Why (and How) Small Marketing Departments Should Engage in Collaborative Content

July 5, 2017

Colleagues collaborating on a couch

Generating collaborative content is a simple and effective way to generate new content, create inbound links, and access other social media networks. It can also energize your own marketing efforts. Here are some tips for time-strapped smaller marketing departments.

If you’ve never heard of collaborative content, you’re probably putting up the buzzword blast shield. Don’t worry, you won’t be rewriting your marketing strategy. It’s more of a tweak in how you generate content -- and it’s ideal for small marketing departments.

What is collaborative content?

Collaborative content involves creating content with other experts.  It can involve interviews or quotes from other individuals, and/or even co-writing content.

The goal is to collaborate with people who have large followings, and also companies with websites that have high domain authority. The collaboration should result in a win-win situation: You share the expert’s message and expertise with your audience, and in return, the collaborator shares your content with their audience.

Through this approach to content marketing, we’ve seen our clients’ keyword rankings skyrocket and our social media exposure improve dramatically. Along the way, we’ve picked up a few tips that will help you start creating good collaborative content.

Before we get to those, let’s cover a few reasons why collaborative content is so effective.

It validates your own position

You can blog on topics you know, and you should. However, collaborative content helps to have others validate what you’re saying.

One of our clients conducts vision therapy, which can be particularly helpful for people suffering from concussions. We reached out to other doctors who had conducted research validating the efficacy of vision therapy with head traumas. They linked to the interview post, and we had research to back up our position.

Note this type of collaboration isn’t just a pull-quote. We engaged in a full-on interview, including an audio snippet. It provides more depth for the post, and it gives the collaborator more incentive to share. Andy Crestodina, co-founder and Strategic Director of Orbit Media (and content marketing god):

“Journalists add sources. Marketers should too. But if you don’t invite them into your article, you’re missing an opportunity to build a relationship, to share ownership, to make the contributor feel invested in the success of the piece. It’s called ego bait and it’s very effective. It makes the contributor much more likely to share. An ally in creating the article is an ally in promoting it!”

It can show you’re well-connected and respected

Besides using research and data from other influencers to underscore your position, the mere fact that you have a number of collaborators working with you gives you gravitas.

For one of our clients, we’ve been publishing a post of annual predictions for several years. Instead of painstakingly reaching out to influencers we didn’t know, our post consisted of collaborators we’ve worked with for the past year.  

It’s a big list, and it showcased the client’s connections. The collaborators were eager to be a part of it, and linked to it from their website.  It’s a great example of how collaborating with influencers can truly help you. Consider this, from Gini Dietrich, founder and author of Spin Sucks, who also wrote this great piece on influencer relations:

“The great thing about influencers is they put their pants on one leg at a time...just like you do. And most are more than willing to help you out with an interview, a quote, a Q&A, even co-collaborating on content. When you include them in a piece (like Greg has done here with so many of us), they not only are willing to share your content, they're willing to help you promote it.”

It takes the pressure off your own organization

For small marketing departments, relying on your own company for content isn’t like pulling teeth. It’s actually harder than pulling teeth. (I pulled some teeth recently to verify this fact, and it’s true.)

Even if you’re just interviewing experts in your own company for a blog post, it’s a time commitment that most people just can’t make. We’ve had posts sit for weeks because individuals were too busy simply to read them and make a few comments.

And don’t even expect someone to contribute content for you, unless your company has a ridiculously high domain authority. You can’t blame them. They’re not paid for it, so why should they do it?

However, when you work with outside influencers, they have a greater motivation to help you. Free publicity, great exposure, minimal effort on their part. So you get the content without bugging your own people.

Especially for companies in niche markets, this doesn’t have to be a company with a huge following. It should also be someone you want to partner with for a long time. As Ann Handley of Marketing Profs notes:

“Don’t confuse size with influence. Uncover those people who have the trust and respect of their audiences -- not just those with the most followers. And think in terms of relationships, not  transactions. Too many businesses focus on what the collaboration can do for them, rather than how they can help the so-called influencer.”

It can actually generate sales

The whole point of inbound marketing is to generate traffic and leads. We’ve actually engaged in collaboration where the person we interviewed asked for a proposal from our client. We’ve also seen numerous partnerships result from collaborative content. (We’ve experienced them ourselves!)

David Fisher, sales consultant and author of Hyper-Connected Selling, sums it up:

“Getting a prospect’s attention is one of the biggest challenges for sales in a world of information overwhelm.  Collaboration leads to access, shared time, and communication that would otherwise require huge amounts of effort.  These become the base of a great conversation that can easily lead to uncovering additional opportunities.  Basically, the collaboration creates the trust that allows your partner to reciprocate your interest.”

It generates inbound links from websites with high domain authority

When we collaborate with influencers, we look for experts who have websites with a higher domain authority than ours. Then, when they link back from their website once the post is published, we can benefit from an inbound link from an authoritative site.

