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Three Ways to Build Your Email List (Without a Free Ebook)

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It seems like every blogger out there has a free ebook they’re giving away in exchange for your email address. This is a popular strategy for a reason: it works.

But free ebooks are not without their problems, least of which is that they take time or money (or both) to create. Even a short 10-20 page ebook needs to be written, edited, designed, and promoted, and those tasks take time, and you may have to hire people to help you.

Although I do still encourage you to give away an ebook to entice people to sign up for your mailing list, this isn’t your only option. Here are three other techniques I’ve successfully used to collect email addresses:

1. Offer content you can’t find on your blog.

Lots of people use their email lists to promote content from their blog, as well as to drive sales. There’s nothing wrong with either of these options, but you can also drive sign-ups by promising (and delivering) special content only available to subscribers.

You still have to create content this way. However, instead of the daunting task of writing an entire ebook, you can split that content creation into smaller, more manageable chunks.

What kind of content can you create? Here are just a few of your options:

  • E-courses, distributed over multiple weeks
  • Blog posts that aren’t found on your blog (or that are behind a membership wall)
  • Outtakes or bloopers from videos you’ve created
  • Additional questions and answers from interviews you’ve done
  • Podcasts to go along with your blog content

Let your imagination run wild!

2. Give subscribers special access to you via email.

If you create great content online, you’ll start to get requests and questions from readers. Instead of giving away a free ebook, instead offer special access to you for anyone who signs up for your email list. Maybe you set up a forum for subscribers to ask you questions. Maybe you hold weekly or monthly conference calls with subscribers. Maybe you do a drawing every month and pick one lucky subscriber to receive a free consulting session with you. Again, get creative and think about what you have that is high value and that you can give away for free.

3. Offer a workbook that outlines your personal process.

We all have step-by-step processes for completing tasks. You can write a how-to for your blog, but also consider creating a workbook (or individual pages) for your readers. As opposed to an ebook, workbooks have a lot of blank space to give your readers space to record their ideas or complete tasks, so they aren’t as much work on your end while still being as long as an ebook.

If you don’t currently have an email list, I hope this post has inspired you to start building one even if you don’t have time to produce an ebook. You can get started with an email list right now and develop the ebook later.

Why Your Blog NEEDS to be Different: Tips from Patrice Yursik at NMX

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“Strong, original, consistent content is your surest way to build a big brand from your little blog.” – Patrice Yursik

At NMX 2013, Patrice Yursik (a.k.a. Afrobella) spoke about one of the biggest challenges for bloggers: How to take your little blog to the next level where you’re actually a big brand. Patrice has serves as a spokesperson for national hair and beauty brands, has worked the red carpet, and consistently gets opportunities most niche bloggers only dream about.

And for Patrice, her success started with a single decision. Back when she started her blog, Patrice made a conscious decision to be different.

Filling the Void

Patrice has been blogging since 2006, when starting a blog about a topic no one else was covering was a much simpler task. Today, however, it seems like there’s a blog about everything. That doesn’t mean you can’t fill a void, though, because what you have that other blogs don’t have is YOU. What experiences do you bring to the table? What unique interests do you have? Think about the demographic you want for your community, and find a way to talk to these people.

Being True to Yourself

One of the decisions that Patrice says has paid off for her big time is the decision to be herself online. In the new media industry, there are lots of “rules” that top bloggers say you have to follow in order to be successful–but rules are made to be broken. Says Patrice, “Mainstream needs to embrace different. Whatever makes you different also makes you desirable.”

People respond well to an authentic voice. And brands want that too. During her session, Patrice talked about all the opportunities she’s had with brands, in part because they appreciate her authentic voice and the community she has built around it. Had she followed the “rules” and done what other bloggers told her to do, she wouldn’t have been able to build a community around her identity as a natural-haired, plus-sized, fashion-obsessed woman of color.

What Are You Offering that Others Don’t?

Every piece of content you write should be unique. Be proud of everything you write, so you can offer your readers something different than what they can get from other bloggers. That’s what will keep people coming back.

Give them weekly features to look forward to. Write content with your own twist. Remember, everyone in your niche is getting the same review products, the same PR pitches, and the same news stories to cover. Be different and you’ll stand out.

Want to learn more about what has made Patrice a successful blogger with a big brand? You can check out her entire NMX 2013 session at NMX University with premium membership, which gives you access to our complete 2013 Virtual Ticket. Learn more here and get your virtual ticket today!

