Here, at BuzzSumo we obsess a lot about outreach, and we know a lot of inbound marketers do as well. The benefits of tapping into major Twitter and YouTube influencers and communities is obvious: they help spread your content/brand to a wider audience.
But unless you’re a smooth, charismatic talker, or have many friends in the journalism industry, finding those influencers and convincing them isn’t easy at all.
I decided to interview 15 inbound marketers, and ask them how they develop their outreach strategy, and their 1 greatest outreach challenge. Here is what they had to say:
Want to get started on your own outreach strategy?
My main business is creating content for others, so my goal for outreach is to promote the content I’m creating (primarily blog posts) for increased traffic, social engagement, and links.
I’ve built a lot of relationships simply by following influencers in the online marketing world on social media and jumping into conversations whenever I can, plus commenting on their blog posts and sharing them with my audience. — Kristi Hines
I usually keep outreach for content promotion short and sweet by using simple Twitter direct messages.
I wish I could have a more automated way to measure the results of my social outreach. Because I write for dozens of publications, it’s hard to track each individual post’s social sharing stats. I also don’t have time to enter each post into a tracking tool. What would be superb is if I could use an RSS feed to automatically put my new content links into an analytics tool (much like BuzzSumo) that would measure the social engagement of my posts.
The goal of an outreach campaign is to bring awareness to something of value. Obviously that, in itself, has multiple benefits, be it building links to a great digital piece, links to the site and/or building overall brand awareness/relevance. But the purpose of the outreach is to introduce something awesome to the people who will find it awesome – whether it’s an infographic, a video, an animation piece, an ebook, a cause, or something else entirely. It’s pretty simple.
First, we want to get a solid of understanding of what we’re trying to do. What’s the goal of the outreach?
If we’re building awareness of a new campaign – what is going to make someone care about it? Why would they share it? What’s the motivating factor? For example, over the summer we launched a campaign around safe medicine disposal and we knew two of our prime audiences were mothers of young children and caregivers. If that’s true, then we know what our focal points are when we reach out. We also know what to focus the content around.
Once the content is created, and we have a general idea of where it’s going, we have many tools for finding the right people. One, of course, is BuzzSumo which I’m plenty obsessed with.
One feature I like about BuzzSumo is the ability to search a domain name for popular content and then dig into to see not only what topics have resonated with that audience, but who specifically shared it.
We’re able to use this information to put together media and prospect lists we can build upon. BuzzSumo really helps create that initial list which, for many people, is the hardest part of any outreach initiative.
I’m also very lucky to have a full public relations team at my disposal. They’re very skilled in analyst relations. They not only earn clients enviable coverage in outlets like USA Today, The New York Times, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, etc, but they’re really good at identifying and developing those relationships. Being able to combine the powers of traditional public relations with digital outreach is super beneficial to our company and our clients.
We rely on shared online documents and project management software to keep our internal team up to date on each customer touch point. I also rely very heavily on browser plugins (like Boomerang) to help me manage the outreach process and keep track of who I emailed, when and what the response was.
From there it’s sweat equity. And being able to write a really, really good outreach email.
Building media lists is still a time-consuming task I wish happened automagically. 😉
Sharon Flaherty, Founder of BrandContent
I have a real bug-bear with any business objective to be solely to build links. Link-building should be part of the puzzle and not the sheer focus of SEOs. I come from the school that believes that your marketing activity should be content-led and outreach should be about generating interest in and engagement with your content or campaign – links are the bonus and come naturally because the content is great and people want to link to it because it has become the subject of a debate or there is an asset that is part of the campaign that is naturally appealing people want others to experience what they have.
I don’t like the forced nature of link-building. I have never believed in, for example, blogger incentives such as sending them ipads to get into bed with them. This is not how you would make friends in real-life so outreach relations should be no different. It’s not about buying attention, the content should be good enough that people want to engage with it and want to link to it.
2) What’s your current workflow when it comes to performing outreach?
We flip the traditional workflow on its head. Distribution of content can often be the after-thought, the last part of the puzzle and campaign. All focus goes on the idea then outreach and distribution comes last. But by flipping it, you have a higher chance of engaging your targets and it being a success.
