Hard marketing truth: you don’t need to make more content. You need more eyeballs on the content you already made.
You wrote the post, designed the one-sheet, tabulated the data, or created a compelling case study. But beyond your own social profiles and networks, how do you get your content in front of more people? And not just any kind of people, but the ones that will convert to your service, offering or cause? The key to grow awareness is by leveraging the audiences of others!
This is known as earned media, where someone else promotes you without you having to pay money for it. One of the most effective ways is by promoting content that you know their audience will move. This is known as content distribution or fractional content.
But this shouldn’t be purely a ‘more numbers’ game. The name of the game is putting your hard work in front of quality audiences that will convert!
In this article, I will cover the importance of earned media and audience research, why they’re so valuable for marketing teams and provide resources to help you get started.
Let’s start with a pep talk:
It’s really easy to get into a loop of creating content, blasting it out on a few marketing channels at launch and then back to creating the next thing. There always seems to be a new blog post, freebie or white paper to put together. It feels damn good to ship something.
But ask other entities to promote that content outside our own controlled channels? Eeek. That scares off a lot of creators and marketing teams. Two things to consider:
- If it was worthy to produce, it deserves to be seen by as many of the right people as possible. In fact, you should put more effort into promoting than creating. That’s true marketing strategy.
- Having a small social following, few newsletter subscribers, limited team skillsets and budget is no longer an excuse for poor results. A wider audience is literally at your fingertips.
Let’s dive into how we blow open the door on your audience reach, shall we?
Audience research: the opposite tactic of ‘spammy cold emails’
You can always tell who doesn’t do audience research. We’ve all received annoying emails from people we’ve never heard of asking for backlinks, guest blog posts and other digital favours. Rarely do they understand who our target audience is, what would be helpful to them and increase our own bottom line. It seems more like a ‘spray and pray’ approach to marketing. And it fails miserably. Junk-folder fodder.
Instead, audience research gives you a treasure map where X marks the spot of your ideal audience, built up at a larger scale than your own.
Find out where your target market hangs out online
It costs nothing but time and basic spreadsheet skills to perform audience research. OK, a little creativity, too. The job to be done is to make an A list of where your audience hangs out. What do they read? Listen and watch? Trust and amplify without a second thought? Places to look include:
- Social media accounts (Twitter lists are are awesome way to organize this)
- Influencers who’s audience talks about the thing you offer or bring awareness to. Lifestyle bloggers, coaches, reviewers – sky’s the limit.
- Podcasts (and their guests)
- Books and magazines
- Associations you’re a member of (and their national and international equivalent)
- Your existing clients
- Colleagues and associates
Ways to find out this information:
- Interview your best clients/customers. Seriously, just ask where they hang out online. Customer Camp has an awesome DIY system that makes this a breeze. I use it to help my own clients dig deeper in what their ideal audience wants in terms of SEO and rebranding projects.
- Surveys sent out at the conclusion of your service or engagement.
- See who else your social media followers follow.
- Review sections and review sites that make sense for your industry (they may point out competitors or reveal lifestyle choices that help you reverse engine where they hang out.
I want to highlight my personal favourite that covers most of this list in one tool: SparkToro.
SparkToro takes audience market research to a whole new (and easy) level
Hands down my favourite tool for audience research is SparkToro. This is because it folds all of what I said above into one handy platform. You search based on:
- What you audience talks about
- Specific words in their profile
- Specific social account they follow
- Website they visit
- Hashtag they use
- Or analyzing a specific website or social account
- Which you can also filter down by location
Depending on the plan you have, it returns results on a sample of people (often in the 1,000’s or 10s of thousands, don’t sniff at those numbers – it’s just a sampling!):
- Top words in their Twitter bios
- Top hashtags they use
- Frequently used phrases
- Social accounts they frequent
- Websites they frequent
- Podcasts they listen to
- YouTube channels they watch
- Press they were covered in
- All exportable into CSV
- The links are all one-click so you can instantly go to the social profile or channel and start your research
They even have a free plan for you to play around with, where you get 5 searches a month. This article is a great primer of how to use the tool effectively. I can’t recommend it enough to small marketing teams!
