Read Part 7, Army of One. There’s a party on the Parse.ly homepage.
The key to content promotion is to hide all traces of marketing and advertising. The digital consumer’s nose is quite sensitive to the scent of desperation. Failing to disguise a promotion as such limits the potential reach of a content distribution channel. Desperation signals that your product isn’t cool—isn’t intrinsically good, isn’t good on its own merits. Desperation signals the necessity of a marketing campaign in the first place to paint a veneer of dazzle on an otherwise bland canvas. Although building relationships with readers is the most effective way to build a loyal audience, building relationships does not mean overpromoting and overbearing enthusiasm. Turn it down from 11. To about 7.
What are some signs that you might be desperate?
1. Unsolicited daily e-mail digests. Lately, I’ve noticed an increasing frequency of daily e-mail digests. A digital publication will, after obtaining an e-mail address from an affiliate or more illicit source, send a reader an unsolicited e-mail digest. In effect, the publication has subscribed a reader to a digest without his or her prior consent. While this kind of spam is generally legal, it is annoying. Massive exposure to content might trap some less than savvy consumers. It is likely, however, to turn-off valuable and otherwise potential subscribers.
2. Repetitive promotional outreaches within a constrained time period. Interactions between a publisher and a reader need to be transactional and reciprocal. That means one-sided interactions have a low ROI. If a publisher reaches out to readers continuously without reciprocal feedback, a structure of desire for the publisher’s product never emerges. Sufficient time must be allowed to expire so that recipients can take action on promotions or initiate reciprocal interactions.
3. Too frequent Tweeting. Clogging up the Twitter streams of your followers, again, may trap some user-types. Over the long term, though, too frequent Tweeting will limit the efficiency of your social engagement and content distribution. Use optimization models to determine the best times and frequency for distributing content.
4. Using social media “lingo” inappropriately or unironically. In high school, there are two types of uncool kids. The first, those who naturally fail to fit in with the “cool” kids. The second, those who try too hard to fit in with the “cool” kids. It’s fairly obvious which late-adopters are failing to implement the vocabulary of social media; it’s more obvious which late-adopters don’t know how to use that vocabulary judiciously.
5. Unnecessarily conspicuous share buttons. There is an optimal size and position of “share” and “subscribe” buttons in any web site layout. Exceeding that optimal size or cluttering the page deters repeat visits and direct traffic. When readers actively notice the share button, it’s not doing its job: readers should be aware of the opportunity to share, but not overwhelmed with requests to share.
Don’t be desperate for reader love. The following advice gets bandied about too much on the Internet, but it’s true: if you build it, they will come. Sometimes, publishers with good, marketable content get unlucky. Usually though, a strong product speaks for itself.
Read Part 6, A Little Less Conversation. Learn more about what we do at Parse.ly.
When building an audience, never use smoke signals. Assume that you’re a publisher, and like most publishers, you think your content is pretty cool. You want other people to get a piece of your cool content—but you need to let them know that your content even exists. So you light a fire on some social media platform and start sending generic messages: links with pithy headlines, quotes from the content, provocative questions, etc.: hoping that a relatively low percentage of your extant audience will see the link, an even lower percentage will click on the link, and an even lower percentage will light their own fire and share the link. The logic of this content distribution strategy is simple and based on an efficiency proposition. Generic social media messaging requires a small investment of resources compared to the payoff, at least if you have a large enough audience. Low conversion rates from pre-packaged links necessitate a substantial crowd effect. Without a sufficiently massive user base, social media traffic and subsequent audience growth will remain inconsequential.
For small and medium-sized publishers that lack intrinsic credibility and brand celebrity, building an audience requires a different strategy. Content distribution and engagement with readers needs to be customized and personalized. New readers must feel like valued members of a community where valuable content is circulated. Generic signaling does not generate instant value. Of course, startup publishers often lack the resources to conduct custom or personalized content distribution campaigns. Such campaigns demand dedicated personnel and an additional diversion of editorial resources from content generation into content distribution. Yet, building relationships with new readers is worth a considerable investment of resources. Exactly how much remains a question of business strategy, but the opportunity-cost of launching better content distribution channels is attractive regardless of individual publisher parameters.
What does custom content distribution look like?
1. Targeted by demographic. New followers and readers should be grouped according to demographics: gender-identification, race-identification, age-identification, class-identification, etc. Content should be pushed out to targeted demographics using @ cc’s, direct messages, email digests, or recommendations surfaced on the site.
2. Targeted by interest. New followers and readers should be grouped according to interests. For example, a tech publisher might classify readers on interest in hardware versus software, mobile versus desktop, etc. Classifications can be based on data flowing through cookies or social media profiles. Again, content should be distributed through @s, dm’s, emails, and recommendations.
3. Human, not hollow. The secret to social media interaction is to avoid the affect of automation, even where automation is unavoidable. Twitter responses from official, anonymous accounts should still betray the touch of a human team. That’s why NASA’s Mars Rover Twitter account has been so successful. Use first-person, avoid PR speech and marketing filtration, and rely on cultural references to communicate human intelligence (or the lack thereof). Obviously automated and generic “mass mailings” come across as hollow. As a publishing operation scales, accomplishing #1 and #2 while maintaining #3 becomes more difficult. Developing a thorough social media style guide that rejects “hollow,” mechanical, and computerized affect can help ease the resource burden.
4. Don’t play defense. Don’t wait for followers and readers to query you. Reach out and ask for opinions from individual readers based on #1 and #2. Use the search function on social media platforms to find small-time influencers outside of your core audience, and based on their demographic profile and interests, bring them into the conversation around your content. Although mentions, retweets, and comments should receive customized responses, there’s no reason to wait for inbounding engagement. Start personal engagements before your readers.
5. Reactive, not responsive. Never just “respond” to conversations on social media platforms, reader inquiries, or inbounding messages. Be reactive. When a publisher is responsive, he concludes an engagement series. “It’s a wrap.” Instead, react to readers. Think about starting new engagements from otherwise limited interactions.
Building an audience means building an army of one. Or rather, an army of many ones. Over time, the resource intensive production of custom content distribution channels can be transitioned into permanent pseudo-custom structures. Therein, individual readers, though incorporated into selected demographics, feel like distinct, independent consumers.