August 16, 2016

The Jeff Bullas Interview – Part I

jeff bullas

After we ran the Joe Pulizzi interview, we quickly wrote to Jeff and asked if we could pick his brains, first hand, on the digital and social marketing space. We wanted a “Power Talk” with Jeff Bullas! He was kind enough to offer us an entire hour on a Skype call. Jeff dwelt a lot on content marketing and offered a 360 degree view referencing individuals as well as organizations of various sizes at several times in the interview. This again is a really long interview and we thought it would make more sense to break this interview into 2 parts. While we will publish the 2nd part next week, here is the Part 1 and we hope you enjoy the read.

Scatter: Hi Jeff! Thanks for your time. Our first question is: Is digital marketing different for companies and individuals? Or is the basic recipe the same?

JEFF: It depends. It can be different. Like you would do case studies for B2B and you would do something much more visual for B2C. Some cooking or fashion brands are much better using Pinterest and Instagram because these are visual mediums. It’s getting your content to move and also getting that traffic from content. It’s about consumers engaging with that content. And there’s so many different types of media, as you guys know. I think Hub Spot listed at least 40-45 different types of media you could use. On top of that are the topics. So it’s a big ecosystem. It can be very complex. But the principles are the same: i.e. (1) discovering what resonates with the audience, (2) getting them to engage with you, (3) build the trust, credibility & (4) then reap the leads and sales.

I do think a lot of content marketers or social media marketers forget about that last piece. So it’s (a) traffic (b) engagement (c) followed by conversion. I really think that social media purists & marketers are lost in the vanity metrics of sharing, traffic & engagement. They’ve forgotten about that last piece i.e. conversion. That’s been my discovery in the last 2 years – as in I felt that I was getting the attention, getting the traffic and the credibility + trust. But I wasn’t working effectively enough at the last piece which is the ROI – the conversion.

Scatter: Okay, fair enough. Taking a cue from what you said right now, our next question is that most webmasters don’t believe that social media marketing is important for the overall content marketing objectives. What’s your take on this?

JEFF: Social media is great for what I call the top of the funnel brand awareness. You typically don’t sell well with social but you do create that brand awareness which is on top of the funnel. You’ve got to be discovered. It’s about multi-channel marketing. You don’t just say “I am just going to do Facebook” or “I’m just going to do social” or “I’m just going to do email marketing” or “I am just going to do search engine marketing” or “I am not just going to pay for…”

You know, as we discovered, Facebook changed the algorithms and suddenly traffic from Facebook dried up. Some people lost 90% of their traffic. They were so dependent from the organic traffic from Facebook. So, from a strategy perspective, I am grossly aware that things are always changing. The algorithms are always going to be tweaked, whether it’s search engine, whether it’s social media. And my goal is to take that earned attention from my tribes on social media, from the organic traffic from search engines and own it. And that’s my leads, that’s my emails. So after using the machines that actually helped me build my email list, I seriously started putting some effort behind that. I hired someone to help me to do that and I put in place a digital marketing automation platform.

Scatter: Jeff, you spoke about the change in Facebook algorithm. That actually brings us to our third question. What does the rapidly evolving social media scene mean for brands that only target one platform?

JEFF: Sorry. So what you’re saying is?

Scatter: So what we are saying is that there are brands that only target one particular social media platform. A brand only being on Instagram for example.

JEFF: I think that’s a very dangerous place to be. Because Instagram looks like it’s on the cusp of actually changing its USP to a popularity algorithm rather than a chronological algorithm. And Twitter actually did that a few weeks ago. My social traffic being on Twitter (it is not my only traffic source, but I found Twitter worked well for me) dropped by about 15%. It’s actually building back up again. I don’t know whether that’s because Twitter’s actually tweaked its algorithm or my tweets are getting ranked based upon the popularity algorithm. I don’t know. So I just think it’s a very, very dangerous place to play, to actually put all your eggs in one basket.

Scatter: Some social media purists and digital marketers synonymize blogging with content marketing. They only think content marketing in terms of blogging. What is your take on this?

JEFF: Okay. Blogging should be seen as your digital hub – a hub you own. And that’s what it should be. Because a website should be at the core, I suppose, a “brand statement” and a blog is more your “brand content statement”. Typically, a blog has a much faster and more evolving content core… that way you drive and own your content. Then content marketing splinters off from there where you actually start repurposing and republishing that content. And also take that created content to the other platforms. So, the blog is the epicentre of the content marketing in essence for most brands. For someone who does content marketing such as Red Bull, a blog is not where they play. Where they play is in a much bigger content game. Which is to create video content that doesn’t talk about the product but creates conversations around the brand. So, people don’t want to hear Red Bull drink is great. What they want to do is they want to see some excitement and so they have all their content is around excitement. Car racing, plane racing, be it ballooning, snow skiing etc. The content is truly the brand. But what is really important to understand is that the way you play in content marketing is going to differ depending on whether you are global consumer brand or you sell the physical product versus someone who is selling a digital knowledge brand product and so on. You know there are different business models in all of the content marketing space but again the principle is the same. It’s using social to get better attention and then doing what you need to do from there.

Scatter: What do you really think comes first? It’s like a chicken and egg question that we are going to ask you. Does content come first or does community come first?

JEFF: They occur concurrently. For me, I worked very hard in the beginning on both. I assumed parallel strategies. I worked on building communities on Facebook and Twitter before I even sold anything. Basically, you build an audience before you need them. And then along the way you create a content parallel. So, I just started a blog – writing a 106-word blog post. And then I’d write another blog post a few days later and then write one or two a week. And we took it to 5 a week and then kept doing that. In the meantime, I was building an audience on Twitter in a focused way. So I don’t think you need to go community and then content. You need to separate them and you need to actually be building them at the same time. I think the other thing to do is to not to actually try and sell stuff early on. It’s building an audience first. In essence a freemium model and for me both content and community are really, really important.