Once you have a juicy list of places your key audience hangs out online… it’s time to go hang out with them.
Become a part of other entities’ community and pay attention
So there’s no way to fast track this step. Do the best you can to become a part of their community and monitor what content is put out. You’ll want to:
- Comment without promoting. Be helpful if that’s allowed (say, in a Facebook group) but don’t come in hot and heavy. You’re there to observe and add to the conversation.
- Audit content already put out. See what got more comments, downloads, reviews, or whatever engagement makes sense for the platform.
- Note what flops too, or is received in a way you weren’t anticipating. This may help eliminate what content you were thinking of pitching.
- Look for gaps or opportunities where you think your content could come to the rescue.
- Note the way things are phrased, both by the entity and the audience. What words keep coming up? What topics?
- Note any super-fans or contributors. They could be yours, too, in the near future…
Really, this can be a continual part of R&D for your team. Don’t pitch immediately. Gather useful intel and get a real sense of what this community is all about. Pretend you’re a mighty lioness in the tall grass. You’re waiting for the perfect time to pounce…
Questions to ask before your pitch your content to earned media
Being specific matters. You don’t want to be like those ‘spray and pray’ spam emails. You’ve got to be very clear on the value you’re going to give to the entity you want to pitch. Answer the following questions:
Who do we want to reach?
For some marketing teams, this could mean your entire audience, but it’s better to think about specific subsets of your target market with specific needs.
Meh: We want to reach more parents.
OK: We want to reach Canadian parents with toddlers.
Awesome: We want to reach busy Canadian parents who are worried about their toddler’s fussy eating habits.
What kind of content do we want to put in front of them?
You’re going to look through what you’ve already published and pick one piece to promote. You can rinse and repeat the process later with other content. The goal is to make your ask as simple as possible, so offering up 3 or 4 ideas is too much. You’re in marketing, so frame this in a way that is honest but impossible to ignore:
Meh: Any of our blog posts about parenting.
OK: Our #1 blog post about overcoming fussy eating habits with toddlers.
Awesome: Our amazing PDF guide featuring 20 parenting & health expert tips on the topic of toddlers and food.
Why would this matter to them?
It is so important to articulate why the content you want to promote will be of value to someone else’s audience (and why its worth them doing the work to promote it). This can take the most time to hash out, but the pitch literally relies on getting this right.
Meh: The guide is useful and well designed.
OK: The guide features 20 tips from well known experts and has recipes.
Awesome: The guide features 20 tips from well known experts such as ____ and _____, and also includes 10 cheap recipes to help busy parents feed fussy toddlers easily.
Pitch your amazing content when the moment is right
A lot has been said about how to pitch the right way. I want to focus on when that moment is right. These are some ideal situations:
- It’s been at least two months. Honestly, I’d wait four+. You need solid data confirming this audience is going to freakin love what you’re thinking about pitching. This also gives you enough time to see if the audience is even engaged enough to warrant the effort.
- You figure out who you actually need to reach to pitch. Sometimes that’s in plain sight, but often it takes a while to suss out if it’s the moderator, author, editor, or someone higher up.
- You see a trend of audience members looking for something you offer. This gives you proof that you really do understand the audience. You can mention this in your pitch to up that “holy, they really DO know our audience” factor.
- You know a seasonal/time sensitive topic is on the horizon and you want to help the person you pitch to make their content creation cycles easier. Now you’re a superhero!
- You are 100% confident you could craft a pitch that would legit excite the person you’re pitching, with as little mention to how the transaction would benefit you.
The benefits of audience research for earned media
In terms of benefits, earned media via content distribution isn’t just about the end goal of conversion, awareness or revenue. There are additional rewards to taking the time in getting to know your audience in this way.
You learn what does (and does not) resonate with your target audience
By watching what other entities put out, you get to see in real time what really attracts your audience, and what falls flat. This can be really inspiring, or downright eye opening. Pay attention to the response, how people talk about the content, and who/what else they mention tangentially to it. Basically this is covert market research!
