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Amplification: Content Marketing’s Missing Piece

It doesn’t matter how great your content is if nobody ever finds out about it. This post walks through the ins and outs of crafting an effective amplification strategy.

I’d like to propose a change to the droning, tired-out mantra of “Create great content.” I’d like us to start saying, “Create – and promote – great content.”

The “creation” part is getting all the fuss and hubbub right now, but what I see time and time again are great pieces softly plunked into the infinite space of the web by companies who are just hoping that somehow, somewhere, prince charming will find them and show them to the world.

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You might laugh – but are you still laughing when I ask what your amplification  strategy was for your last post? If it was “Tweet it a bunch,” you did something wrong. This post is intended to help you do better next time.

Take note: The real power in this piece will come from some of the links I share throughout. I’ve pooled together what I think are some of the best resources on the topics we’ll be discussing, because amplification and promotion is a huge, ugly beast that can never be conquered in just one post.

To really be effective with content amplification, we need to accept some harsh truths.

1. Your Content is NOt special.

Oof, right for the jugular and we’ve only just begun! But a bit of self-awareness is crucial: Your content might be excellent, gorgeously designed and meticulously researched, but no matter how good you think it is, it still needs to be actively promoted.

Here are some staggering statistics for you, courtesy of “Death to Bullshit“: In the next 24 hours, 4,000,000,000 things will be shared on Facebook, 499,860 posts will be published on WordPress, 103,680 hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube and 144,800,000,000 e-mails will be sent.

Still think  your content is special enough to cut through the clutter without any help? You shouldn’t. The idea that great content promotes itself on the merits of being great is a LIE.

2. You are Not Buzzfeed, Justin Bieber, The Oatmeal, Gary Vaynerchuk or the Wall Street Journal.

Unless you’ve already done the legwork to build up a huge audience, “Just push publish” is not and will never be a viable strategy, nor is crossing your fingers on a viral miracle (as we saw above). Unless you have the same resources, following and reputation as these folks, you shouldn’t be trying to copy their content models.

For the average business, you need a different approach. It is an ugly truth, but  people will care who wrote the piece almost as much as what that piece is about.

It’s the reason terrible content can still get thousands of shares when it comes from a well-established influencer or outlet.

mirandah

 

If you want the kind of enormous success of major publishers, you need to get your audience to know you and trust you – or leech off the credibility of others.We’ll talk about the “how” behind that later on.

3. Sharing is Not The Ultimate Goal.

Share numbers mean very little unless your entire business is content. What you’re really hoping for with content amplification is the actions that take place after the content is shared – whether that’s links, leads, sales, a growth in your community or awareness of your brand (which is about recall, not raw share numbers). You don’t get to add up your traffic numbers and cash them in at the bank.

Yes, amplification is about spreading the word on your content; but it’s ultimately about who is on the receiving end – the people it was created for. Now that our field is clear of those pesky unicorns, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Amplification Starts Light Years Before “Publish”

If you haven’t created an amplification strategy by the time you’re ready to push a piece live, it’s far too late. In fact, you should have one in place before you even begin. Before you launch your content piece, be sure you’ve considered all of the following:

Your Goal

All too often, content is created for the sake of creating content. “Because our editorial calendar says we need to” is not a goal. Businesses who aimlessly create content because they’ve been told it’s the right thing to do will create a pot-pourri of quickly published pieces with no specific goals that accomplish.. well, nothing, specifically.

Obviously, the goal of your content should be reflected in the type of content that is created. But more important for us in this piece,

Your goal will impact who you choose to reach out to.

If you want to build links, your content needs to reach the kind of people who can link to you (web masters, bloggers media outlets). If you want to boost sales, your content needs to get in front of people close to making a purchase decision.

The two markets may not always be the same, and without a clearly defined goal, you’ll fail to segment your audience properly according to which viewers can help you achieve said goal. Speaking of which…

Your Audience

I can feel the cringes and eye-rolls from here. Yes, you’ve heard this a million times – but if you’re honest, how many times have you created content first, then tried to hunt down a suitable audience to share it with?

“Hey, we’ve built this awesome thing. Now, let’s figure out who to take it to!”

With all due respect, that’s dumb marketing. Don’t ever build a product without knowing who – if anyone – needs it. Let’s smarten up:

In his latest post, Mike King shared a comprehensive approach to persona-based keyword research. Rather than reiterate, I’m going to build upon what he’s shared – so I encourage you to go read the entire thing. Bonus: it will make you a way better marketer.

Amplification Hinges on an Understanding of Audience Need-States

Just as with persona-based keyword research, understanding viewer intent and need-states is mission-critical for content creation and amplification. Again, we’re not going to get into building personas here, but I’d point you back to Mike King on this one and his work on “Personas for SEO in 2012” (A piece more timeless than it sounds).

