grow your business” and should be a cornerstone of your growth plan.
Experts have the one thing your readership really wants, and that is insider knowledge. They are a great source of content (reducing the pressure on you), and bring your company credibility.
They can also dramatically increase exposure to your company, as they are bound to promote the content they are involved with to their own followers, building your readership. (Note: Not all experts are also influential in social media circles. Choose wisely.)
The risk is that you are promoting other people at your own expense – particularly if you yourself are not an expert, and if you are helping out competitors. But Stelzner argues that this is not a risk at all, because as the owner of the platform, you are clearly still in control and benefit from becoming the ‘go to’ place for expert advice.
He calls cooperating with direct competitors ‘coopetition’ – noting that everyone grows together when you raise awareness of your joint niche.
The difficulty, of course, is getting said experts on board. Stelzner emphasises that the key is making sure that they genuinely get something significant out of the relationship, usually in form of exposure for themselves, their new book or new project. When approaching them, you have to emphasise the benefit they will derive – not the benefit you will derive.
Once a few experts are on board, this will reassure others and inevitably make them easier to recruit. Some, in time, will become what he calls “fire-starters” for your business”, delivering you significant returns – while paying off for them as well.
For Stelzner, this approach has worked twice, once when building his white paper-writing business, when he drew in two of his direct competitors to write for him and to speak on panels with him; and again when building Socialmediaexaminer.com, when he managed to tempt experts to write for the site.
The strategy seems like a no-brainer. I do question, though, whether every business has the power to harness experts as Stelzner did.
While he says that he was not an expert in social media when he launched socialmediaexaminer, he wasn’t exactly starting from scratch either. Because he was well known as an expert on white papers, he actually had access to a great number of influential people who were generally in the right area, giving him a head start.
So what do you do if you want to give a platform to experts in your niche – but don’t really know any? And if your platform really won’t give them that much exposure?
- Be bold. Find a way to offer something genuine to experts, perhaps launching a seminar, podcast or event that you can promote – and then just go for it!
- Move incrementally. The opposite strategy (and not one that Stelzner discusses!): instead of going straight to the top, go for people who are more influential than you are (or competitors), but not super-stars. They will have more of an incentive to cooperate with you, and this will allow you to build your own influence, albeit more slowly – until you reach the point where you have something to offer much bigger names.
- Make it easy for them. Can’t get anyone to write for you? Approach experts at the next trade show you attend and ask for five minutes of their time for a video interview.Go for companies, not individuals. Instead of approaching well-known experts, find companies in your niche that have an interesting success story to tell, and interview one of their senior staffers. If the name of the company has cache, your audience will certainly want to hear what they have to say.
Is this a strategy you have employed? How has it worked for you? Please let us know in the comments!
Miriam Shaviv is Director of Content at Brainstorm Digital
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