Content marketing as a tool to build relationships
If there’s one skill that can have an outsized impact on your business (and life outside of business), it’s relationship-building. Think back to one of the big turning points of your life–that first customer, that new job, closing that deal–it probably happened as a result of a relationship you built.
One of my favorite quotes that captures this idea is by Kare Anderson – “When you connect with people around a shared interest and action, you’re accustomed to serendipitous things happening into the future.” So how can we make more of this magic happen?
Building and maintaining relationships is the core skill of a content marketer. A successful content marketing strategy needs to build and strengthen relationships. Relationships provide a wealth of content and provide the opportunity to cross-pollinate your audiences.If there’s one skill that can have an outsized impact on your business, it’s relationship building. Click To Tweet
This chapter will guide you in building relationships through content marketing. I’ll give you some simple strategies and tactics to build relationships, and provide you with a tool to keep track of all of the interesting people you meet as you grow your business.
This is a guide for building relationships through content marketing. I’ll give you some simple strategies and tactics to build relationships and a tool to keep track of all of the interesting people you meet as you grow your business.
Why you should proactively build relationships
In his post Why is Hiring a Great Content Marketer So Difficult?, Gregory Ciotti outlines the core skills of a “unicorn” content marketer.
Notice that networking is one of the three vital skills. As Gregory explains,“Industry leaders in any topic all know and regularly chat with each other; content marketers should know how to connect with up-and-comers and bigger players.”
In the nascent stages of a content marketing campaign, you’ll need to rely heavily on networking and relationship-building to get some early wins on your blog. Until you develop organic traffic flow or a list to draw on, your relationships will have the biggest impact on the success of your content.
You’ll need to start making connections with influencers in your niche and find opportunities to collaborate with them. Having influencers share and link to your content will probably account for the first traffic you see flowing to your site. You’ll need to make this happen consistently to begin growing your own audienceEven the most brilliant writing and ideas will fail to get traction if it never gets seen by the… Click To Tweet
In later stages of content, the opportunities to build relationships only grow and diversify. You can aim higher for the people you reach out to, and many people will begin to approach you with opportunities to collaborate.
Like all other key elements of your content marketing campaign, it’s important to have a system that keeps you consistent in your approach and keeps you from repeating your work. This may seem odd to use tools and have a systematic approach to developing relationships, especially if you are someone who is extroverted like me. But it is far too easy to lose track of valuable relationships with so many distractions these days. You need a simple system to visualize the tribe you are building and to help support you in reaching out to them.
The Harvest Method – An easy way to build relationships with content
The internet seems to bring out the worst in us–especially when it comes to outreach. Most of the time people bumble around asking people for links and to share their content like a panhandler asking for spare change on a street corner.
Since it’s so easy to just “send an email” to someone these days, people often put very little effort into outreach. But this is good news for you, because you’re not like those other people, and by the end of the post you’ll have a tool to stand out. I call it the Harvest Method.
The Harvest Method is a simple 4-step process to collaborate and build relationships with your content marketing.
Step 1 – Plow the field – Start small and work your way up – Don’t email Gary Vaynerchuk yet. Start with peers who are at the same level as you in your business. As you build more of a following, then you can aim higher.
Step 2 – Fertilize the soil – Add value before you ask – Find a way to give freely to them before you ask to collaborate.
Step 3 – Plant the seed – Make it easy to say yes – Do your homework first, and approach them with a clearly formed plan for how you want to collaborate.
Step 4 – Harvest and feast – Make sure everybody wins – What you create together should be valuable to their audience, your audience, them and you.
Step 1 – Plow The Field
Where to find influencers
If you are new to a niche or industry, you may not know anyone in your space to connect with. Don’t panic. No man is an island, and there are ways for you to meet influencers using connections or means already within your grasp:
Ask your customers or followers – If you already have a few good customers or followers, hop on a call with them and ask them where they get their information, who they follow, and who they think you should know. Here’s a few sample questions you could use:
- What blogs are you currently reading?
- Who are the up-and-coming people in your niche who are doing something unique?
- What podcasts are you listening to?
- Are you reading any interesting books on topics related to your work?
- What events have you attended in the last year? Were there any speakers or people you met who impressed you?
Tools to find influencers
Sooner or later you may want to expand your horizons beyond the awareness of your current audience. Here’s a few tools that will help you do that.
