Mike Stelzner Interview: Elevation Principle

Last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing Mike Stelzner from Social Media Examiner over Skype. We spoke about the key elements within the Elevation Principle, which Mike presents in his new book, Launch.

Here is the full transcript from the interview:

Greetings Social Media HQ Listeners. We have a very special guest with us today, Michael Stelzner. Michael is the founder of Social Media Examiner, a popular online magazine that helps businesses answer social media questions with valuable content. He also authored the book “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged”. Most recently, Mike authored the book “Launch”. Throughout Launch Mike presents the Elevation Principle.

1. One of the elements of the Elevation Principle is “great content”. Give us a brief history of your experience with content marketing, and where it has led you today.

I’ve been involved with content since the mid 1990′s. In the early days I was a product marketing manager. Content back then was different like product brochures and annual reports. Today content is something totally different.

Prior to Social Media Examiner, I had written a book about White Papers, and white papers were perhaps some of the best forms of content in the mid-2000′s for lead generation, so I’ve got a lot of background in creating content that is compelling, persuasive, yet interesting for people. And that has really been the crux of what we’ve done at Social Media Examiner, creating content that people would love to share and meets real needs that people have.

2. What types of content have produced the most tangible business results for Social Media Examiner?

I talk about two different types of content in the book. Primary and Nuclear Fuel. If you think of your business as a rocket ship, content is the fuel that moves the rocket. The more people that consume your content, the faster you go. And the kind of content we use on Social Media Examiner is how to articles, interviews with experts, success stories of other businesses and what they’re doing well. This is what I call primary fuel. The kind of stuff that any business can produce. Ideally you produce it every day, and it has about a 72 hour shelf life.

But what really made Social Media Examiner take off is this nuclear fuel content. In the early days, we did this report called the Social Media Marketing Industry Report. We surveyed a couple thousand social media marketers, asked them things like “What’s the biggest question you want answered about social media”, what tools are you using?, how much time are you investing?, what are the benefits? We produced this 40 page, graphical report, gave it away completely free. We didn’t require any registration at all. More than 40,000 people read that report in just a matter of weeks. We’ve been doing this every year, and we’ve been written up in the Wallstreet Journal, Fast Company, Huffington Post. It has created this enormous amount of sharing and driven tons of traffic. If you type in social media marketing on Google, you will see that one of my reports comes up on the first page of Google. That was really the way we got attention very early in the game.

3. In Launch, another element of the Elevation Principle is “Other People”. Can you describe this?

The formula for the elevation principle is pretty simple. It’s all about focusing on the needs of people instead of on your company and your product. The formula is Great Content + Other People – Marketing Messages = Growth.

The other people component has two parts. Part one is figuring out what your audience is interested in. If you don’t know, survey them. What I have found is that people want great information, access to great people, and recognition.

The other part is Experts. You need to find people in your industry that have access to an audience that you care about and figuring out what you can do for them. In the early days of Social Media Examiner, I was an absolute nobody. I had maybe 6 months social media experience, so I knew it wasn’t going to be successful because of me. But I did know that if I could bring other people to the table like Mari Smith, Jason Falls, or Denis Wakeman, or Chris Garrett, who were all very entrenched in social media, if I could figure out a way to share their expertise with my audience, then I could grow quickly. And part of that involved asking them to create content. The other part involved me going to trade shows with camera crews and doing video interviews with people like Chris Brogan, and all this kind of stuff was how we were able to bring people to our audience. Some of these experts or “other people” loved what we did, they would share it with their audience, driving more traffic to our site, helping us grow.

4. The last element of the Elevation Principle is “Caging the Marketing Messages”. How do businesses know when and when not to pull the marketing message lever?

Marketing is friction for your business. The more you market, the less people are going to embrace you. The less people are going to share your content. The less people are going to want to come back for more because they will see that your content is nothing but a lure designed to get you to do something. So if you can put away those marketing messages, then you can quickly grow your business.

In the case of Social Media Examiner, we waited until we had 10,000 email subscribers before we started doing any kind of marketing. The key is you’ve got to have momentum. If you don’t see a growth rate on your website, if you don’t see the retweets increasing, if you don’t see the comments going up, if you’re not getting e-mails from people saying that they love your stuff, then maybe you’re not getting the kind of momentum that you need. If you get to the point where everyone is talking about you, and they love your stuff, then it might be an ok time to begin doing some marketing. But what I suggest is different than what most businesses are doing. I strongly recommend using a secondary channel to do marketing instead of the primary channel. So if you think of your blog as your primary channel, your secondary channel might be your e-mail.

We have about 87,000 e-mail subscribers that receive an email in their inboxes every single day. That e-mail channel has a 70 word link that goes to the day’s blog post, so it’s designed to be a really easy to digest e-mail. Below that e-mail is a little ad. Inside that ad we typically promote our events, or we promote other people’s stuff like sponsors, but it’s always something that’s free. So instead of offering something for sale, we promote content. This will increase the chances of someone clicking through, and increases the success of our marketing efforts. We have stopped marketing in a traditional sense, and we market stuff that is free because we know people don’t make buying decisions overnight. They make them gradually, and free is obviously very powerful.

5. Where can readers learn more about you and your company, and where can they buy the book?

Thank you for having me Nick. If people want to read a free chapter from the book, they can go to elevationprinciple.com. No registration required. The book is available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Nook, Kindle, iBook.

It was truly an honor to interview Mike, and I hope to work with him in the near future.

Do you have any questions about Mike’s insight?

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About Nick Robinson

Nick Robinson is the Director of Client Services for Social Media HQ. He has a strong background in web development, marketing, and entrepreneurship. His professional experience with the web dates back to 1997 when he coded his first Geocities website. When not burning the midnight oil, you can find him on the lacrosse field, playing or coaching. The best place to interact with him is Twitter - @socialrobinson or Google+.
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