Above anything else, Google values high quality inbound links.  And collaborative content is a great way to generate them. Consider these thoughts from SEO guru Dave Davies of Beanstalk Internet Marketing:

“There is no sound to a person more pleasant than their own name and no other words more endearing than the ones they speak. Flatter people by calling them experts (as I was flattered when being asked to contribute to this very piece), mention their name in the article and you are almost guaranteed that the person will link and/or socially share what you've produced.”

It gives you exposure to other social media networks (and builds real friends)

One thing I dislike about how marketers approach social media is they seem like they’re always trying to “game the system.” Using bots to build followers. Retweeting other people’s content (without reading it) in the hopes they’ll tweet yours in return. The sad, impersonal list goes on.

When you collaborate on content, you can establish a connection before you even get to social media. Once you know the influencer, you’re not in the rat race of trying to retweet or share their stuff in the desperate and feeble hope they’ll notice you. You become friends outside the digital realm first, and that matters in a big way, according to Andrew Foxwell of Foxwell Digital.

"If you want to create quality connections, collaborate on content. Too often, content and the connections around them are rushed, which produces just another piece of content that doesn't truly add value. Build something together, and you build a bond."

Tips for effective content collaboration

Alright already! You’re convinced content collaboration is the way to go. Before you embark on collaborating with other influencers and experts, here are some recommendations.

1. Beware the time crunch -- pursue multiple leads

When we look for collaborators, we usually pursue 3-4 possibilities at one time. Think of it in terms of a 25% conversion rate: If you ask 4 people to collaborate, chances are you’ll only get 1 to join you.

That lower conversion rate especially applies to smaller websites when you’re first trying this approach.  

2. Don’t shoot for the big dogs -- until you really know the big dogs

The big influencers are definitely looking for new places to gain exposure, but they won’t go out of their way to help you if your website is lacking in domain authority and you have a small social media following.

If you really want to hit up a big dog, make a connection first. Meet them at a conference or go see them give a presentation. Be a real person -- they’re much more likely to help you when they know you personally.

3. Even inbound links from websites with low domain authorities count

We were amazed by how quickly our keyword rankings climbed, even from sites that didn’t necessarily have high domain authorities.  Even if they don’t have high domain authority, you can produce a post that gets widely shared and linked to.

The inbound juice will help you and your collaborator. Soon that inbound link from the collaborator’s site will take on more weight as their own site’s domain authority improves. All boats rise!

4. Count on people you know for expert round-ups

Expert round-ups are a great way to assemble input from a wide range of experts. You ask a question, and then you get a number of people to respond.

It’s going to be hard to corral the experts if you don’t know them. We’ve used the round-up technique both with influencers we knew and with influencers we didn’t know.  As you would expect, it was much harder to get submissions from influencers we didn’t know, and they were far less likely to share the post through their own channels.

5. Use suppliers, partners and related companies -- but beware the BIG CORPORATIONS

We’ve been very successful in reaching out to our clients’ suppliers for content. They can add in-depth information on an ancillary subject -- it’s great semantic keyword fodder.

However, this can run off the tracks when you’re working with a BIG CORPORATION. We had one such encounter when a bunch of corporate muckety-mucks rewrote the post to the point where it read like a brochure for their product. In the end, they didn’t even link to the post.

It’s hard to tell when you’re going to run into these cases. You’ll probably get a good sense how they’re going to react out of the gates. If you feel like they’re moving away from informational copy to sales copy, pull the plug. It’s not worth your time.

6. Sharpen your interview skills and budget time

Our definition of collaboration in this case includes us doing the writing, and the collaborator participating in an interview and reviewing the copy. A smart interview will really help you write a good post.

It takes time, especially for preparation before the interview. Collaborative content gets results -- just be ready to spend time to get it.

The ultimate reason to collaborate on content: It energizes everyone

This is kind of a strange and unexpected thing that resulted from our content collaboration. We found that by collaborating with other people, our clients got jazzed, the collaborators were excited, and naturally, we felt really good, too.

It’s the people connection that makes it work. Writing content all by yourself in a quiet room gets lonely. And when you’re lonely, you get grumpy and depressed and moss starts growing on you.

Collaborate with others, and you connect. You talk. You laugh. You share ideas and you learn.  Besides the gazillion digital marketing bonuses I mentioned above, I feel like at the end of the day -- results or no results -- this is why I like content collaboration most.

Note that the techniques I’ve mentioned here are ideally suited for small marketing departments, who have neither the time nor resources to reach out to multiple influencers for every collaborative post. But as you get bigger, the approach will work even better.

So get started today, and if you need someone to collaborate with on a post, give me a shout!

Greg Mischio is the Owner and Strategic Director of Winbound. Winbound provides an all-in-one content marketing and conversion optimization package specifically designed for small marketing departments. Check out their “Think Bigger” blog, filled with Internet marketing wit and wisdom for small marketing departments. Twitter: @gregmischio

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