Curated Content – There are many curated content communities such as Zest that have high standards for what content gets published or shared with their communities. Communities like Zest attract high-end content and consumers who don’t want to sift through the information on Google or Facebook. A good community like this grows with word-of-mouth and attracts high quality readers and contributors. This is a perfect place to share content, meet new people to collaborate with, and (once you’ve developed some good relationships and added value to the community) get some of your own content published and promoted.
Followerwonk – A Twitter analytics tool that helps you identify influencers in your niche. It gives interesting breakdowns and data on different influencers in your space and contrasts your audiences. This information can help you strategically reach new people, or to cross-pollinate with influencers who your current audience already knows and loves.
Littlebird – This is a great tool that helps you find influencers based on content. It was recently acquired by Sprinklr, an enterprise social media tool, so keep an eye out for Littlebird to appear on their features list soon.
iTunes Podcasts – Podcasts have a wealth of information on influencers. A single podcast that’s relevant to your business could have dozens of guests who would make for good people to collaborate with. Don’t forget that podcast hosts themselves are influencers as well.
Facebook groups – Find Facebook groups related to your niche and identify the owners and the influencers that post within the groups. It’s easy to search for these groups by keywords, but make sure you do your due diligence in terms of research on each group. Remember that engagement (posts from many different people, lots of comments and likes on the content, frequent posting) is much more important than the number of people in the group.
Paid communities – Private forums and paid communities are good places to connect with people. It tends to be a bit easier to reach out since there is a small barrier to entry.
Quora – Quora is a site where people go to ask questions. The questions are open for almost anyone to answer. This is a popular place used by some influencers to drive traffic to their sites by answering questions related to their areas of expertise. Search for keywords related to your niche and look for people who have lots of upvotes on answers to popular questions.
Offline places to find influencers
Even if your business is entirely online, you should still find ways to make connections in offline environments. Meeting people in person can develop a relationship much faster than exclusively collaborating online.
Conferences – Look for events and conferences related to your niche or industry. These can vary in ticket price but are often well worth the investment. Plus, they can be lots of fun!
Masterminds, workshops and small events – If you can find an intimate setting with people in your industry or niche, I highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunity. Meeting regularly with a group of high caliber people and discussing each other’s challenges can quickly set the foundations for strong relationships.
Pay for a coach – A good coach can provide many benefits and insights to your business. A coach is also likely to have a well-developed network that he or she can introduce you to. Be wary and judicious about who you choose to invest in, though; there are good coaches and there are bad ones. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to reach out to someone who calls him/herself a coach. Your “coach” could be someone who is a few years ahead of you in terms of business knowledge and acumen. Offer to pay this person generously for a monthly phone call.
Step 2 – Fertilize The Soil
Content is an excellent tool that can be used to break the ice with influencers and to plant seeds for strategic partnerships and other opportunities down the road. No matter what your approach is to building relationships, you should be sure to focus on adding value for the people you are connecting with, rather than taking it away.
It’s likely you’re an entrepreneur, or at least use an entrepreneurial skillset in the work you do. You look for ways to create value for your audience and your customers. We spend many years honing our senses to find more value that we can add to our customers.
But as soon as we start to look to other businesses, strategic partners or influencers we want to work with we seem to forget this carefully honed sense and fall back on our worst behavior. We become so fixated on how someone could help us that we forget to consider how we could help them. I call this the “reverse value trap.” Once we’re caught in this trap, we go around asking for things from people who don’t know us or trust us, without presenting anything that we can offer in return. Almost everyone gets caught in this trap at some point; some learn to avoid it, while most of us get perpetually stuck in it.
Put yourself in the shoes of the people you want to reach out to. Anyone with even a small degree of visibility and authority gets their inbox flooded every day with people who are caught in the “reverse value trap”. Here’s what it looks like from their side:
- Someone asking to “pick your brain” about a half-baked business idea.
- Getting asked to add barely relevant links to your best articles.
- Getting asked to send out an offer to your list for a dubious product.
The list goes on, and it creates a sense of nausea in anyone who has experienced it. Individually, these people don’t seem to be asking a lot, but if you consider this on the scale of dozens if not hundreds of these requests every day, it becomes totally unmanageable. If you said yes to all these requests, your brand would quickly implode. If you tried to filter through them to find anything worthwhile, you’d have no time to do anything else. So the best way to handle the “brain pickers” is often just by ignoring them.