Your end goal is to build audience archetypes and clearly define:

  • Where  they go to get information
  • Who they trust, respect and admire
  • How they prefer to consume content (audio, video, long-form, short and sweet, etc.)

Devin Asaro also did some great work surrounding the psychology behind why people share - handy reading if you want to understand the subliminal motivations behind that re-tweet.

Optimization & Mark-Up

In this piece by Venchito T., he highlights the importance of optimizing the various components of your content before you try to share it. As a brief check list, the important bits to watch for are:

  • Your Open Graph formatting and Twitter Card information for Facebook/Twitter: Having an irrelevant image, title or snippet appear when people try to share your content can absolutely quash amplification.
  • Google+ Authorship/Bylines: Be positive that the audience can tell who this content came from, especially if you’re sharing on a media outlet outside of your own.
  • Your Headline. Arguably, almost nothing impacts the perceived “Shareability” of a piece more than its headline. Test this extensively as your first idea may not be your best.

From here on out, we’re going to make one very important assumption: you’ve created a genuinely great resource and done something share-worthy. If you need help, there are no shortage of resources on creating great content.

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Amplification: Getting the word out

Fair disclosure: I’m going to be borrowing heavily from the wonderful work by Matt Gratt over at Buzzstream (a really great tool for content promo, by the way). In the post linked earlier, he refers to three different media types at the disposal of content promoters: Paid (buy the exposure), owned (you own the channel) and earned (others promote your content for you). I’m going to use this same model.

Paid Media

The most controversial of the bunch, you might think paying for exposure defeats the purpose of what content marketing is “supposed” to accomplish. You shouldn’t. Paid media is an essential outlet for not only expanding your reach to new audiences, but testing content with new markets to gauge the impact.

If your business has no community to take your content to, paid promotion can be a start.

Effective Paid methods include:
  • Promoted Tweets
  • Sponsored Facebook Posts (which see a 77% lift in reach, as per Social Bakers)
  • Targeted LinkedIn posts
  • Paid Stumbleupon Traffic
  • Reddit Advertisements
  • AdWords (be careful; this won’t be appropriate for all campaigns, but works well for “evergreen” content and informational queries)
  • Content placement services (like Outbrain, h/t to Matt Gratt again on this one)
  • Plain ol’ ad buys

The challenge with paid media is getting people to engage; paid media typically comes as an interruption, even when it is targeted. You’ll need to have a strong CTA – Matt recommends one focused on engagement such as a question or an invitation to “Check this out!”

The advantage of paid media, however, is that platforms like Facebook can be heavily segmented to reach exactly the people you want to reach.

Owned Media

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The channels immediately within your business’ control are usually the be-all-end-all of amateur promotion campaigns. These include:

  • Company blogs
  • Your business’ website
  • Any social presence (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.)
  • E-mail lists

The disadvantage is that your owned media channels are only as good as your community, and unless you’ve spent time investing in earned media and community building, you’ll be shouting out into the void.

Earned Media

This is where the bulk of the attention gets placed – and for good reason. The impact of earned media can be the difference between a massive content success and a complete dud.

Earned media comes in several different flavours: media coverage, prominent placement on aggregators (Inbound.org, HackNews, Reddit), social sharing, bloggers and other word of mouth – but the common thread between them all is that it is voluntarily done by someone outside of your business, making it the most difficult type of coverage to earn.

You have to actually be remarkable.

ONe Quick Note on Effective outreach:

Because so much of earned media relies on strong outreach, it’s important to touch on this. Outreach is an art form. There’s a monster post by Stephanie Beadell on the subject (well worth a bookmark and a read). I could never hope to do outreach justice in the context of this already-long post, but there’s one very important lesson I want to pass on.

In a great post on boosting outreach success by Gregory Ciotti, he shares this simple but brilliant insight:

Network before you need it.

In a study, Ciotti tested to see if having minimal previous contact (he eliminated close connections) with outreach prospects would influence earning a “yes” over cold outreach. He found that 62% of those he had previous contact with agreed to share his content, while just 18% of those he’d never made contact with before did.

Post-creation is not the time to start building up a community. Though it’s a difficult line item to quantify, there’s a value to spending time chatting with others, helping them and sharing their content.

Influencers & OUtlets

One of the key problems for smaller or new businesses entering content marketing is that they have no reputation to build on and no initial community or following to draw upon for shares. It’s helpful, then, to leech off the success of someone else. Enter the “Influencer.”

The second advantage of reaching out to influencers is that they have a many-to-one relationship with their fans and followers. Instead of sending emails to 14 different mid-sized blogs, you can hit a huge audience by targeting just ONE major influencer.

 How Can I Find Influencers?
There’s a post for that (iAcquire has one, too!), but in brief: Use tools like Followerwonk, Twellow or Google+ statistics to find social media users with large followings.

