More Than CONTENT, It’s COMMUNITY That’s King [aka How To Cultivate Online Relationships & Stuff That Matters]

You’ve heard the drum beat for a decade – ever since the innernets really started popping… “content is king”. As a content creator (both in front and behind the scenes) this has, of course, always made me feel great about my chances to succeed in cutting through the noise online. Pump out good content and you can make your mark. Welllll, I’ve come to know that this target is a moving one…and that, while content is the most TANGIBLE thing for us creative types to latch on to, I’ve come to revise my position over the past year or so that it’s actually waaaaay more that COMMUNITY that’s king. For one, the purpose of making and sharing content, is really to cultivate COMMUNITY (in this case you’re probably here because we’re all of the creative + photography communities, right?!). Whether it’s to feel good about what you’re making, get critiqued, make a living, expand your understanding, etc. For two, the pure act of making stuff is an amazing gift, but community PLUS content can definitely act as a better lever to drive your life/career/hobby/professional experience forward. In short, there are important things to know that’ll help you understand how to cultivate online relationships that matter.

So that gets me to a conversation I recently had with good friend, Brendan Gahan. As a long time agency strategist and super creative guy, Brendan has crafted (social) media campaigns for some of the biggest brands and media companies in the world including Pepsi, GE, and Virgin, to name a few. In 2012 he was named by Forbes as one of the “30 under 30: Brightest Minds in Marketing’. But that’ not what makes him qualified. Why he qualifies in my book is because he GETS IT.

In the recent past Brendan was also a guest on creativeLIVE with Ryan Holiday where the twitter feed and chat rooms went nuts when he was dropping knowledge bombs. Sooooo, I’ve chatted him up in such a way as to inform, share, bestow wisdom on us here in THIS HERE community that’s been growing for nearly a decade. The guy knows his stuff and he’s been a great resource for me and my work, his no BS approach will help you connect the dots from concept to execution. Take it away, Brendan. -Chase
________

Thanks, Chase.

“Community is king.” What does this mean?

In the times before the interwebs, when you wanted people to know about something you had to go through very clearly established and familiar forms of media:

- NEWSPAPER – RADIO – TELEVISION – PRINT

In a sense, these outlets acted as gatekeepers, and production of content was limited to people who could afford distribution through these channels.

Now communities gather on social platforms that make that sharing and connecting easy, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Chase understands this better than anyone – he’s built a reputation, business, and prestige based on the marriage of his art as much as the power of his audience.

Maybe you’re a singer and you have a new album.
Maybe you’re a photographer trying to generate customers.
Maybe you’re a theater and you have a new show coming up.

Regardless of what type of creator you are, you’re a marketer – and as such you face many, many challenges. Executing a social media campaign is one of those challenges, and before you draw up plans and start spending your budget, you should understand the lay of the land.

I get asked about social media and youtube marketing constantly. I’ve spent the last eight years working in the space. The framework I’ve outlined is the backbone I’ve applied to hundreds of social campaigns and shared with many of my friends. It’s constantly changing at every level and there’s always more to know.

This article doesn’t dig into the latest tools. This is not a list of 83 Tips. This is about excellent fundamentals and will help you get started on building your own audience regardless of your end goal.

I recently dug up an email that I wrote for a friend, but have since copied and pasted to share with others a dozen times or so whenever anyone else asks me for advice.

A QUICK NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN:

The info below is helpful, but I’m assuming you’re two steps deep into the basic communication framework. I’m assuming you:

1. Already have a deep understanding of your target consumer, and
2. Know the story you want to tell.

This article addresses the functional steps that will help you get your message or content in front of your target audience. This article does not help you craft that message. If you don’t understand your consumer and the story that will resonate with them, nothing I share below is really going to help you.

So let’s break it out.

SOCIAL MEDIA 101
Where does all this start? You start with the three categories of media that are possible to generate online: Earned, Owned, and Paid. In laymen’s terms these are typically categorized by:

1. Earned Media – Buzz you generate (i.e., bloggers talking about you)
2. Owned Media – Distribution through the channels you operate
3. Paid Media – Ads/awareness you buy

1. EARNED MEDIA
Within the earned media space and engaging online influencers, take a three-step approach:

1) Identify Relevant Targets
2) Establish Incentive (i.e., what the benefit is to them)
3) Engage (i.e., reach out to them via email, phone, etc.)