You must avoid the “reverse value trap” and being seen as the same rabble that pollutes the inboxes of the people you want to collaborate with. For this reason, you must lead with value.
To do this, find ways that you can be a genuine help to the people you want to connect with. Don’t worry about getting compensated for the value you add. You should trust that the rewards for building this relationship will come in the future, and remember that they may not come in the form of something you’re expecting or even aware of right now. The relationship itself and the trust you build between you will open doors to more interesting and serendipitous opportunities in the future.
Link to their content
This is the foundational move; it’s easy to do, you don’t need to take up anyone else’s time to do it, and everybody loves a backlink. This also reinforces your content and makes it look higher quality by having alignment and input with others in your space.
If you quote someone, make sure to not only include the quote and a link, but also to incorporate an image with the quote. The image can be a picture of the author if there’s a high-resolution one easily available. If you can’t find a photograph of the author, consider using a nice landscape or background image that’s blurred slightly and that allows the text to stand out. Make sure it looks good on social media, too.
When you decide to quote someone in your content, another nice gesture is to consider adding a “click to tweet” with the quote that mentions the author’s name. This sends the person you are quoting a little reminder that people are resonating with his or her message, and it tells that person that your content is drawing attention to his or her work.
Finally, once your post is published, send the author who you quoted a quick email letting him or her know you mentioned their work. If you used an image, attach the image to make sure they’re happy with it. You can include a “click to tweet” link in the email as well to make it super easy for that person to share your post without being pushy by requesting it directly.
Engage with their content
Something simple and often overlooked is to engage with their content. Respond to their social media posts, comment on their articles and videos, or review their podcast or book.
Don’t just say something like “great post,” and leave it at that. Your engagement should aim to spark conversation. Ask open-ended questions, or point out ideas that resonate with you.
Take a look at how Kiri Masters from Bobsled Marketing was invited to write a guest article for one of the top websites in her industry (not to mention getting mentioned in Forbes) just from engaging in the comments section on their content.
Promote Their Content
Promoting content is an endless task. Showing your support for someone by promoting their content is an easy way to earn a bit of gratitude. Doing this consistently over a long period of time will help foster a relationship.
This also helps your relationship with your audience; you don’t want to be promoting your own content all the time. Having a diverse set of ideas and voices coming from your feeds will build more trust and engagement with your audience.
Help Their Audience
Sometimes it’s difficult to add value directly to an influencer, especially when you’re just starting out. In the early stages of your business you probably won’t have a big social media following email list of your own to leverage for building relationships.
He made it a priority to show up to every broadcast Nicole had. He would show up and engage with everyone, not just her. If someone had a question and he knew the answer he would provide it. Soon people in the community started to know his name because he kept showing up and delivered solutions.
People wondered, “Who’s Ed?” And then word would spread – “Oh you don’t know Ed? Your whole life is about to change – check with Ed.”
This lead to a steady growth of followers relationships. People saw that he showed up and provided value – he wasn’t just trying to sell something.
Ed actually used this same strategy with me on a livesteam with Kim Doyal, he was highly engaged and helpful during the whole talk. Which lead to us talking and building a friendship. It’s rare to find people who are willing to help others in your audience, but they are key to building a strong tribe, so be that person!
You should be keeping a good pulse on the content and influencers in your niche. If you see something that interests you, find out if there’s someone you want to connect with who may also be interested in that material. You can email it to them or share it with them on social media. Use the content as a conversation starter. Pose a question to the person you want to connect with:
- Is there an idea in the content that you find controversial?
- Are there some ideas that you found lacking?
- Is there anything you would do differently?
These are all good conversation starters and can help you break the ice as you reach out to others in your field.
As you get to know people better, you will discover other interests they have outside of their industry. They may have a passion for skiing, or their favorite book might be Dune. If you come across content that relates to these passions, you’ll have an opportunity to build more of a personal connection and cut through the noise.
Be Their “Poster Child”
This one is really powerful for reaching out to bigger influencers. This is a tactic Bryan Harris used to create his first 10,000 followers faster, easier and cheaper than most other inbound strategies.