The #1 Best Way to Understand Your Audience—And Why This Matters for Your Content

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“The best way to understand the mind, the hopes, the fear, the dreams, the desires—everything that’s inside your clients, you’re customer’s brain—the best way to understand it is to actually be it.” – Dino Dogan

We often talk about creating a profile, an avatar of sorts, for your audience members so you understand who you’re creating content for. This is important whether you’re a blogger, podcaster, web series creator, or even business owner. If you don’t know who your audience is, it’s extremely hard to create content for them.

Click to tweet this quote!

At NMX 2013, Dino Dogan spoke on turning your audience into extremely loyal fans, and this is one of the topics he covered during his session. But he took a step farther. Don’t just think about who your customer is. Be your customer.

The NMX Story

If you’ve ever seen our NMX co-founder Rick Calvert speak before a keynote or if you’ve ever had a personal conversation with him, you might have heard him talk about why he decided to start NMX (previously BlogWorld). Rick was a blogger himself in the early 2000s and being someone who has always worked in the trade show and conference industry, he decided to attend whatever trade show or conference was out there for bloggers.

Except there wasn’t one.

Rick was astounded to find that there was no event out there to provide more education for bloggers and others in the new media industry. So, he decided to create one. This was the birth of BlogWorld, which has now evolved into NMX. Rick is his own customer, and this is one of the things that lends to the success of this conference.

Why Being Your Customer Matters

I use the term customer as Dino has in his presentation, but very loosely, to also not just mean people who are buying from you, but to also mean people who are doing anything you want them to do (read a blog post, listen to your podcast, etc.). You have to be this person to truly understand this person.

Creating an avatar is great, but it’s impossible to truly understand another person through research. You don’t understand what it’s like to be a mother until you’re a mother (or so I’ve been told…I am not a mother). You don’t understand how it feels to lose a loved one until you’ve experienced that loss yourself. You don’t understand the frustration of not finding clothes that fit if you’re someone who always walks into a store and finds several options.

And if you don’t understand what your customers are going through, what they truly feel, you can’t do the best possible job creating content or products for them.

Over the past two(ish) years, I’ve watching the freelance writing industry change drastically from what it was like back in 2005-2006, when I first started writing online. At that time, it was very easy to find content writing jobs. To make ends meet as a recent college grad, I wrote about everything from lawn care to oil rig jobs. Today, those jobs are nearly non-existent. Why? Because people realized that someone who doesn’t own a home with a yard can never truly write a great article about lawn care, no matter how much research she does. At least not compared to someone who is passionate about that topic.

Become your customer if you aren’t already. You’ll be amazed at what you learn and how that affects your decisions.

More from Dino

Being your own customer was just a small piece of Dino’s 2013 NMX presentation on insane loyalty. But the good news is that you can still attend the session virtually, even if you missed attending live in Las Vegas! Become an NMX University Premium Member and you’ll get access to our complete 2013 Virtual Ticket, which includes a recording of Dino’s session, along with sessions from hundreds of other speakers!

10 Ways to Embrace your Global Audience

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You are podcasting to your niche, in your own language, and then suddenly one day when checking your stats, you find out that you have listeners in Johannesburg, Bangkok, The Faroe Islands or Copenhagen.

This is the time to do the happy dance. But also the time to think – and speak – with a global mind set.

The United States of America is a melting pot of cultures, languages, political and religious orientations, time zones and interests.

But the U.S. of A is not the whole world. If your topic is global, there is a good chance you will have listeners in Sweden, Belgium, Scotland, Poland, Indonesia and Japan.

When you address a global audience you have two options:

  1. Ignore them and assume they understand your (American) way of thinking and living.
  2. Acknowledge them, tailor your content to suit them too, and engage them on their terms.

How?

Here are 10 ways you can embrace a global audience:

  1. Do your research. Look it up and find out how your content fits your audience. Don´t make them feel left out when you talk about American elections, sports events, openings, holidays, etc.
  2. Talk about things that are truly global and universal. If your podcast is about film or a TV series, make sure they have been released outside the U.S. Like Star Wars, Mad Men, American Idol, Lost, etc. Books like Harry Potter are global, but a lot of other books have not been released outside the U.S.
  3. Be aware that words don´t mean the same outside the U.S. Even between U.S. English and British English there can be remarkable differences, which can cause misunderstandings (e.g. football in Europe is soccer, Thanksgiving is an American holiday, Mother´s Day is not celebrated the same day all over the world).
  4. Engage your audience. Ask them to share what it is like in their lives. The weather, the culture, politics, habits, time zones, holidays, Black Friday etc.
  5. Don´t be too salesy. Many countries outside the U.S. are not so open toward commerce, sponsoring, commercials or advertisements.
  6. Consider getting a co-host who is not American. This can help closing the gap between you and listeners outside the U.S.
  7. Include their feedback. Each country has its own iTunes Store and make sure you get reviews of your podcast from all countries.
  8. Translate your show-notes into other languages. This will also enhance your searchability.
  9. If you livestream your episodes, consider scheduling so listeners overseas can join you at least sometimes.
  10. Be tolerant with your listeners. Many of them don´t speak or write your language too well. They have different ethics and manners, expressions and sense of humor. But they are still good people and they are today’s listeners and tomorrow’s friends.

Want to learn more? Be sure to come to the NMX panel I’ll be moderating, entitled “How To Effectively Communicate To A Global Audience” in January. This panel of experienced podcasters will share their experiences with podcasting to a global audience. In very different ways they are communicating with their listeners with a very global mindset. The panel includes:

Matthew Workman is American, but fell in love with a remote group of islands thousands of miles from the U.S. The Faroe Islands Podcast is an extraordinary meeting between an American and Faroeses.

Farnoosh Brock is of Iranian origin and that is one of the reasons she has been thinking global since she started podcasting about communication and personal career in her Prolific Living podcast.

Mark Pentleton started teaching Scottish school children, but since 2004 he has been building a worldwide language podcast network, Radio Lingua, and helped others speak French.

Hope to see you at the panel!

Debba Haupert talks about Building Online Communities

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You’re a content creator. Yay you! So, now what? Just because you put it out, doesn’t mean people will come to check it out.

NMX speaker Debba Haupert knows the ins and outs of building communities. In this exclusive NMX interview below, Debba shares her advice on how to establish your personal brand, surveying your community, being true to your goals, and the mistakes that online community managers make. Want to hear more from Debba? Check out her session at NMX this January, called “25 Ways to be more Re-Pinnable – Engaging Content and the Power of Pinterest.”

Debba is just one of nearly 200 speakers at NMX this January. Come learn more about new media from some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry by joining us in Las Vegas. Register today!

Free Gift: The Ultimate Guide to Using Links to Build Relationships & Drive Traffic [12 Days of Giveaways]

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Introducing the latest in NMX’s line of ebooks: The Ultimate Guide to Using Links to Build Relationships and Drive Traffic.

Here at NMX, planning for our January event is in full swing…but that doesn’t mean we don’t have time for the holidays! That’s why, every day from now through December 25, we’re featuring a brand new giveaway for the entire NMX community!

Today, to start off the 12 Days of Giveaways, we have a real treat – a brand new ebook! If you’re a blogger, this is one you definitely don’t want to miss. The Ultimate Guide to Using Links to Build Relationships and Drive Traffic is a comprehensive resource that will teach you how to:

  • Make your content better by using both internal and external links
  • Drive massive traffic with link resources that go viral
  • Attract the attention of a-list bloggers in your niche with links
  • Keep readers coming back for more with link opportunities for your entire community
  • Ensure readers stay on your site longer through related links

Best of all, The Ultimate Guide to Using Links to Build Relationship and Drive Traffic is completely free for members of our brand new community, NMX University. (Don’t worry – membership to that is also free!)

You can find out more about our ebook and register for NMXU here, or if you are already a member, simply log in to NMXU here to download your free copy today!

Millennials Using Social Media for Social Good

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The adoption of digital technology is one of the major distinctions Millennials have among previous generations. The age group in their late teens to early 30s can create a profile on the latest social network faster than you can say “smartphone.” Many might deem their ubiquitous love affair with social media quite trivial, but don’t discount all the good some of them are already doing with it. Millennials are pioneering ways to give back to their communities, sharing actionable solutions to social issues, and galvanizing others who believe real impact is sometimes only a send button away.

Social Networks Expanding Nonprofits’ Reach

Take IGNITEgood for instance, who has teamed up with The Huffington Post to give away $100,000 to 10 game changing ideas that move humanity forward. The competition dubbed “Millennial Impact Challenge,” will first select five existing nonprofit organizations/businesses that demonstrate scalable impact, viability of getting others involved, and a sense the applicants are uniquely qualified to champion their big idea. The IGNITE Team has corralled an impressive group of–you guessed it–Millennials as the selection committee to pick these winners. The second half of funding is reserved for five startup organizations or companies who get the most “likes” on Facebook during the voting phase. You see, socially-conscious Millennials are using the “like” button for something other than self-esteem boosters and virtual pats on the back.