The most important point to not lose sight of is that outreach is an on-going process. You shouldn’t design a campaign and then contact your influencers, bloggers or journalists to seed it just when you need them to. You wouldn’t ignore your personal contacts or friends all year until you needed them to help you with something and the same goes for influencer relations. If you know you have a campaign coming up that will involve targeting a certain niche of people, you should be building those relationships before the campaign is off the ground and while it is just an idea.
If you are taking on a new client, once the content strategy is in place, this is the ideal time to start building the outreach audience- long before you need them. That way, when the campaign is ready you have had contact with your targets, had time to nurture that community, invested time in sharing and engaging with the content they share and that way they will be more susceptible to you when you need their help. Remember to offer to help them with any tips or data they need too in the short-term when building the relationships. Don’t forget it is a relationship and it requires time invested in it.
The impossible! The personal 1-2-1 contact! Engagement requires a lot of time and thinking ahead. Adding value to your targets community and personal social channels, or publication will put you in favour but it is a full time job. But you can’t and shouldn’t automate the personal touch if you want to remain authentic and individual.
Alex Chaidaroglou, Beyond Backlinks
– To pitch for a guest appearance (interview, guest post, participation on podcasts), which includes a mention of the business. The end goal can be relationship building, email subscribers, thought leadership, links, exposure, or a combination of the above.
– To increase awareness of an existing piece of content. This can lead to social shares by influencers and/or influential links. It works particularly well with infographics.
To find them, coincidentally, we will start by using a combination of Buzzsumo and the classic Google Search. Usually, that’s enough since the 2 of them will provide more than enough results. Some times though, we will also use specific social media channels and/or forums.
The first things we look at, are Domain Authority (provided by MozBar) and PageRank (provided by SEOquake bar). These are a good and fast indicator of where a media outlet stands.
However, they are not always accurate and we are looking for a second confirmation. This comes from blog comments, social shares and the engagement they receive on their social media. If any of the above looks unnatural, based on our experience, we will investigate further.
This process is crucial, since it will unveil both hidden gems and shady blogs.
We have a Google Spreadsheet for each project, that we use to keep track of dates, touch points, progression, publications, etc.
Building relationships is important, but most important is being someone people want to be associated with. That’s why it’s important to promote wherever you are mentioned and give back, or at least personally thank them for it. It goes a long way.– Alex Chaidaroglou
The most time consuming activity is doing your homework before pitching someone and sending personalized emails. A part of it could be automated, but even so, I would never automate it.
That’s because if we automated some aspects of our business (like that one), it will show and ruin one of our competitive advantages.
Sean Doggendorf, Marketing Strategist at Moosylvania
When performing outreach, the main goal is to gain awareness and build lasting relationships. It’s more effective to have a reliable partner that you can share resources and information with in the long-term, rather than pursuing a quick link. This can take the form of cross-promoting their content in the form of links, social shares, and mentions that you’d actually vouch for. Genuine and organic outreach may start to come from some of these relationships, which is when the true magic starts to happen. There’s also more give-and-take in the relationships where you can simply ask if there’s a resource they haven’t been able to find, and then create it for them.
Creating larger, more valuable resources has taken precedence. In order to get results and effectively serve an audience, it’s about creating the most comprehensive and useful content surrounding a certain topic. There still needs to be the “wow” factor in the quality of content before outreach is performed, since content creation is continuing to accelerate in production every day. To stand out and be valuable, the content simply needs to be the best thing out there that’s relevant to the audience’s needs.
Creating personalized messages is always a time consuming aspect of outreach, but it’s also one of the most important. Modular outreach templates and canned responses are a way to combat this issue, with some custom tweaking make each time. A tool that can quickly pull relevant interests of the person you’re reaching out to would be very helpful, whether it be from social media, content on their website, or other media they’ve posted. Word cloud generators are a strong starting point here, but the process could be more refined. It takes time to get to know a person and their interests, so anything that makes this process easier would help save time.