Find an article or guide created by the person you want to reach out to that would be valuable to apply to your own business. Then follow it to the “T,” work hard to implement the systems they recommend, and take careful notes on what you do and the results you get.
Once you’ve applied the strategy and you’ve gotten some good results from it, create some content that points back to the original article and discusses how you used this information to get an amazing result. Document all the steps you took, what happened, what you learned, and what someone else who wants to do the same should know.
With this content, you’ve become an amazing testimonial to that person. It’s incredibly rare to get case studies like this even if you’re a big-time influencer. This will both flatter and interest the person you reach out to. They’ll want to know how you ran with their idea, and if you got good results from it, they will shout it from the mountaintops.
Step 3 – Plant The Seed
Before making any offer to collaborate, make sure you do everything you can to research and understand the person you want to reach out to. Follow their social media, look at their blog, and read their “about me” pages. Get clear on exactly how you can add value to them, and then make contact.
I recently spoke with Colin Pal, head of partnerships at Thinkific. He spends most of his day both sending and receiving outreach emails. He uses a few simple tactics to help him build relationships and open up new doors with his outreach that I had to share here.
- Personalize your outreach – Don’t use cookie cutter outreach tactics. Show the person you’re reaching out to you care and you understand them by making your message personal to them.
- Give real value – Many people lead with asks disguised as value. One of the most common ones is asking people how you can help them. It seems like a generous thing to offer your help, but there’s more happening. If you just ask someone “how can I help you?” you’re actually asking them “Hey will you take time away from whatever you’re doing to learn about me, then think about how I can best fit into your life right now?” Instead do your homework and know how you can add value to them so all they have to do is say “yes!”
- Have meaningful conversations – When possible, go beyond normal business talk and have meaningful, personal conversations. Discuss what you’re passionate about, what gets you excited or breaks your heart, show them what makes you tick. You’ll be more memorable and interesting if you can create a deeper human connection through meaningful conversation. A good storytelling tool I use to create more meaningful conversations is to have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for my life that connects my business with how I want to impact the world.
My Favorite Outreach Tool – BombBomb
Even with the best intentions, your outreach needs to stand out in the inbox of the busy people you’re contacting.
The best tool I have found to do this is called BombBomb. This tool allows you to embed a personalized video into your email. Video can go a long way in adding the “human touch” that gets lost in email, especially when it’s a video that’s made just for one person.
BombBomb was an essential tool in the launch of The Story Engine. I reached out individually to dozens of influencers with video emails and got a very high response rate, plus lots of comments and feedback about how impressed they were with the video. I now use it for my content outreach for the same purposes.
In your emails, your video appears as an animated GIF with the first few seconds of your video as a preview when you send a message. There’s a call to action that tells them to click to watch the video and lets them know how long it is.
Here’s an example I sent to Kim Doyal after mentioning her in an article I had just created.
The key to this strategy is using a whiteboard. When people open your email and see a video, they may assume that it’s a mass video that’s not really meant for them. Use your whiteboard to write out their name and a little message so there’s no doubt that this email is just for them.
If you want to learn more about using BombBomb as an outreach tool, check out The Ultimate Guide To Video Email.
One key thing you need to remember is that you need to focus on making the person you’re working with look like a rockstar.
You also want to make sure you approach them with a clear idea of how you want to collaborate, what topic will be discussed, and what benefits they will derive from the collaboration. One of the biggest collaboration killers is to heap all the “figuring” onto them and expect them to figure out what they want to create. Strive to make it so that all they have to do is give you a “yes” or a “no”.
Below are a few ways you can offer to collaborate.
Create guest content
Writing guest posts for other influencers in your space is one of the most time-honored ways to build a relationship. You do someone a big favor when you can create something great that resonates with their audience. Plus, this gets you in front of their audience, which helps expand your reach and develop brand awareness.
In order to get the ball rolling on creating a guest post, look up the most popular content using BuzzSumo for the blog to which you’d like to contribute. Look for a way that you can add a unique twist to the content that is performing well on their site with your skillset.
When offering to do a guest post, don’t be afraid to ask questions about what they think the best content on their blog has been. Sometimes social shares, traffic, or even number of comments can be misleading in terms of what content is truly performing the best.