A Houston darling of a nonprofit is also harnessing the social web to make a difference in their community. Mia’s Closet is barely a year old and is already making established nonprofits take notice with its online presence. Executive Director Chelsea Coffey founded the nonprofit to instill confidence and self-worth in students from kindergarten to high school by providing them with clothing through a personal shopping experience.

Seeing is believing in Coffey’s perspective so she tells the story of her organization through Instagram. The app allows Coffey and crew to showcase the lively atmosphere of pampering, personal styling, and all around family fun. What started out as a small project has blossomed into a steady growth in Facebook and Twitter fans, along with a full-fledged website using the easily-to-learn, WordPress platform. Quite fittingly, the 20-something founder now moonlights as fashion/social media editor for the same magazine that gave Mia’s Closet its early press coverage in March.

Social Entrepreneurs are The New Rockstars

From local zines to globally-recognized publications, Millennials are reported on as leaders in the surge of social entrepreneurship. One such brand is Forbes Magazine, which intends to bring these modern enterprises to a new audience. The magazine has publicized its search for 30 Awesome Social Entrepreneurs Under 30. Known for its lists of actors, rockstars, and  business moguls, Forbes is venturing into content that may add cachet to the young do-gooders of the world. Don’t go nominating your buddy who raised a wad of singles and loose change selling lemonade at the local block party, though. The staff is essentially searching for the dream team of altruistic innovators. The noble group who will help define this generation and their impact will most likely be fueled by Web 2.0.

One clear candidate deserving Forbes glory is Tristan Walker, who is adding value to the nonprofit sector via the social highway. The tech wunderkind Linkedin page looks more like Mashable.com’s top stories. Walker has worked for Twitter, JP Morgan, a major Boston-based consulting group and more recently served as Foursquare’s Director of Business Development (a relationship which he initiated with an email to the founders). Working 12 hour days to develop an investment portfolio so he can buy yachts, expensive champagne, and gold-plated toilet seats seem like the next steps for him, right?

On the contrary, the rising figure has opted to tackle a new venture that yields $0 in profits. Yes, Walker recently founded a nonprofit organization that is primed to give minorities a shot at taking on Silicon Valley’s biggest startups. The bold move has backing from some major players in the tech space, philanthropy powerhouses, and venture capital partners. Their inaugural class of fellows earned paid internships and gained insight from the who’s who of tech startups, as well as established companies.

Tammy Tibbetts is another under 30 community organizer crushing it at the intersection of social media and social change. Tibbetts had already scored a coveted job as Social Media Editor for Seventeen Magazine, which she reported as having the fastest growing Twitter presence in the magazine industry in 2011. She has since made the tough decision to leave that dream job to begin another as founder of She’s the First, a non-profit sponsoring girls’ education in developing countries.

Tibbetts takes social media best practices from her previous role to amplify the impact her organization makes. The site features “Map Your Impact” using Google Maps, as well as tweeting, Facebooking, and Tumbling calls-to-action that drive donors to its Razoo page. One of the most surprising, yet promising displays of support comes from its tie-dye cupcakes campaign, which has turned into social media tour de force. The video below is a taste of how sweet it is for college students to raise  thousands of dollars with a few days of baking and selling cupcakes on campus.

[vimeo width=”575″ height=”375″]http://vimeo.com/48242656[/vimeo]

How Millennials Engage With Nonprofits

These new media-friendly founders help contextualize the bigger picture of how Millennials are working toward a greater good.  A valuable reference to these interactions is the often-cited 2012 Millennial Impact Report, which surveys Millennials’ relationships with existing nonprofits.

