This is a guest post by Srinivas Rao, the editor in Chief of Flightser. He writes about personal development at The Skool of Life and is the host of BlogcastFM, a podcast to help you take your blog to the next level.
Two months ago the CEO of our company asked me to take the lead on launching and growing a brand new travel blog. Flightster, is currently functioning only as a blog and will eventually become a fully functional flight booking engine within the next several months. Starting solely as a blog has shown us the tremendous power that a blog can have in building brand awareness.
Build Brand awareness
Leverage social media to Connect with the Online Travel Community
Building the Blog
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen companies make is to assume that the social media is “free.” Social media should be treated just as other marketing channels are. It should have a budget allocated for it. Our industry is heavily driven by extremely high PPC costs that can get up to 6 figures a month. My boss allocated $2500 a month for me to run the Flighster blog, which is an extremely small percentage of the overall marketing budget. However, $2500.00 is a substantial budget to run a blog if you know how to stretch it.
Putting together a team of writers was my first order of business once I was put in charge of starting the blog. Initially, I reached out to writers from other well established travel blogs in the hopes of getting them to write for Flightster. I got no responses except one letting me know that the writer had been locked into an exclusive with another popular travel blog. After that I decided to tap into my personal network. This is where the power of having my own blog became very apparent. If the person in charge of your corporate blog has his or her own blog and it has a following, put that person in charge of your company blog. The greatest asset that person brings to the table is a network of contacts with an established online presence.
My boss gave me the go ahead to allocate $75-100 per post for contributions, so I reached out to the best writers I could find in my network. I looked at people who I had interviewed for my podcast and those whose blogs I read on a daily basis. Below are the main criteria I looked for in a team of writers:
Good writers with established audiences who loved them
Blogs with Roughly 1000 Subscribers
Bloggers who were very active on Twitter
I reached out to a popular location independent blogger as my first step and I recruited the remaining writers based on his referrals, with only one exception who I hand picked after reading his blog. One simple way to look at this was “If I wouldn’t subscribe to their blog myself, then I wouldn’t hire them as a writer.”
#3 Editorial Policy
Prior to the launch of Flighster, I spent several months looking at many corporate blogs. When I compared them to the individual blogs I read on almost a daily basis, I noticed a major difference. Individual blogs had an interesting voice and sounded human. They were filled with comments and they kept readers coming back for more. Most company blogs sounded like a marketing brochure and they were incredibly boring. My solution was simple, a very loose editorial policy. If what made my writers popular on their own blogs was their writing, then I saw no reason to place many restrictions on them. I knew this would allow them to write the most interesting content possible.
#4 Timeless Content
I was given only one restriction from our CEO and that was to produce content that was timeless. You’ve heard this phrase “content is king” over and over again. By producing content that is “timeless” we could significantly increase the amount of time people spent on the site looking at our content. Timeless content is what gets shared over and over again. For many bloggers it’s not uncommon to have something popular they wrote over a year ago shared on twitter or Facebook, so I recommend companies take this same approach to content.
Marketing the Blog
After assembling the writing team, I started to think about the most efficient ways to market a blog. Growing my personal blog had taken over a year before it was really on anybody’s radar. With Flightster, I was determined to do this much faster so I decided to narrow my efforts down to 3 channels.
Channel 1 : The Audiences of the Writers
When I started the blog, I assumed that the audience that the writers brought with them would my greatest source of traffic. Part of my thought process in hiring them was that the marketing was already built into the content since I assumed their audience would follow them. As a result, we decided to sponsor the Way Below Status Quo Tour, a road trip across America where 3 bloggers were going to meet all of their readers in person. In exchange for the sponsorship, we asked for 3 posts a week on the Flightster Blog about the various destinations they were visiting. The cost was $100 per post. Given that their readers that they were meeting were also bloggers and people with an active online presence it provided yet another way for our message to spread. While it did give us a, nice initial kickstart, I knew that it was going to take a bit more to make the blog grow.
Channel 2: Facebook
With a budget of $2500 a month, the cost of a Facebook ad would go up very quickly and I wasn’t convinced that it would provide the most effective ROI. But I knew that a Facebook fan page would be essential at some point. So, I set up the fan page and allowed it to grow somewhat organically. The Facebook page is still a bit of a work in progress.