James Norquay, Consulting Director at Prosperity Media
When we do outreach for clients the end goal could be numerous things such as –
1. Promoting a new content marketing asset we have developed with the client.
2. Acquiring relevant High Quality links for the client as part of an SEO campaign.
3. Some clients we complete “outreach only” where the client requires a company to provide high quality outreach list. Once this process is complete we hand over the list of connections made with specific site’s and the client is then able to grow the relationship over time.
When we complete outreach we look for numerous methods via prospecting for target sites and target users –
1. Reverse engineering your competitor’s link profile using tools like MajesticSEO.com
2. Using advanced search queries to find prospect sites
3. Use PR sites such as Source Bottle to locate relevant news prospects and blog outreach targets – (example Sourcebottle.com & MediaConnections.com.au)
4. Find relevant bloggers via Twitter search and Twitter lists.
5. Using tools like BuzzSumo.com (thanks for making this outreach tool Henley) to find top authority bloggers.
6. Finding relevant bloggers via blog directories (example http://blogchicks.com.au)
7. you can also scrape data from numerous source to assist your outreach process, plenty of good guides online like this one – http://www.matthewbarby.com/scraping-communities-with-xpath/
7. More information on the type of process we use for outreach can be found here – http://backlinks.com.au/high-quality-blog-outreach-strategies/
I think the biggest thing which speeds up process are sites like http://netcomber.com/ which allow you to quick pick good prospect sites from bad prospect sites using cluster reports.
With any outreach process you are always going to need a human touch, from making an email sound “Natural” to how you can “scale” a specific part of a project such as email.
Depending on how high end the task is for some outreach you may have to actually pick up a phone and talk to a site owner to get a link live. Or if you don’t pick up a phone you may have to use direct mail to acquire links – http://backlinks.com.au/using-direct-mail-outreach-to-gain-links-mentions-and-more/
The biggest challenge I find running an agency who does SEO/Outreach/ Content is actually finding people who know what they are doing. Who are able to push out quality projects and pick up instructions and do things correctly. So many freelancers and SEO’s you test claim to be experts yet when you let them on a project they do not actually have the skills to yield desired outreach results.
Jock Purtle, Founder of Digital Exits
The main goal is to build links to a specific piece of content.
The main workflow we look at in outreach is we first create an incredibly good sharable piece of content around a certain topic. For example “The Paleo Diet” once we have that piece of content we then go out and find sites that have content around that topic and ask them for a link.
Generally if we have created an exception piece of content then we will get links because the content is link worthy.
The main challenge is finding qualified sites that are likely to share our content. We are having quite a low conversion rate on outreach to actual link acquisition. Around the 1% mark.
The end goal of our outreach efforts are about building relationships that can be mutually beneficial over the long term. Building these relationships comes by helping each other out with growing ours and their audience. Once there is a relationship established, the goal would be to promote a specific piece of content that’s part of an overall inbound campaign. If we we’re running a campaign with an offer for an ebook about email list segmentation for sports manufactures then our outreach efforts and the content created as a result of the outreach would have to align with the goals of the specific campaign.
2) What’s your current workflow when it comes to performing outreach?
Before outreach activities even start, we develop influencer personas so when we’re doing research, we know who we’re looking for. We perform our research online using various magazines, media and articles within our target industry to find the people that match our persona.
We then usually reach out using Twitter, follow them, analyze their published content and try to understand them and their needs, challenges and goals. If it looks like they’re a good fit, we then start to invest time in engaging them, building the relationship and then asking if they would be interested in our project.
We use HubSpot to keep track of these influencer using Smart lists, Sidekick and now were just testing out the new HubSpot CRM. Basically we use the same tools to manage our influencer relationships that we use for our client prospects.
The biggest challenge is finding the influencer personas and finding as many quality ones as possible. The research takes the most time as it involves a lot of searching, reading and data capture and analysis. The research process takes a lot of time and when you do find them, engaging and nurturing that relationship can take time and commitment before you reach your intended goal.
Obviously getting a link to your website is something coveted by most SEO professionals, especially a “strong” link that should increase relevant traffic as well as hopefully give a little nudge upward in the SERPs. However, outreach goes beyond just acquiring a link. If you are outreaching with the goal to just getting a link to your site, then you are missing the point of doing outreach.