You can also use a tool like Topsy to find popular aged content and see who created and shared that content. Again, you can sort on this tool different criteria to see what content is making waves (and who is sending ripples).

topsy

Influential Outlets

Because they are so popular, individual influencers are busy people – and thus, pretty hard to reach, especially when it’s a “cold” contact. Individual influencers will also be fiercely protective of their personal assets and blogs – their reputation is at stake – so earning exposure there is that much more difficult.

For example, it’s much easier to get your quality content shared on YouMoz or HuffPo than it is to get on Gary Vaynerchuk’s personal blog.

It may be more beneficial (especially in the early going) to target influential media outlets instead of individuals. To find them,

  1. Check to see if one of your targeted influencers uses a byline. Copy and past that into Google; bylines are often re-used across websites.
  2. If an influencer has a Google+ profile, look and see if they’ve set up authorship.
  3. Do a quick informal survey of your audience or others in industry, asking, “Where do you go to catch up on industry-related info?”
  4. Technorati and other blog aggregators will help you comb through the fluff to find the big players.

Advocates & Allies

A little while back, Dan Shure (a smart cookie) wrote a post I couldn’t possibly disagree more with called “Why I Will Never Ask You to Share My Content.” The reason I disagree is because content advocates and allies are among the strongest promoters you can leverage.

And while influencers can give content the push it needs to really soar, it’s interesting to note that under analysis of the most popular content on their platforms Jon Steinberg (president of Buzzfeed) and Jack Krawcyzk (StumbleUpon) saw that the majority of sharing was among small groups, not influencer-down. Jay Baer agrees; don’t mistake audience for influence.

Granted, the type of content on these mediums is more entertaining than informational, but it’s important to remember that small groups carry influence among themselves as well.

1. Build a Small Network of Cross-Promoters. There’s no shame in agreeing to share one another’s content, so long as you actually read and agree with the message of that content. On aggregators like Reddit or Inbound.org where the first few upvotes REALLY matter, having a small group of supporters is all but essential. Of course, this is not about gaming any system. This network of friends and allies should also be a trusted group of critical peers who will give you uncensored feedback on whether or not your post is even worth sharing.

Again, there is nothing wrong with sharing audiences or showing each other support, as long as it is done with integrity.

2. Mind the “Little Guys.” One of the biggest mistakes I see is when brands ignore their loyal fans and followers out of some misguided pride. As you share content across time, take note of the people who share your work often and engage with them personally. Personal thank-yous and shout-outs go a long way, but a genuine conversation goes further. You can use tools like Topsy to identify individuals who have shared your content more than once and create a list of advocates to reach out to immediately after you launch new content.

3. Don’t have your own community? Join one. Participation in online communities is hugely overlooked, especially on a corporate level. It’s tough to make “post in a forum” or “participate in a Quora” as a business, but there are huge dividends that come when brands ditch the business label and interact one-on-one with their peers. People who know, like and trust you are more likely to share your content, especially if you don’t have much of a reputation yet.

Platform-Native Promotion

People don’t share or consume content in the same way across platforms, so don’t try and force it. Instead, adapt your outreach and sharing across platforms to cater to the way users behave there. That might mean breaking apart or altering your content to suit.

For example, if you’ve created an eBook, don’t just post the link and hope for the best.

Videos are shared 12x more than photo and text updates combined on Facebook – how might you leverage that?
If you’re sharing on Twitter, could you pull out some interesting statistics or quotables?
As part of your outreach to media outlets, could you break your eBook down into pertinent, shorter blog posts on the same topic or elaborations on individual stats and concepts?

Take some time to develop platform-specific strategies instead of treating it like a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Multi-Channel Content Promotion

When promoting your content, you needn’t treat paid, earned and owned as exclusive. For the greatest impact, combine them. If you’ve undertaken a piece of “big content” (expensive, involved and highly comprehensive), don’t make that single piece of content do all the heavy lifting. Create other content to promote the central piece you’re trying to push.

For example, imagine you’re creating an enormous whitepaper on the environmental impact of hybrid automobiles. You’ve already done the research and prepared the primary resource, but you can turn that information into other posts, interviews, videos and more that all point to the primary piece.

You could…

  • Create an infographic to be shared with environmental bloggers
  • Feature the piece in your online newsletter
  • Share the piece in an relevant online community you’re active in
  • Arrange an interview with an industry publication
  • Create an inspirational explainer video geared at environmentally conscious consumers to be shared on Facebook 
  • Pull out shocking, tweetable statistics to spread across Twitter.
  • Buy a reddit ad placement in a relevant sub-reddit

explainer video from GoAnimate

Rather than rely on the resource to “promote itself,” create a web of promotion that meets your targeted personas where they’re at, in more than one medium and with more than one format.

Have A Strategy.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this sprawling, meandering post, it’s that sharing your content doesn’t just “happen.” It takes a lot of time and thought, a deliberate effort to intersect user, channel and content.

“Going viral” is no more a strategy than “Pray someone throws money through our office window.” You can do better – and now you know how.