You become less of an ‘ annoying cold pitch’ and more of a collaborative partner.
Since you’ve come to really know the other brand’s audience, your approach when it comes time to pitching will be so much more from a place of mutual understanding instead of annoying cold pitch. You’ll know exactly what their audience needs, in a way that feels reciprocal, not demanding.
People want to work with those they like, know and trust. By spending the time openly engaging with their audience, you’ve got your foot in the door. Creepy-ass “I read your blog post add this link please” email ghouls will have to wait behind the velvet rope as you make your way into your future collaborator’s club.
You stop ‘creating’ and instead focus on promoting what you already made.
This talking point was mentioned at the start, but I’m putting it here again because it’s that important. No one is missing out on the thing you didn’t create yet. Too many people are missing out on what you already made.
You might learn a thing or two about your own cause/topic/audience
Even if it turns out the brand you follow doesn’t nibble on your pitch, the time you spend understanding their audience should still give you buckets and buckets of market research gold. Words and phrases you see become perfect copywriting fodder for landing pages, newsletters and (dare I say it) future content. You see different perspectives on the topic beyond your own as a service provider. Troubleshooting, feature requests, consumer concerns… you’re capturing it all and you didn’t even have to outsource a firm to get it!
You deepen your own connection to the greater cause through people
No brand is an island. It’s important to embrace and engage with other entities that care about the topics and causes you do. Sure, you may have started this strategy to get eyeballs on your content, but you also gain something bigger. Something deeper that can only happen when you’re truly receptive to listening to what others have to say. It can remind you of why you got started in your industry to begin with. It can also help you and your team members see your niche or industry from a different perspective.
Audience research and earned media resources
This is a continuously updated list of things I think will help your team perform better and more rewarding audience research and content distribution. If there’s an astrick next to the link, it is an affiliate (because I legit use these tools and recommend them to clients all the time.)
Awesome marketers and newsletters to follow
- Rand Fishkin on Twitter: co-fonder of SparkToro. Always great insight.
- Amanda Natividad: VP of marketing at SparkToro. Her newsletter is an awesome blend of audience intelligence and home cooking. Seriously.
- Katelyn Bourgoin on Twitter: CEO of Customer Camp. Their newsletter dives into buyer psychology in 3 minutes a week.
- Crystal Richard who has a really great blog about DIY PR.
- My own Notable Numbers newsletter is monthly roundup of tips, tricks and inspiring stats to help you do more with your content online.
- Don’t Hit Publish: handy tool that reads over your content to make sure it doesn’t suck
- Foundation Inc’s The Lab: blog and resource center all about content distribution
- For The Interested: Josh Spector’s marketing newsletter for creators that I save just about every email.
- Alex Llull: all about maximum Twitter growth via his Writing The Steal Club newsletter.
- LinkedIn Together: regular live webinars about all things LinkedIn in terms of growth. Don’t sleep on this platform!
- Social Media YOU Can Use: awesome newsletter by Anita Kirkbride with great tips and also updates you on new features coming to all the major platforms so you can beef up your strategy.
Tools to help with audience research, content distribution and earned media
- Spark Toro: amazing audience research tool you wish you knew about sooner
- Customer Camp Clarity Calls: a DIY client/customer interview system for conducting phone interviews.
- Dialpad: affordable cloud communication platform I use when I perform 1:1 customer interviews. Auto record and AI transcription.
- Krisp:* background noise cancellation software for when you conduct interviews.
- Digital PR School: as the name suggests, an online course for brands that want to DIY PR.
- HARO (Help A Reporter Out): media requests emailed to you 3xs a day. Doesn’t get any lower hanging fruit than that.
- Trello: a Kanban-style organizing tool to help you organize your earned media strategy.
- Hoo.be: Linktree on visual steroids
- WeVideo:* to me the EASIEST video editor out there. Crank out different versions of your video content quickly and easily.
- Google My Business posts are a quick and easy way to give additional visibility to your content