I like to call it, building human links, not just web links. Just like with web links, you may really want that link because the DA, PA, and backlink profile of that other site is amazing… and with another person, the same could be true. That person could be “linked” to other awesome people and by connecting with that person (linking) you become linked. Basically, enhancing your “Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon”.
You want to build relationships with the people your outreach to, join forces, help each other out, and become best amigos. Why? Because, A) It’s good to make new friends, B) You never know when you may need their help in the future or the other person may need your help in the future, or C) That person may be “linked” to someone who could help you out. This could result in many awesome opportunities, but in regards to SEO, it can mean teaming up to generate content that will generate numerous links.
So, don’t be afraid to go beyond emailing someone…call them…meet them at a conference…have coffee with them.
One of the biggest challenges is creating “compelling” content. The market is over-saturated with infographics, blog articles, and such on just about every topic in the world! The content you create now needs to really hit home with your target audience. You have to do research, create surveys, do interviews, and really dig deep to create something that will be useful (useful to your target audience, not you).
Companies need to stop thinking about their own self-interest, and think about what their potential client/customer wants. What will really benefit someone who wants to do business with my company? That’s what your content should answer.
I sometimes wish there was a “become friends” button. Let’s face it, we are all different and we like different things. So, when trying to outreach and “make a connection” with some people, they just don’t want anything to do with it.
You try what you can, without stepping over the line and becoming “creepy”, but sometimes the person just does not want to be your buddy. So, don’t take the rejection too hard and move on. There are after all, many fish in the sea.
The end goal depends on the stage you’re at in terms of relationship building with the person you’re engaging with. For example if you’re getting in contact with someone for the first time, the goal could be simply to get a positive response, whereas if you’re talking with a long-term contact it could be to setup a Q&A that generates content tat can be used as a link building opportunity. Typically you’ll be aiming to give the blogger a piece of content that their community will genuinely find useful; if it helps the client to tell their story or share an opinion, even better.
Excel is your friend when executing outreach! The first step is to identify the topics you can provide an opinion or content on. Then you go and do your desk research; finding the folks you’re looking to contact via Google, Twitter, WordPress or AllTop for example. Then the key is to capture them in a spreadsheet; I have an algorithm that uses Alexa, GPR & Inbound links to calculate relative influence so that they can then be tiered. Then it’s a matter of recording every engagement and making sure that there is an outcome at the end of each conversation.
The most time consuming element is finding people to engage with in a new sector. At Burson-Marsteller we have a really diverse client set and that means sometimes we’ll be looking to engage with groups for the first time in niche areas. Finding those networks manually is not the most efficient use of time, but conversely, it really helps you to understand the group dynamics at play.
It depends. Clients often say they just want raw “reach” – but if you quiz them further then usually you can start to identify specific audiences and what they want them ultimately to do. In terms of end goals, more often than not, people are looking for sales and/or leads. Part of the challenge is to show the impact that your social media activity has had. So in terms of outreach, activity is usually about trying to identify whether 3rd parties can be used to reach the end audience – and what might persuade them so share your content with their audience. You may wish to drive people to specific content. but you would usually want to know what do people do as a result of consuming that content – using Google Analytics for attribution analysis is helpful to understand both the direct and indirect contribution of your content marketing efforts.
There are a variety of tools available to help you try and identify relevant people. Buzzsumo is obviously one 😉 – particularly in terms of finding the the right kind and type of content for maximum sharing – as well as the people who are most likely to share particular types of content. Other useful tools include Traackr and Followerwonk. In terms of metrics, that is largely determined by the end goal – if you are simply going for visibility rather than engagement, then looking at follower numbers, etc might act as a guide (of course, you’d always use Statuspeople.com to sanity check that a Twitter account’s followers were real!). If you are going for engagement, the using Buzzsumo to look at things like reply ratio.
Everything? 😉 In all seriousness, it doesn’t take long to create a first pass list for a potential target group. The time consuming piece is the manual research that goes into checking whether or nor a certain person or outlet would be a valid target and working out the optimal timing of outreach and what type and kind of content would best appeal to your target group.