Identify
If you know your target well you should have a good idea of what they’re already reading online. Use the sites you know as a jumping off point and identify additional, relevant sites with SimilarSites.com (which does exactly what it sounds like – recommends similar sites). Also, when you’re on a site you you’ve deemed relevant, visit the sites in the blogroll – most blogs and sites focused around the same topic help cross-promote one another. Also review who they’re communicating with and following on Twitter lists (I’ve outlined how to do this in the slideshare embedded in this post). If you’re really starting from scratch, you can search for blogs by entering the topics relevant to you using any of these sites:

http://blogsearch.google.com/
http://www.icerocket.com/
http://alltop.com/

Blogs are incredibly powerful, but a platform often overlooked is YouTube and online video creators. YouTube drives massive engagement – oftentimes moreso than blogs, tweets, facebook, etc. Just take a look at the average number of comments on videos – engagement is through the roof. To identify relevant YouTube ‘influencers’ simply search YouTube to see who’s already evangelizing your brand, product, topic. Nine times out of ten, their contact info can be found in the ‘about’ section of their channel. You can also view a directory of creators at vidstatsx.com.

It’s incredibly important to note that you want to focus on relevancy and engagement over reach. A blog with 10,000,000 monthly uniques that is mildly relevant is less valuable and far less likely to interact with you vs one that has 1,000 monthly uniques and covers your topic exclusively.

As you’re researching, you’ll want to collect data on who you’ve identified on an Excel sheet for each influencer, blog, site – entering summaries of their web presence for you to review and consolidate (Tim Ferriss has a great guest post on this process). I typically break this out into five basic sections (but you can tweak to suit your needs).

_Name

_Contact info

_Why they’re relevant

_Relationship (you or someone you know, knows them)

_Average engagement (comments, shares) per post

Once you’ve collected your list I recommend you review it and force yourself to whittle it down to the 5-10 most relevant outlets. This will ensure you’re focused on relevancy; you won’t end up sending a ton of spam, and that you’ve thought through your approach.

Incentive
When you reach out to people you want to answer the questions:

Why should this person share my story?
What value am I bringing them and their readers, viewers, followers?

It’s important to approach them with something that will incentivize them to post – make it easy for them to say yes. Can you offer them an exclusive trial of your product, interviews with the founders, etc.?

What can you do to make it worth their time to check out your product/brand and write about it?

Engage
Bloggers, YouTubers, and digital influencers get pitched constantly and its best to either have a relationship (ie your friends or acquaintances with these thoughtleaders in your space) or if at all possible get an introduction. Form real relationships with people that are of interest to you and the rest will fall in line. That said, I understand that it isn’t always possible to be best buds with everyone. So, when reaching out to people make sure to make it as custom to them as you can. They’re a person – use their name (not the blog’s name) when addressing them, call out articles relevant to them, etc., and don’t sell too hard.

I recommend a tease/intro email that hints at what you’ve got. Then, as soon as possible, escalate to a phone call. This allows you to become a real person and start building a real relationship vs. just being another email in their inbox.

PITCH TEMPLATE

Hi (Name),
I wanted to reach out because (insert brief explanation of what you’re doing – for ex, launching an album). I thought it might be relevant for (Site) because (insert example of similar stories covered by blogger in the past – for ex, they covered a similar artist and the post performed well). Any chance you’d think it would be a good fit?

I’d love to hop on the phone (insert time) if you think its something you’d be interested in (insert reference to incentive – for example, you could potentially provide a sneak peak to the demo before launch). Just let me know!

Best,
(insert name)

Here are some other great articles on how to ‘pitch’ a blogger:

21 Tips on Pitching to Bloggers
Make it a Win-Win Situation
20 Tips for Pitching Bloggers

2. OWNED MEDIA
When managing online communities, ie your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc you can really break things out into two categories:

1. Pro-active communications: e.g., events/initiatives you can plan for, and
2. Reactive communications: Responding to the community or current events, and whatever is happening in real time

Proactive:
On the proactive side you’ll want to create content calendars highlighting relevant holidays, events, product launches, etc., that you want to capitalize on.

Then, you’ll want to plan what you’re going to say. Here’s a great example of a content calendar template you can use.