Channel 3: Twitter/My Personal Network
Given the budget I would require to get the most out of Facebook I decided to focus my efforts on Twitter. As a blogger, I noticed something about the audiences of Twitter and Facebook. They didn’t seem to have much overlap when it came to the everyday internet user. However, anybody who was a blogger seemed to be extremely active on Twitter. This was the group of people who could make a message spread. Additionally, I had my personal network of bloggers on Twitter who I have interacted with almost daily over the past several months.
A Campaign to Hire a New Writer
After staffing the blog with 4 writers, I decided to hire another writer. Rather than ask for writing samples and picking the one I liked best, I wanted to use the hiring process as a viral marketing tool. I asked the potential writers to do the following:
Write a Blog Post About Anything Travel Related on their own blog: I asked them to write on their own blogs because I knew it was something they would already be doing at least a few times a week. The thought process was to make it as as easy as possible for people to participate.
Link to Flighster in the Post: The goal behind this was simply to generate relevant inbound links from other travel blogs. My SEO knowledge is pretty limited to what I’ve read on various blogs, but I felt that this would also help get the word out about Fligtster among other travel bloggers.
Tweet the blog Post with the hashtag #FLIGHTSTER and follow us on Twitter: This allowed me to not only build a following amongst travel bloggers, but also stay engaged with all the participants throughout the course of the competition. Additionally, it proved to be a great tool for building awareness of the Flightster brand.
Get our Attention: In an effort to keep the engagement level with participants up, I gave them freedom to get our attention in any way they felt they could. The result was video submissions and a consistent sharing of their own content with the hashtag #Flightster.
Voting for the Next Fligthster: After allowing the contest to run for two weeks, we narrowed it down to 10 finalists. We then setup a poll enabling the readers to vote on their favorite writer, and encouraged the contest participants to promote their participation in the contest in order to get as many votes as possible. The result was a signficant jump in traffic.
The thought process behind the campaign had a few components. First I wanted to kill as many birds with one stone as possible. That is why I made connecting with us in all of our channels a component of the contest. Another thing that we wanted to do was to give the participants a sense of control over their participation in the contest. Many of the various contests have winners that are chose at random, thus reducing the incentive for people to participate. The result of this kind of contest is a “what are my chances” mind set. By allowing people to gather votes to become our next writer, we put them in control. Another interesting byproduct of the contest was that we facilitated an ongoing conversation between participants. Contestants commented on each other’s blogs and followed each other on twitter. We served as a connector.
Bloggers Who Participated: 24
Finalists in the Contest: 8
Traffic During the Contest
Traffic During the First 2 Months of Flightster
As you’ll see above, the results were decent for a brand new blog that nobody had heard of prior to its launch in early July. Without a doubt the campaign to hire a writer was the most effective tool we had in our arsenal which is what caused the biggest spike in traffic. The cost of running this campaign: ZERO DOLLARS.
Engagement vs. Numbers:
One of the things that might surprise some people is that this was all done with roughly 300 followers on twitter and only 130 Facebook fans. If you have thousands of followers who don’t interact with your brand, then you are really missing the point of being on Twitter. Out of the 300 followers, our engagement was focused primarily on the participants in our contest. You need followers who are actually engaged and interacting with your brand. Otherwise it’s like standing on top of a table in a crowded restaurant, wearing a ridiculous outfit and hoping people will want to talk to you. This might seem the like the slower way to grow on twitter, but it’s just slower when you start out. In the long run this approach will make you grow much, much faster. Just ask Scott Stratten, a guy who nobody knew last year and is now this years keynote speaker for Blogworld.
The Power is in a Network:
I can’t underscore how much my personal network played a role in this. Given that I have my own blog and a personal network, getting the word out about this contest was simply a matter of emailing all the bloggers who I had relationships with and asking them to share our post about our contest with their followers. Given that the post was about getting paid to write for a blog, it made complete sense for them to share it with their networks and I got no resistance at all. So, my advice is find out who in your company already has a network in place.
The Tipping Point and The Rule of 150:
A few weeks back I was listening to Malcom Gladwell’s book, the Tipping point for the second time and I came across a concept known as “The Rule of 150.” The basic idea behind this rule is simple. The highest number of social relationships we can effectively manage is 150 and it takes roughly 150 people to make an idea spread. This was the driver behind how I decided to approach building the Flightster following on Twitter and in my own personal brand. With my personal brand I have seen a significant jump in traffic and subscribers to my blog. What this all comes down to is one simple fact: Social media is building a “social” relationship with your brand.
Now Is Your Turn…
How do you build your blog from scratch? Does Social Media plays a big role in your blog-building plan? Share with us your story or if you have anything to ask Srinivas, do so in the comments below.
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