Scatter: Alright. There are some brands who’ve actually created great content. But they don’t seem to be getting the right kind of traction. They don’t seem to be seeing the right kind of results. What do you think could perhaps be going wrong with these kind of brands that do create great content but don’t see a direct benefit from there?

JEFF: I think one of the issues will be potentially – without knowing the brands you are talking about – is that they have great content. But there’ lots of great content out there. Brands think that they will build content and consumers will come. What you need to do is you need to build the content and then tell everyone about it. I remember I got asked to speak in Italy a few years ago and I said to them “Why did you invite me? You didn’t know me. I wasn’t part of the speaking agency.” “Well” they said “we saw you everywhere!” The reality is that you should get people to see you on several occasions. And I remember a study done by Edelman – it’s called ‘The Trust Barometer’ and is put out every year. They shared the research that said (1) If you were seen once, you add a credibility factor and trust factor about 2-5%. (2) If you were seen 3 to 5 times online or offline, your trust factor went up to 55%. So, I think it could be the fact that brands were not publishing or tweeting just once or posting to Facebook and then expect the whole world to show up. You really need to just get your content on all sorts of places… Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Search… You need to put it on Flipboard, you need to put it on media, you need to put it on Instagram, you need to put it in Pinterest, you need to put it on the brand’s email list, you need to put it on the blog, you need to get it on influencers. So the hustle of content is really, really important.

Scatter: It’s good you spoke about influencers. We also see that as a horribly abused ‘solution’ being paraded to marketers. And we are not saying that it’s exclusive to the influencer’s space. Search had its run in with click fraud, social has bots and so on and so forth. What do you think that are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to influencer marketing for brands?

JEFF: Influencer Marketing: As an influencer, you might get asked to do a sponsored post and the best strategy to do it is actually to declare that it’s a sponsored message. You might have even helped write it. I don’t think sponsoring content is bad. If you’re transparent about it, I think it’s good. Everyone is still wrestling with influencers because it’s dangerous and it’s revealing the extent of the influencer community globally and all the niches. So the influencer thing is still “work in progress” and of course there are going to be a lot of people making mistakes – good, evil and bad. And I think it’s certainly worth pursuing. In fact, 18 months ago not much was happening in the influencer space. On the other hand, I am asking why shouldn’t influencers be treated as a media channel and therefore get compensated? Sure, sometimes influencers should not be compensated because then they are not trustworthy. So we are going from free to paid model in social as well. This space about influencers – the community that works hard to build an audience…Why shouldn’t they actually get paid for the attention and traffic that they generate? Because, in most cases, they create credibility and trust with hard work.

Scatter: The other question that we’ve got stems from your recent comment about content being created and distributed right. You said both of them are equally important and that you need to give the content legs to run. But when you look at the business of content, our observation is that there is a specialist creation side and there is a specialist distribution side. So an Outbrain and a Taboola are in the distribution side of the business. A Contently, for example, is in the creative side of the business. In markets like India we see clients asking us to combine both these disciplines. Is this, perhaps, because content marketing is still a little nascent in India vis-à-vis other more progressive digital markets? Or is this really the way forward? Are there going to be separate businesses or do you see them dovetailing?

JEFF: I think it’s a whole matrix. I don’t see them as being separate necessarily. I think brands should be building their own distribution network. I think owning your own distribution as a brand is absolutely imperative. You don’t export all that audience to some other platform which is an outsider. You’ve got to think of digital marketing and content marketing as an asset build up – a digital asset build. To always ask someone else to actually distribute your content on their email lists to their channels is missing out a very important part – which is building your own distribution network. And yes, in the early days, you might want to basically subcontract / outsource this. But I think it’s core to the brand that all marketers should all be thinking as publishers now. And you should be owning as much of your distribution as you possibly can. And that means to build up your social media following. Build up your email list. Earn authority with search engines. Search engines are quite often not treated with enough importance because they are not a shiny new toy. Google’s been around since the late nineties and it’s not seen as sexy. On the other hand, the social web is a sexy beast that engages us as human beings. It’s a selection of humanity and technology – which is humanised tech. And it’s fantastic and that’s why we are all addicted to it. Because it’s this humanization of technology and the web that has touched our hearts and souls. Because it becomes an extension of who we are and how we reach the world.

So the thing about brands is that they don’t have to think about advertising spend (which is what used to do and still do) The advertising agency and campaign are the old paradigms. It’s basically (a) pay to get distribution (b) pay to create content. The social web is about the democratisation of publishing and democratisation of marketing. Brands should ideally be taking control of their ‘distribution’ and their ‘content’ because that is just such a powerful marketing platform. So why give it away to someone else and why just keep paying for it? Today, 55% of my traffic comes from Google’s organic search results. That’s free. And 15-20% of my traffic comes from Twitter. That’s free. And then, if you really want to accelerate the traffic and audience process, it’s fine. But if you’re going to spend the money, make sure you’re measuring the results. You don’t want to be spending a $100 and only getting $10 in return. You want to be spending $10 and getting $100 in return. So the measure of the ROI, because if you’re going to pay for traffic, measure it.

We hope you enjoyed reading the first part of the Jeff Bullas interview. Read Part 2 of the Jeff Bullas interview here. At Scatter, we plan to put out information, views, research and loads of other content around #ContentMarketing. Go ahead and subscribe to our newsletter. We don’t spam and won’t appear in your mailbox unless we believe we have valuable content to share. Our website is also going through an overhaul and you should see us in our new avatar shortly. #EngageUnfoolishly