Reactive:
Obviously it’s difficult to have someone sit in front of their computer all day long to interact with commenters, so I recommend utilizing a community management tool, which allows you to track fan engagement and schedule posts. These are a few I recommend–

Facebook & Twitter:

Hootsuite

Crowdbooster

Bufferapp

YouTube:

Tubular Labs

On the reactive side you’ll want to create guidelines outlining the various do’s and don’ts for how you react to the community (particularly if you delegate some of your community management). To accomplish this you’ll want to create an escalation chart, as well as community guidelines to outline how you respond to people.

NOTE – I highly recommend you invest in a presence on YouTube. As the second largest search engine, YouTube is an incredibly powerful marketing tool and its getting better every day. In my experience, I’ve seen engagement on YouTube to be much higher than most other social media platforms. Check out my post on YouTube Marketing, a one-stop hub/cheat sheet for all things YouTube.

3. PAID MEDIA
If you want to grow your community or distribute content quickly, paid media can be a great option. Across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, I recommend buying directly through the platform for small scale buys (i.e., less than $5k-10k).

Never use a service that makes bold promises, such as ‘1000 fans for $50’ – those are just bots/fake followers and aren’t going to provide any value.

Each platform has relatively simple self-serve advertising platforms – Twitter and YouTube being easiest (in my opinion) with Facebook’s ad marketplace being a great tool, but potentially cumbersome if you’ve never bought ads online before.

Here are the links to self serve ad dashboards for each platform:
Twitter
Facebook
YouTube

TRACKING
By now you’ve built up some buzz, begun to cultivate and manage your community and you want to understand how things are performing.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the analytics options out there and have difficulty differentiating the signal from the noise. There are a lot of great tools out there and each has their pro’s and con’s. I won’t go into the paid options here (although there are a lot of great ones), instead I recommend starting out some of the great free options out there, including PeopleBrowsr & Topsy.com for Twitter, Facebook Insights on choose. Wildfire’s social monitoring tool is great if you want to do some competitive analysis. For YouTube I recommend using VidIQ’s chrome plug in, and SocialBlade for competitive research.

BUILDING YOUR OWN COMMUNITY
The reality is, the basic stuff is simple — marketers, pundits, ‘gurus’, ninjas, et al tend to overcomplicate this form of communication. That does not mean that it’s easy – it takes a great deal of time and effort. However, with this info you can begin to generate awareness, manage your social media profiles and have a deep understanding of what’s working for you.

So what’s your passion, your goal, the community you want to cultivate and craft you want to promote? When you can effectively master the steps and processes I’ve outlined, you can build your business, gain recognition for your craft, and develop social media campaigns brands pay millions for.

Start at the fundamentals. Where is my audience spending time? How can I provide value to influencers to ensure I’m relevant to them? How do I engage my existing community and where can I amplify my efforts through paid media – then track success? It’s all there.

What is the community you are going to build?

Check out Brendan’s slideshare of this post below:

Visit Brendan’s blog to read more social media and youtube marketing strategies.

You may be interested in:

29 Responses to More Than CONTENT, It’s COMMUNITY That’s King [aka How To Cultivate Online Relationships & Stuff That Matters]

  1. Jerard November 18, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    One of the most helpful pieces I’ve read this year on earned, owned, paid strategy. So clear and concise. Thanks Chase and Brendan!

    • Chase November 19, 2013 at 10:14 am #

      I”ll second that ;)

  2. Bobby G. November 18, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Brenda – what do you like better for community management Buffer or Hootsuite?

    • Brendan Gahan November 18, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

      Hi Bobby,
      Each has its pros and cons, and I’ve used both on different projects. Ultimately, it depends on your specific needs. I’d recommend you talk to Connor, from Hootsuite, who commented below :)

  3. Connor Meakin November 18, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    Nicely written Brendan. Reading this reminded me of some of our core community building strategies here at HootSuite. It’s all about identifying the people who either should be talking about you or are already talking about you (earned media). From there you shine the light back on them by telling their story through your lens.

    Thanks for recommending our tool as well!

    -Connor from HootSuite

  4. Jay November 18, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

    What an excellently written article with such useful links and resources. I can hardly believe you’ve given us all of this for free. But, so much of what you given us is free to use. You have reinforced a lot of what I already knew and added a number of things that I will integrate into my coming campaign for a personal project.

