Jeff Bullas has an influencer score of 100, and in a recent poll was named the most influential content marketer in the world. Here he talks to Content Magazine about how he became so successful, why storytelling is more important than ever, and why you’ve got to be optimistically paranoid to survive the battle of the algorithms.
Content: What’s the secret to your success?
Jeff: I built my following on Twitter, and I’m still doing that today. It’s been about creating the best content I can and also building the best distribution too. That’s really content marketing in a nutshell.
You run your own company and continue to have a very high profile as a person, how do you manage it?
I started nine years ago, and in the beginning it was a passion project. I got up at 4:30am every morning and created content before my day job started. I read a couple of books by Tim Ferriss, who discussed the idea of digital business and how the world was changing, then read David Meerman Scott’s book on ‘The New Rules of Marketing and PR’. David talked about the power of content and how to attract an audience. Those two books were an inspiration to me. At the same time, I had discovered social media and noticed people’s obsession with Facebook and Twitter. I felt something was really going on, and it excited me because suddenly there was technology that allowed you to reach people from anywhere. That fascination prompted me to start a blog, which began in March 2009.
What are your clients’ common pain points?
People are struggling with digital business. A lot of people have been brought up in the old ways of doing things and are having trouble reinventing their businesses. I’ve worked with Salesforce, Marketo, and Intuit and they are trying to help their audiences get to grips with this new landscape. The biggest challenge, as Keynes the famous economist said, is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones. We are all stuck in old paradigms. We’re caught up in the habits of the past. Some of the biggest changes are happening at such a pace that it’s disturbing people, and it’s distracting them which has led to businesses closing and suffering at the hands of big global players like Amazon. My mission is to try and distill the complexity down and get people to understand what they should be doing.
What are the current trends affecting business and marketing?
There are two big trends, which I call the two big ‘As’. Number one is automation, being able to scale your content without having to hire more people. The other A is AI — the rise of Facebook messenger bots. These bots answer people’s questions without anyone being involved because of machine learning. They are the two ‘As’ that businesses need to embrace to improve their customer service, their targeting and also insights about their audiences.
What is no longer working?
Organic social media, because you’ve now got to pay to play. Companies need to understand how to use Facebook advertising, but it’s a tough one, because it keeps changing its algorithms. Facebook doesn’t care about you, it cares about money. You can’t really earn any authority [on its platform] unless you’re a celebrity. Facebook is doing a lot of taking from people — it’s taking content and knowledge and not giving back, except asking you to pay for attention. At least Google gives companies earned authority on its search engine. Unless Facebook becomes more open and allows you to earn more attention, it’s going to struggle.
What’s new, and coming up in Content Marketing?
In amongst all this tech, the art of storytelling is definitely becoming more important, because you want to be seen as authentic. As more automation and artificial creeps in the ability to create authentic storytelling content to differentiate and stand out is going to become even more important. People can share any type of content, and talk facts and figures, features and benefits but everyone has their own story, and using Donald Miller’s ‘Storybrand’ concept is a pretty cool way to stand out.
How do you prove the ROI of content?
It depends on what your goals are — whether it’s brand awareness or if it’s leads and sales. Essentially you need to be measuring your traffic, measuring your conversions, looking at whether your content gets shared, whether people leave comments. At the end of the day businesses need to survive — so the real metric to measure is whether you’re capturing leads and converting them into sales. Content marketing and social media marketing have been too focused on looking at all the likes, the shares, the comments, and they’re fab, but don’t get stuck on the vanity metrics. You may have lots of attention, but has that converted into business?
How long does it take to move the needle?
Content marketing is a long game. Earning attention takes time. Building a tribe on social media takes time. If you want quick wins you’re going to have to have a bigger budget. If you really want to reach them fast you have to reach for the check book or credit card and pay Facebook. Then when you get traffic turning up, really make the most of it, and keep testing it and creating content that they find useful to keep that circle going. It used to be a lot easier to do, but Facebook keeps changing its algorithm and people’s businesses have died a death as a result. You’ve got to be optimistically paranoid, which the ex-CEO of Intel Andrew Grove wrote in his book ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’. We live in a very fast-moving world where it is becoming the battle of the algorithm. You’ve got to understand that your attention is being controlled by platforms.
Finally, can you share a personal content marketing success story with us?
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called ‘Why you should forget Facebook’. I put it on my blog post, and as an article on LinkedIn. It blew up and went viral. One week it was the top performing article on LinkedIn globally. It attracted more than a 1,000 comments and had over 300,000 views.
That reminded me of the power of a controversial headline. It wasn’t click bait, it was a genuine dive into why you should forget Facebook if you want earned or organic traffic. That was a content marketing success for me, it drove a lot of brand awareness and conversions.
This year in March I had success with a post I published on FlipBoard titled, ‘Five inspiring books that are transforming my life and business’ — that really drove a lot of traffic. People forget that they’re communicating with humans and just write stuff about the industry. You’ve got to write content that humans can relate to — that solves their problems, gives them entertainment and answers some of their biggest questions about routine, success mindsets, because at the end of the day you’re communicating with humans not robots sitting in corporations.