  • Connecting: The majority of Millennials surveyed stated they prefer to learn about nonprofits through their website and social media. 77% of them own smartphones, and they like having access to what an organization does, how to get involved, and shareable content, right at their fingertips. Nearly 70% of the participants have interacted with a nonprofit via Facebook. A staggering 87% of them follow nonprofits on Twitter, while 60% give compliments and retweet content from nonprofits they follow.
  • Involving: Not surprisingly, 81% of respondents prefer to learn about nonprofit volunteering opportunities through their peers. This finding warrants an added incentive for nonprofit leaders to create content people want to share, and display social network mechanisms for supporters to do so. Coming in at second and third are emails and a nonprofit’s website to learn about volunteer information. By a margin of more than two-to-one, Millennials who volunteer for nonprofits are more likely to make donations. That’s good news for organizations who can effectively engage with their audience via online and offline experiences.
  • Giving: Millennials overwhelmingly prefer to donate through the web, with 70% of respondents having made contributions through a nonprofit’s web page in the last year. This goes back to nonprofits needing to produce and feature inspiring content on their website in order to gain financial support. To encourage consistent giving, nonprofits should make it clear as to how donations will impact the organization, avoid telling donors how much to give, and stray from sending long letters in the mail for support. Millennials like to make contributions with ease and immediacy.

So there you have it. A look at innovative Millennials using social sites to make meaningful connections and bring change for the undeserved communities they’re passionate about. And a snapshot of overall trends that will ultimately drive new and interesting ways to solve human injustice and inequality. Comment below to share your story or tell us about a person you know who is using social media for social good. Even lemonade stand stories are welcomed here.

 

10 Ways to Double Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising

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Your nonprofit organization is finally gaining traction. Your friends and family come to your events, your website redesign has all the bells and whistles it needs to be taken seriously, and you’ve even been interviewed by a local reporter. But there’s one important thing missing: donations. After you’ve earned 501(c)(3) status, the onus is on you to raise money to keep your organization afloat. Fear not, noble citizen; social media is once again here to save the day and double your donation dollars.

Here are 10 sites to help you in your fundraising efforts:

1. Causecast

Tech entrepreneur Ryan Scott developed Causecast to help organizations through increased volunteer and fundraising engagement around social change. He and his team believe global change must be achieved through collaboration along with individual action. The site helps secure donations as well as volunteer hours from local businesses that are looking to make an impact in their community. The site also provides nonprofits with customizable tools that encourage new and old supporters to donate on your website, blog, and on Facebook. These services are free to your organization so you can spend the extra money on that iPad you’ve been meaning to buy for “business purposes.” Causecast boasts nearly 3,000 nonprofit members on its homepage, which includes some of the top organizations in the country.

2. PostRelease

If your organization hasn’t gotten in the habit of content marketing, you’re missing out on big businesses looking to place sponsored content on your website. Serial entrepreneur Justin Choi created PostRelease to minimize those pesky banner ads and facilitate a much more organic web experience. With a simple plugin, you automatically integrate relevant sponsored content into your blogs, forums, and content-rich sites. It serves as an automated revenue stream and/or you can use it to sell advertiser-sponsored content on your site(s). If you’re not already drooling, you’ll salivate at the ease in which the platform’s dashboard allows you to monitor and manage the sponsored content.

3. Google Grants

You’ve heard of Google, right? Up until now you may not have had much use for their main moneymaker, AdWords, but the search engine behemoth wants to give your organization $10,000 worth of free advertising on their homepage. All this coveted real estate requires is an application to their Google for Nonprofits site. Once approved, you can begin leveraging online advertising to reach donors, tracking online donations and promoting your organization’s website to ultimately grow your fundraising dollars.

4. Youtube for Nonprofits

The third largest search engine, YouTube, falls right in line with Google’s other product offerings for nonprofits. Have you ever watched a YouTube video so moving, so wrenching, so powerful that you wanted to donate right away? YouTube for Nonprofits provides that solution by allowing organizations to monetize video content with one click. Approved nonprofits can easily add a Google Checkout “Donate now” button to their YouTube page so every view can turn into a few bucks. Equally impressive, you can customize your channel with your organization’s logo as well as drive viewers to action by placing a “Call to Action” overlay on your videos.

5. Fundly

Fundly is a super social way to raise money for nonprofit initiatives with its plethora of social features. The site claims to increase donations by over 20%, while helping increase campaign visibility online by 424% on average. Percentages aside, your supporters are directed to a Fundly Cause custom page, where visitors learn more about your cause and can easily donate. They then can tell friends and family about their donation through Facebook, Twitter, and more. Some might call this bragging, I call it your new best friend. In a perfect world, social media aficionado Ashton Kutcher will make a donation to your campaign through the Fundly platform and his post of that contribution will go viral.