Another opportunity to both flatter and help an influencer you want to connect with is by inviting them to co-create content with you. This could be as simple as asking them a few interview questions for a roundup post. A roundup post is a collection of ideas from different influencers on a certain topic. An example would be asking different entrepreneurs about their morning routines, like I did here: http://wpcurve.com/morning-routines-of-entrepreneurs/
For more on the many different kinds of content you can create, check out The Content And The Buyer’s Journey Infographic.
Another method would be to offer to interview influencers for a case study or to collect their thoughts on an article you are writing. Reach out to them and set up a call on Skype. Let them know that you will be recording the call (I recommend using the eCamm call recorder). Ask them a few questions and start a conversation.
Have some pre-written questions ready to ask, and when they say something that’s interesting, ask them follow-up questions and get them to go deeper. Since you’re recording, you won’t need to take notes. A quick 15- to -30- minute call can turn into dozens of great quotes to draw from for the content you create in the future. Just make sure you give them credit for their ideas.
If you have a great quote in the interview, it’s nice to take an image of the person you are quoting and add that to your content. It makes the person look even better and makes great visual content for social sharing.
One of the best ways to maximize the value on a good quote is to make it into a click-to-tweet in your content. Add their handle so they are notified every time someone tweets it.
Below is an example of how I used both of these ideas in the post “8 entrepreneurs reveal the 1 critical skill they focused on to grow their business.” I took a good images of the people I interviewed and added their best quotes to them. The quote has a tweetable link right below the image as well.
A good looking image and a mention for every time their quote is tweeted will make sure they get the recognition they deserve from collaborating. Every mention serves as a reminder that their message or story is resonating with people.
Repurpose successful content
An easy win could be looking up some of the top content that influencers have created in your area and simply repurposing it to another medium. If it’s a popular piece of content, chances are it will do well in another medium and will help build awareness for the original piece in a new way:
- If it’s a video or a podcast, turn it into a great article.
- Take an amazing blog post and offer to turn it into an infographic or a slideshare.
- Take a great infographic and turn it into an email course that they can use as a lead-generation tool.
Whatever you create, ask the original creators to host it on their site and publish it. Make sure they link back to you and negotiate how they’ll attribute credit to you.
Step 4 – Harvest And Feast
At this point, you’ve connected with someone and collaborated to create something awesome. But there’s still more work to be done. You need to ensure that this collaboration is a “home run” for the person you’ve worked with.
Promote it to your list – Even if it’s offsite content, you should promote collaborations to your list.
Respond to comments – Even if it’s an off site post, you should be highly active in the comments. This helps you connect with their audience and will show the person that you collaborate with that you care about more than just a link and a boost to your traffic.
Link to other content – You’ve put a lot of work into something great. Use it to “plant new seeds” with other influencers by linking to them and letting them know they’ve been featured. This may get them to share and help promote the content too.
Send some paid traffic to the post – In some cases, it’s a good strategy to spend some money on a small paid traffic campaign on facebook to promote the post. Even $20 that’s well positioned and targeted can drive a lot of extra clicks to a post. I sometimes even offer this up front when I reach out to collaborate; often they’re willing to pitch into the promotion budget as well.
Keeping track of your relationships
Having a system to track the relationships you are developing may seem unnecessary. But over the course of months and years, your content marketing will provide you with dozens of opportunities to collaborate and build relationships. If you don’t have a way to keep these relationships organized, some will slip through the cracks.
This process becomes even more complex as you start to grow a content marketing team.
To track and manage the relationships for my content marketing, I use a tool called the “Key Relationships Document.” I list influencers I currently know, as well as those who I want to reach out to in the future. On my list, I include some basic information about everyone:
- Their sites / social media channels
- Contact information
- A brief description of who they are
- Notes detailing my last interaction with them
Don’t keep everyone in one big list; I recommend organizing them by core problems. This way, each influencer is listed under the core problem most relevant to them. This makes it easy for someone on a content team to know who to reference and collaborate with, as well as where to find their content and how to contact them. This document makes it easy for my team to build and develop relationships without much management on my part.
How to use Trello to build and track relationships
I use a very simple Trello board to keep track of my relationships. It was inspired after seeing the system Tyler Tervooren uses in “The Friends Game: A System For Thriving As An Introvert“. I modified it to fit the needs of a content marketer and the relationships they develop through their work.