For us the end goal can change depending on the kind of content that we are creating. If we have produced some image based content that requires people to discover more on the site of client then ideally we would want that link to go to the page. On the other hand if we produce image based content that can live and breathe on its own without any context, this we can happily live with a link to the home page of a client as the source. If we have something that is interactive in nature then we are going to want to drive people to the actual content so that they can experience it.
Despite diminishing returns for infographics in some sectors we still use them and still see reasonable results, so it wouldn’t matter at all. We like to leave it in the hands of the bloggers and writers that cover the content to make the decision.
We have a pretty simple workflow. We use several tools to find possible people to approach from Buzzsumo to followerwonk and the other usual suspects (Link Prospector, Ontolo, Google, other blogs, blogrolls, serendipity). Each of the guys at Boom have their own preferred methods and it is important not to quash success and creativity with out of date, written down processes.
We keep track of touch points history and relationships via Buzzstream. It is hands down the best way to keep everything under one roof and share as much knowledge across a team with very little friction.
Whilst the building of lists is relatively quick and pain free, it is the qualifying of prospects that takes the time. If there was some way of automating this side of things that would be quite cool.
If you could run analysis on the topics of a site (in a similar way to Majestic) that lets you quickly unqualify sites based on the relevancy hat would be quite cool. If you had some sort of threshold for this that you set yourself that eliminates sites form the project it could save valuable minutes per site. Whilst that doesn’t sound like a lot, if you have a team of outreachers looking at hundreds of sites a day it soon becomes worthwhile.
A similar issue arises when you are looking for relevant hooks with the people that you are approaching. We all know that in an ideal world we would have a lovely long standing relationship with the people (yadda, yadda) that we are approaching. In the real world that isnt that realistic. We also know that it is very easy to see through the bullshit of someone throwing around false platitudes. If you could automate the process of bringing social account data into the outreach process quickly and easily it would save countless hours of scanning through Twitter and facebook and Instagram just to get an idea of what actually makes people tick – also see: what pisses people off (possible Buzzsumo and Buzzstream tool integration ;))
Also automated link building – that would be cool – noone has thought of that yet have they? I think I am on to winner with that one.
When performing outreach, my goals change depending on which stage of a campaign I’m in. In the early days, my main purpose for outreach was almost strictly link building. Lately, when I do outreach it’s typically to build relationships with influencers to first help produce content and then to finally promote it.
My outreach workflow also changes depending on what goals I’m trying to accomplish. Typically, I look for influencers first on BuzzSumo. While the total number of followers can be important, the metrics most important to me deal with their level of engagement with others on the platform. If I’m trying to promote content to their Twitter audience, “Average Retweets” is pretty important as it can show how receptive their followers are to their content. If I’m trying to work with them on a site they contribute to, both “followers” and “average retweets” pale in comparison to individual engagement metrics like “reply ratio”.
I have to say that, thanks to BuzzSumo, most of the things that bugged me about outreach have been solved/automated. I guess if there were some sort of magic Rolodex that recorded every interaction I had with a particular influencer and stored it in a database, that would be pretty awesome.
In most cases the end goal in mind is to create partnerships for specific campaigns or piece of content the result in links or social exposure.
Outreach usually starts with influencers in the industry or target market directly correlated to the content. When links are the end goal it is important to find partnerships that maintain a high domain authority as to provide value to the link at the same time be socially active(blogs that have posts getting 1-2 shares are not going to get the exposure that the campaign needs). Organising my inbox with folders categorising the stages of my outreach seems to be my most productive form of keeping track.
Sifting through potential partnerships. Being able to filter blogs in ones step( Domain Authority, #of posts, Social activity per post, and other metrics)
The goal is always to spread awareness about the site you’re doing outreach for. Of course you want to build links, but it’s important to get links on a website that’s relevant. It’s no good to have a link on a site that’s completely unrelated. In that case, you’re not helping your client or the site you’re offering content.
Recently I’ve been using http://wefollow.com/. The site lets you search by interest and gives you a list of prominent influencers on the topic through their twitter feeds. They also help you stay super organized through folders and by never deleting your emails so you can always refer back to them when building a relationship.
The hardest part for me is actually finding the people who are influential in a specific field. Once you identify someone, it can be a whole new search to find the best contact information to reach them.
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