6. GoodSearch

GoodSearch takes web browsing to an altruistic level by allowing supporters to raise money for their favorite charities through search. The website donates money to your organization when your supporters search the Internet, shop online or dine out at local restaurants. Everyone you know does these things as often as they brush their teeth! Your fresh-breath supporters will have no qualms about a percentage of every eCommerce purchase they make or percentage of their restaurant bill at participating locations being donated to your charity. I urge you to get started sometime in the next millisecond and easily spread the word with the site’s email, social media, newsletter, and video resources.

7. HelpAttack!

Don’t you wish you could raise money through Facebook statuses, blog posts and even tweets? I’m sure your mother would actually join Twitter just to support your charity. Along with your mother, HelpAttack! lets supporters simply update one of their social sites to help you reach new levels in funding. Their donations are handled securely by a donation processor so can feel confident their good deeds are being funneled properly. The giving platform adds further incentive by rewarding donors with Coins that access new features, and gets others to join your noble cause.

8. Groupon Grassroots

Whether you love or hate Groupon, the daily deal site helps local nonprofits meet and exceed their fundraising goals through local participation. Dubbed Groupon Grassroots, the giving initiative evolved out of Groupon’s collective action platform to discover and support local causes. Each campaign connects like-minded individuals with a nonprofit to help realize a specific monetary threshold. Once that threshold is reached, Groupon sends 100% of the donations to the organization and you get to bask in those warm and fuzzy feelings. Known for their quippish content, a team of writers specific to Grassroots graciously crafts your campaign deals to maximize your “cool factor.”

9. eBayGivingWorks

eCommerce giant eBay enacted eBay GivingWorks to help nonprofits gain exposure and create a new revenue stream. With a simple sign up on www.missionfish.org, organizations gain access to eBay’s billion dollar marketplace. Your supporters can use eBay GivingWorks to donate 10% to 100% of their item’s final sale price to your charity. For every listing that benefits your organization, buyers will see a banner with your information, as well as a link to your eBay GivingWorks page. You can also encourage members, volunteers, donors, and affiliates to look for your organization to make purchases on your eBay GivingWorks page.

10. Crowdrise

Film star Edward Norton has been making major contributions to nonprofit sector for years but you won’t catch him patting himself on the back for it. Instead he helps run a trailblazing crowdfunding site with components of social networking and virtual competitions. Nonprofits and their supporters are encouraged to create a profile to raise money through contests, donations, and even purchasing actor Will Ferrell’s Super Sexy Hot Tan Sunscreen. Each project is complemented with a compelling story, vibrant pictures, and a real-time scroll of who’s donating.

Now that you have these awesome tools to reach your fundraising goals, stop making excuses and start making your donorship grow! Once you’ve found your groove with which sites work best for your organization, double down on those and build an avid community around your efforts. Remember, these social sites shouldn’t be used as gimmicks, but rather long-standing or reoccurring campaigns that create sustainable fundraising solutions.

How to Work with Brand Bloggers

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This post will help businesses, both large and small, understand brand blogs–sites written by consumers that exist for the sole purpose of talking about a company and/or its products. Do you know how to engage with brand bloggers and the opportunities that exist? Read on to learn more!

 

A topic near and dear to my heart is blogs that are created by customers which are all about well-known brands.  This is a phenomenon that is now down-right common.  It’s amazing how many customers have created blogs about well-known brands!

First, a few examples of the kinds of blogs that I’m talking about:

I’m sure there are many more brand fan blogs out there.  Those were just a few that were very easy to find with a few Google searches. The list of customer-created fan blogs is stunningly long.

For the large brand (or even a smaller brand), all of this can equal surprise and uncertainty. If you’re Lululemon, or any other brand where a customer has created a fan blog, you don’t know what they’re going to say next. You don’t know which products they’ll love. And, you never know if the fan blog will turn on the brand. There is a complete loss of control. Even worse, the brand may worry that the fan site will become so large that it will be confused with a corporate-created website. The brand’s voice then competes with the fan’s voice.

Since September 2009, I have been writing about Starbucks. There’s no doubt, they know I exist. I’m in the unusual position that I’m blogging about a brand close to home. I live not too far from the Starbucks headquarters and the first Starbucks in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I am so close, I can actually easily go to Starbucks events that would only happen in Seattle. Because of this, I’ve met a number of corporate headquarters Starbucks employees.

My blog, as I write this, receives over 30,000 absolute unique visitors each month. It’s slowly grown over time. A year from now, I might be saying it has 35,000 or 40,000 uniques. It certainly didn’t start out at that level of readership – and that’s still fairly small. And obviously, I am not CNN or a major news source. However, it is possible that at an ordinary customer can have a real voice about a brand. For example, if you look at the Trader Joe’s blog mentioned above, you’ll see that its hit-counter lists well over 2 million hits so far! That’s one very popular blog!