This may seem odd to have a tool to manage relationships, especially if you are someone who is extroverted like me. But it is far too easy to lose track of valuable relationships with so many distractions these days. You need a simple system to visualize the tribe you are building and to help support you in reaching out to them.
Setting up the board
I have a template available free to download in the link above and at the bottom of this post. Or you can create your own based on this guide.
The board has 13 lists, 1 for instructions and 12 for each month of the year.
Begin by adding as many names as possible to the board, anyone that you are interested in building a relationship with through content. You can keep them in the “instructions” list until you have reached out to them. Add some notes in the card description about what they do, contact information, their website domain, social media accounts and any background knowledge you may have on them.
Using the cards
Each time you interact with an influencer add some notes on the interaction in the comments section of the card. Do they have a new product they’re about to launch? Maybe they made a new hire?
As your list (and business) continues to grow, it will become more challenging to keep all these relationships straight. So the more details you can add to the cards, the better equipped you will be next time you reach out to them. This will free up more of your headspace as well to work on growing your business, instead of remembering the details of everyone’s lives.
You can plan out interactions ahead of time by adding names to the month list when you want to connect with them. Use the “Due date” feature to add a reminder to the card so you will be prompted when it is time to contact them. Add a comment to the card with some details about why you set the reminder and how you want to reach out to them.
Be strategic for when you set reminders. Consider upcoming events, product launches, holidays, birthdays or milestones that could serve as a conversation starter or as an opportunity to collaborate.
Meeting someone new
If you meet someone new while you’re away from your computer that you would like to keep up with, use the “email to board” features in your Trello.
In the board menu, click the “email to board settings” button and save your board’s email addresses to your contacts. Add the name of the person you met in the subject and any details about them or contact information into the body of the email.
This will create a card in the list you choose in the settings.
Making time for the board
I set aside time each Friday to review my relationships board and plan out next steps. It is part of my Entrepreneur’s Weekly Review process inspired by Taylor Pearson. Each Friday, I’ll take some time to reflect on my week and add any updates to the Trello board. I ask myself a few prompt questions.
Who have I not heard from in a while that I could reach out to next week?
Who would benefit from knowing about what I was up to this week?
The goal is to have at least 1 person identified that I can take a step to build a relationship with in the following week. The more people you have on the board, the easier it will be to do this.
Don’t Forget – Be Patient (And Persistent)
Remember that when building relationships, especially with high-profile influencers in your niche, that it’s important to have patience with this process. It’s rare that your first outreach attempt will get you all the results you want.
A good example of this is from Kieron Sweeney. He wanted to meet Kevin Harrington, a high profile investor (and one of the original “sharks” from the TV show Stark Tank) for his company, Mag Creators.
Kieron was introduced digitally to Kevin through a friend. But it took him a year to finally meet him in person. He was persistent in his outreach to Kevin, reconnecting every few months but each time getting a polite “there’s a lot on my place right now” in response.
Finally an opportunity presented itself. Kieron discovered that Kevin was going to be at an event in Vancouver (Kieron’s hometown) and reached out to his friend who originally introduced them to see if he could get a meeting. Kevin agreed to a brief 30-minute meeting.
Kieron leapt at the opportunity, even tough he was not sure the meeting would happen with Kevin’s tight schedule. Fortunately, it happened, they met in a hotel lobby but Kevin wanted to grab lunch. The 30-minute meeting extended into a 3-hour meeting over a meal. Kevin loved his ideas and only left after being pulled away to go speak.
Thanks to patient and persistent outreach and allowing time for the right opportunity to appear. Kevin was able to get a new investor for his company and a new friend. If he would have turned away at the first “I’m too busy” right now, this never would have happened.
Don’t get disheartened if your early attempts at The Harvest Method don’t immediately create the results you want. Most people give up too soon or push too hard early on. With patient and persistent effort you’ll open doors to incredible opportunities.
No matter how brilliant of a writer you are, nor how interesting your ideas, without building relationships your content (and your business) will not go far.
Remember to focus on adding value first when building relationships. Through true connections based on trust and value, you can open doors to grow your brand sustainably.
It takes a lot of effort to maintain and grow relationships; use a system to help you keep track. Here’s the template for the Trello board I use for relationships tracking.