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Earned engagement and fragmented audiences: kickstart your process in the enterprise
Need to supplement your PR efforts to capture the parts of your audience you're not yet reaching? Columnist Garrett French shares his company's process for testing content and expanding into valuable niche publications.
The problem: You have a PR team. They keep getting great coverage… in the same 10 publications. You have a content team and dozens of writers. Engagement has never been higher, but they don’t think beyond the confines of your website.
The solution: Your content, your brand, your expertise needs a way out to the hundreds if not thousands of niche publishers who collectively speak to the whole of your fragmented audience.
The content development process for reaching diverse audiences
What follows is my agency’s process, refined so that one person (you) can start up, test, perfect and pass the job off to your content team. In six to nine months of steady effort, you’ll develop operations for reaching those untouched publishers that PR doesn’t want anyway, thus building referral traffic and increased brand recognition from “lost audiences” (and maybe a link or three).
1. Choose your targets
Pick five to 10 publishers where you think brand exposure could drive a return on your time and effort. These will be publishers that are too small/niche for PR to bother with.
To find them, you could look at the title tags of publishers your PR team already pursues and engages with, then search Google for those terms + [news], [blogs], [community]. Also, try this Google query — [related:adomainthatPRtargets.com] — and see what comes up.
2. Vet your target sites
Review the home pages of these publishers to assess and catalog their audience goals. Namely, who is their audience, and what does the publisher seem to provide them? Takes notes: Write 30 to 50 words per publisher to guide yourself.
Batch the sites if more than one fits under a single audience type — that’s a good thing!
3. Put together a list of topics
Write a topics list based on these publishers. What audience pains do they write on consistently? Observe repeating topics from publisher to publisher. In particular, how are these pains expressed in the titles of their articles? This is critical for further publisher discovery. For example: [intitle:”Article Topic You Noticed” inurl:blog].
Also, are the intended audiences mentioned in the titles? Try this query: [intitle:”for Audience Persona X” inurl:blog].
Note: The [intitle:topic/audience inurl:blog] combination will not only spark Captchas but will lead you to green prospect pastures that PR — and indeed most SEOs — would not have considered in the first place.
4. Brainstorm a “source contributor” list
Who, internally or externally, can you interview to comment on or contribute to these topics you have discovered? Can you find any experts out there on the internet? Do you know any hard-to-access experts or potential contributors? Are there existing writers and publishers who could make good contributors? What stories do your customers have, and what can get them to talk?
5. Learn what your source contributors have to say
Pick one or two folks (ideally internal, already-invested people who won’t require convincing and won’t mind your figuring this out as you go), and have a 30- to 45-minute conversation around the topics you’re considering.
- What are the hidden issues — what are they angry, upset and excited about?
- What angles should be off-limits based on brand?
- In what ways do your questions display ignorance, and how do you ask smarter, more interesting questions?
6. Create a “pitchable titles” list
These are working titles and potential directions, and they enable productive conversations with publishers. This is your “menu,” and now you have to hit some inboxes to test your offering and try to drum up some order.
7. Conduct outreach
Contact the publishers you’ve identified, and let them know what you can deliver: stories, interviews, experiences, expertise as it relates to the topics you saw mentioned on their site over and over again. Phone is best if the publisher is willing, but the purpose here is to test demand for the topical insights you can deliver.
You are in sales here: Listen well, listen consultatively, observe the hesitations and uncover the objections. We have observed that bloggers are highly open to publishing interesting stories — nothing against how-to and expertise-based placements, but good stories get snapped up like nothing else.
8. Refine your pitches
Develop further questions for your source contributors based on publishers’ topical demand, and conduct complete interviews with as many people as will speak with you.
Ask emotive questions, not just expertise questions. Emotive questions (“How did it feel the first time XYZ happened?”) give you stories and can extract expertise in ways that 10,000 fact-based interview questions can’t.
Do have a few conversation-starter questions prepared, then chase any stories, peculiar hints, long pauses and anything else that indicates you’ve struck a valuable vein. You’ll be giving your material the full story treatment. Take or request pictures. You’re going branded journalist, so that the results of your interviews can take a natural form, imposed by the shape of the story.
The authorial role here is more like panel moderation — tease out core lessons and write them up yourself, using quotes to support the broader learnings, message and theme.
Yes, you are creating quintessential “great content.”
9. Write and place your content
Your writerly output will be a core-findings flagship document that will live on your site. It tells the main story. It has great pictures and connects with your core audience. In addition, you write satellite interview-based articles that you place with your “second-tier niche sites” (and, if possible, link back to your flagship piece).
In some cases, your interview subjects may choose to link to your core document. If they have websites, ask them for mentions, along with shares to their social networks, email lists, print publications and so on.
As for the satellite pieces, you have already gotten your orders in from the publishers — now deliver the goods, and make any adjustments as they require. If it makes sense, include links to appropriate pages on your site where referral traffic could take a next step.
10. Rinse and repeat!
This is your foray into publishing unique branded content and learning to be the intermediary between the fragmented audiences and sources of story/expertise. Playing this facilitator or “marketplace” role puts you in a position to learn what drives your publishers and keeps you in connection with the source informants who provide you with original, brandable material.
Get a few of these projects executed before you get fancy with brand, referral or link objectives, though. You’re learning so much for your organization that it helps to get the content supply and demand figured out before you start asking for input from other departments.
A bit more on audience fragments
You can’t quite ever know where a productive audience fragment may be hiding out. Metrics like Domain Authority don’t tell you much on this account, nor does Alexa ranking, TLD, domain name, whether it’s a Blogger blog and so forth.
You have to test — and oftentimes, simply buying an ad is not enough to know whether or not you have a good fit with a given publisher. PR doesn’t really (seem to, in my experience) scale, and simply writing a host of how-to guest posts and trying to get them placed doesn’t get you into enough of the right doors.
Practice and adapt the process above to test, and grow your reach to your fragmented and currently untouched audiences online.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.