There is no doubt that through Facebook and Twitter, it’s possible that a customer with a big brand fan blog might be able to have direct contact with other fans, possibly brand detractors, company employees, and even possibly corporate executives. All of this comes down to one thing: Each individual customer now has the possibility to have a much larger voice than ever before. Anyone can start a blog. The choice of the brand is to either engage or ignore. That’s it: either engage or ignore. My position is that engagement is the best option.

It’s been cited that a brand advocate is worth much more than an average customer.  Zuberance, a California-based company designed to energize brand advocates, writes “Brand Advocates are worth at least 5x more than average customers. This is because they spend more and their recommendations drive sales.”

The customer-created brand blog is not a mysterious unicorn. It’s real. Any brand could end up with customers writing about them. And honest reviews, unfiltered, and unsolicited, are the most genuine.

4 Tips for Working with Brand Bloggers: 

Recognize that a brand fan blog is fueled by passion for the brand

There is no doubt, for a customer to write for years consistently about a brand, he or she has to be filled with passion for the brand. Probably there are no “wet noodle” personalities with big successful brand fan blogs. Susan Martin’s IKEA fan blog is still going strong seven years into blogging. She started blogging in 2005 about IKEA. One doesn’t blog for seven years about IKEA without really having some passion for the brand.

Your customers who create long-term fan blogs love you. They passionately love you. And expect them to truly characterize the kind of personality that gets very passionate about a topic.

You can expect that one with a big, vocal passionate personality might have fixed convictions that he or she won’t budge on, or may come on strongly when engaged. Despite all this, passions fuels this.

Reach out to dedicated fan bloggers; do not ignore them

It takes a tremendous amount of work to keep a fan blog going. There isn’t a monetary incentive for the overwhelming majority of brand fan blogs. (I couldn’t find any evidence of any monetary compensation in any of the listed fan blogs above.)

A little reaching out goes a long way to keep inspiration alive.

And for many people, the more emotionally invested he or she feels in a brand, the less likely he or she is going to write negative commentary about it. Reaching out to brand bloggers can help lock in that emotional attachment to a brand. A brand can never control everything that is going to be said about it. And often times, honest feedback couched in a true vision of making the brand better is nothing to be scoffed at. Customers have great insights.

And so once again, since the fan brand blogger is not motivated by a paycheck, a little reaching out to the brand goes a long way.

For example, in 2010, IKEA reached out to their fans, hosting a IKEA brand evangelists event in New York City, and giving those fans a bag of gifts, and the latest IKEA catalogue two weeks early. Not every brand is going to host trips to New York City for their biggest fans, but it is definitely an example of a large brand truly recognizing and responding to brand evangelists.

In January 2012, I went to a nicely organized coffee tasting at the Olive Way Starbucks as part of the Starbucks PR department’s blogger outreach. I wrote about it here.  I love events that have a true element of exclusivity to them.  I enjoyed being able to see the Starbucks concept store, Roy Street, shortly before it opened to the public and being able to write about that before the store’s grand opening.

As yet another example of incredible blogger outreach, Anthropologie sent a number of bloggers on a trip to Philadelphia for the opening of a wedding-themed Anthropologie store. I have heard that Anthropologie did reach out to at least one blogger who writes specifically an Anthroplogie brand blog. The trip to Philadelphia is mentioned in an article by a wedding blogger.

Consider the bloggers who are dedicated to your brand. If the brand passes over a very passionate blogger, it may truly come off as if the blog is not appreciated.

I think even small gestures mean a lot. I was reading through Nathan Aaron’s “Method Lust” blog and noticed that now and then he mentions that Method will send him sneak previews of new products. It could be as simple as sending the brand advocate a bottle of Fig Aroma Spray.

Read the comments

The value of a brand blog doesn’t end at the author’s article. Read the comments. That’s so important, I feel like I should say it twice. Read the comments.

A blog that is getting even a dozen comments per article provides a lot of insight about customer response to a specific product or concept.