    The timing of this post could not be better for my schedule. As soon as I’m done with my organizing duties for our city’s Help-Portrait events this year I will start working on the campaign I have planned. The one thing I’m not certain about, and will probably take the most work for me, is the community building. That’s where I will be using a number of the links and tools you provided, Brendan.

    • Brendan Gahan November 18, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

      Hi Jay,
      Thanks! Feel free to ping me if you have any specific questions. Glad to hear its a resource.

  5. Raziel Abulafia November 18, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    BTW, I used Outbrain to get a link to my content show up on CNN. This generated high user engagement – CNN readers are great!

  6. Uwe November 19, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    Very very good and useful article, many thanks to Chase and Brendan.
    For the older folks like me (40+) an excellent overview and insight what is possible and the way to go.

  7. faisal November 19, 2013 at 6:30 am #

    This is a very vital articles for us to learn.

    Thanks for sharing. You rock Chase.

    • Brendan Gahan November 19, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      Hi Faisal. Glad you learned something :)

    • Chase November 19, 2013 at 10:15 am #

      It’s all brendon :)

  8. Richard November 19, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    Brendan – thanks for being so generous. I try to over-complicate building my platform. This is a great resource for building the foundation. Time to get busy and take some action.

    • Chase November 19, 2013 at 10:28 am #

      I can’t say it enough what a great friend ally and resource brendon has been for me over the years. just awesome – and of course he over delivered here as well. true insights from a true star

  9. Chris November 19, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    Hey Brendan,

    Thanks for putting out such a top class article. I’ll be reading and re-reading as our social presence expands.

    Do you have any pointers or advice for people like me, who are still working on finalizing that target audience, where to find them and the core message to deliver?

    Thanks again :)

    • Brendan Gahan November 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      I recommend taking a look at people already actively talking about your topic/content/vertical. See what people are saying, who they are and try to find a niche within that, that you feel you can speak to and have something to offer.

      • Chris November 19, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

        Appreciated. Thank you :)

  10. Kirk Wheeler November 19, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Wow! A nearly perfect breakdown of the current landscape and how to navigate it. I am in the early stages of building a community via a blog,youtube, and a podcast and this could not have come at a better time. Feels like I just got a cheat sheet. Thank you so much Brendan and Chase.

  11. Brendan Gahan November 19, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Darius – While community certainly can lead to revenue the two are not one in the same. I think these are the tools that can be used to build an audience. What you do from there is your call.

  12. Peter Steiner November 21, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    I always wondered about the efficiency of paid advertising for community building. I mean, who’s personally joining a community of some kind because he has seen an ad for it?

    I can see the value of social advertising for product sales, even more so than traditional advertising because targeting is easier. But community building? Call me skeptical…

  13. Brendan Gahan November 21, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Agreed, overall I’d got earned and owned over paid. However, sometimes acts as a nice tap on the shoulder to convert people who are already interested (or would be). I think Facebook probably does this best.

  14. Tim Lloyd December 10, 2013 at 1:33 am #

    It feels like social media fortnight right now. Again, some inspirational words.
    Thanks Brendan for this really well structured piece.

  15. Brendan Gahan December 12, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    Sure thing Tim. Glad you enjoyed it!

  16. Martin Hurley January 31, 2014 at 4:19 am #

    Excellent write up Brendan.

    It’s tricky & challenging as a photographer / artist / creator — what if you find it’s easier to photograph and express yourself through your images than talk about it? (Even if you know your blogging / marketing stuff real well) — how would you build up a youtube ‘community’ in this way?

    I like what you said:

    Start at the fundamentals. Where is my audience spending time? How can I provide value to influencers to ensure I’m relevant to them? How do I engage my existing community and where can I amplify my efforts through paid media – then track success? It’s all there.

    Have to think deeply about those questions and sleep on it.

    Thanks :o ) Martin

    • Brendan Gahan February 17, 2014 at 3:44 am #

      Hey Martin,
      That’s a tough question. I think the key is finding the intersection of something you are passionate about talking about which is unique (or at least not overly saturated). That’s the space you want to play in. I don’t take this advice enough, but oftentimes the best thing to do in these situations is share the info as if you were talking to a friend. That makes it far easier to create and communicate and you come across as human. Like I said, I don’t take my own advice enough in that dept though. Haha.
      Best of luck!
      -B

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