Remember the authenticity of the voice is priceless. As a great example of this, earlier this year I wrote an article about the Pink Lime Frozt and the Coconut Lime Frozt at Starbucks. You might be thinking that you’ve never heard of these beverages. In the spring of this year, Starbucks did a large test of these beverages, mostly in Southern states, though to date, there has never been a nationwide launch. But my article on the Pink Lime Frozt has over 50 comments. That’s a tremendous amount of feedback on a test product. The same thing happened when I wrote about the test product, the “Apple Crumble Frappuccino.” Don’t miss the chance to get valuable feedback.

On top of it all, the blog comments may have replies by the blog owner – one more chance to get to know the personality of the brand’s customer with a fan blog.

Be transparent at all times

There is nothing worse than having a brand-blogger customer reaching out to a corporate headquarters, and having him or her sent in circles, and/or being told that someone will get back to them, and no one does. Even worse, completely ignored emails.  It can equally leave a bad taste in one’s mouth if a brand PR person says (hypothetically), “We’d like you to try a new product  …” and then there is no follow up to arrange a trial of the new product.

If someone is passionate enough to dedicate years to blogging about your specific brand, he or she should not be left hanging in conversations with the corporation, whether in person or in an electronic form.

Good business manners are good business manners, whether dealing with people internally or externally.

At the end of the day, some of this is common sense. Develop a positive relationship with bloggers. They’re valuable for the brand due to their reach. A blogger who is reaching even 1,000 unique visitors a day, in some ways, has a megaphone in his or her hands. That person is akin to media in some ways. The positive relationship with the blogger can help ignite a positive outlook about the brand on that blog.

It’s likely that no brand is immune to the possibility of having a customer start an entire blog just to talk about that brand. Be ready and willing to reach and be transparent with that blogger.

Are You Letting the Wrong People Control Your Content?

Author:

Community is absolutely necessary if you want to grow your content online, but I think some people allow too much community involvement. You might be letting the wrong people control too much. I was recently reading a post on Marketing Profs by Matthew Grant, and he threw out a very insightful quote about business:

“Everybody should have a voice, but not everybody should have a vote.” – Tom Fishburne

In the business world, this absolutely makes sense. The CEO of your company needs to be a leader, making the hard decisions and guiding the team. It’s important to build a team of employees you trust and to value their opinions, but ultimately, it’s up to you to have final say on everything. Everybody should have a voice, but not everybody should have a vote.

Why shouldn’t the same be true of your blog, podcast, or web series/videos? You can call yourself by whatever title strikes your fancy, but you’re the CEO. It’s time to take control of your content.

Listening to Your Community

Before I tell you why you shouldn’t do everything your community wants you to do, let me make it clear, that just like Tom and Matthew, I agree with the idea that everyone should have a voice. Your community members are comparable to your employees in this way – it makes sense to listen to what they have to say. Here’s why:

  • Community members can be extremely creative and can come up with awesome ideas for your blog.
  • You might believe your community feels one way when they, in fact, do not, and this can shape the kind of content you produce.
  • If one community member complains about something, it probably means there are others also having problems but not being vocal.
  • Sometimes you’re too close to your content to see problems.
  • Listen to your community – and interacting with them – is fun!

So yes, definitely listen to your community. Just be selective with the advice you take.

The Dangers of Crowdsourcing the Decision Making Process

Sometimes, it can be really cool to allow your community to make a decision for you. For example, some travel bloggers let everyone vote on where they’ll be traveling next. But most of the time, leaving an important content decision in the hands of your fans is a recipe for disaster. Why?

  • They might vote for something as a joke or because it is the worst decision. Remember the American Idol Vote for the Worst movement? It’s still going and apparently covers more than just AI at this point.
  • Your audience doesn’t care about your content. Well, they might, but not the way that you do. Their livelihood and futures aren’t tied to it the way yours are.
  • Community members will vote for the option that’s best for their needs, not for the needs of the entire community or your content in general.
  • People don’t always know what they need or want until you give it to them.
  • When people feel passionate about something, they try to persuade others to vote the same way, even if those community members might not care. If you open voting to everyone with a public poll, they might even get non-community members to vote.
  • If you open it up to voting and then don’t do what your community says, you’ll have a riot on your hands worse than if you never opened the decision at all.
  • Your community members are probably thinking about what’s best right now, not what will be best long term.
  • Your community members probably won’t think about the cost of a decision since they don’t have to pay for it.

The bottom line is that your content is your responsibility. What your community has to say does matter, but only to a point. Ultimately, you have to take control of the situation and make a final decision.

If you’re interested in learning more about both content and community management, check out our upcoming conference in Las Vegas. NMX 2013 is shaping up to have awesome education in both areas!

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