This Entrepreneur Built His Business Through Social Media (You Can Too)
When it comes to doing your own PR (particularly without overtly promoting yourself), author, business advisor and personal development/management coach Richie Norton is surely one of the best.
I became aware of Norton earlier this year in the midst of helping a client (Greg Pesci, CEO of Spera, Inc. who is launching a new platform for freelancers) to develop a strategy for Influencer Marketing. As we identified the most influential people we could find and potentially engage to spread ideas in support of the freelance economy, Norton’s name was one of several that rose to the top of the list.
Then we met. Immediately I was taken not nearly so much by the reach of Norton’s influence (to more than 70 nationalities), his status as a bestselling author (“The Power of Starting Something Stupid” and “Resumes Are Dead and What to Do About It”) or the Tier 1 press he’s achieved (CNN, Forbes, HuffingtonPost, Entrepreneur, Inc.) as by the fact he’s achieved it all by himself.
Norton has yet to engage an agency, or as far as I can tell, to consciously pitch himself to the press. He is down to earth and non-promotional. Furthermore, he is open about what he’s done, what’s worked, what hasn’t, and shares freely all that he’s learned that could be of value to others.
He’s a true thought leader, probably since before the concept emerged, and who doesn’t appear to have ever aspired to the role. So of course I wanted to know his secrets. In a follow up interview call, here’s what I learned.
There is no Single Secret.
“What have I done for PR? I’m continually figuring it out as I go,” Richie says. “As I look backward I connect the dots on what’s working and what’s not.” When Norton sees someone doing something effectively, he reaches out (much like I reached out to him, I assume).
First, he and the executives he admires talk strategically, about goals achieved at a high level, and then the talk turns to the tactics that are serving them well. This is a goldmine of information as successful people are surprisingly willing to tell what they’ve done, especially when approached in the context of mutual sharing and respect for their exceptional achievement.
Social Media is Amazing.
Norton appears to be one of the rare people who has truly captured social media’s power. “Medium, Twitter, Instagram and now Snapchat — people are people and are going to hang out wherever they choose to hangout,” he observes. “It used to be that if you had a message, you tried to bring the people to you. That’s incredible if you can do it. But far more likely, you’ll need to go to them, where they are. When you do, you can invite and bring them back to you. And this is where the magic begins.”
One of Norton’s current discoveries is that Facebook groups are influential. But Facebook pages, not so much. Whereas a Facebook page is a largely one-way conversation (which does have a purpose), a Facebook group around a niche interest is gold. “I set up a group about BYU Hawaii, for example. Now it’s a conversation. I can post there 30 times a day and people involved in that topic will thank me for it, and they’ll get involved in the conversation as well.”
Wherever possible, you should mirror your activities on social media back to the activities they’re analogous to in real life. For example, when you walk down the aisle of the mall and see “Banana Republic,” the store is the equivalent of a Facebook page, Norton says.
The location — the page — exists for people who are already aligned to the vendor and will walk into the store with at least a potential interest to buy. But the group of friends who walks the aisles is the Facebook group. This is where aligned people gather together and talk about what they want. Perhaps they single off when they find a common interest with another shopper. Now there’s the equivalent of an email dialogue or a personal message conversation at play.
The principle is equally true for YouTube, LinkedIn and Medium, he says. “There are companies that can help you streamline and automate your communication across all of those, but I’m really not big on that. It’s all about creating a conversation, in a welcome and genuine way.”
Be Strategic In Your Decisions.
For each post you do, before submitting, think about who you are reaching and identify your goal. Is it to be cool in the eyes of more people and to say something that makes you more important and credible in the eyes of more readers? Or is it to gain more customers? Is it personal, for fun, or are you trying to start a conversation for business? And in all cases, beyond thinking about your purpose for writing, also think about the need you are answering for readers — to be inspired, intrigued, educated on a topic, or entertained?
Measure for the Right Metrics.
The bloggers and thought leaders who remark “I can’t track a single sale to that article. So I’m wasting my time,” are anathemas to Norton’s marketing views. Views and reads are only one form of metric. But the ratio of commenters to readers, conversely, is increasingly important. If you write a post that is read (or at least viewed) by hundreds of thousands of readers, which is often the case on sites like Forbes, and there are no comments, perhaps what you have delivered is, in actuality, a catchy headline atop a lackluster post.
How many people considered the material worth sharing? And if they commented, were the remarks meaningful or were they simply “Thanks, nice post?” This is more typical for the national publications. But on a site like LinkedIn or Medium or beBee, commenters who remark are well along the chain of involvement. They are looking for a dialogue, and in many cases are at least somewhat interested in the possibility of following or engaging with you further as well.
Currently we see YouTubers or LinkedIn posters — some with millions of subscribers — who are now crying as they see the views on their material drop off dramatically, Richie notes. (LinkedIn and YouTube have both recently changed their algorithms and are not showing new pieces to all of an author’s or creator’s subscribers.)
This is to be anticipated as platforms grow and the mass of new content is burgeoning. (LinkedIn, alone, has reached 150,000 new long form posts every week.) This means that 1) your content needs to be well written and effective to continue to stand out, and 2) you need to value engagement over number of views. Furthermore, you never know how many people are passively viewing your material — perhaps reading but not remarking — but were influenced in a way that will manifest itself down the line.
For example, the post of Norton’s that prompted me to reach out to him, now that I’d met him, was a visual frame on LinkedIn showing that just two of his articles on Medium — one he’d shared the link to on other social platforms, and the other he had not — that had achieved a total of more than 23,000 views in 10 days — far more than the same material had achieved on LinkedIn. “I knew the people who are posting on LinkedIn are either getting traction or they’re not, but I knew they’d be interested in this,” he said. “And then you reached out. Then we ended up on the phone. And who knows what will happen from there?”
Another of my favorite writers — Paul Croubalian — recently made a similar observation when an individual reached out and hired him after reading multiple of his articles over time, and had never shared or made a remark. But the reader was progressively forming an opinion that Croubalian’s writing skills and insights would make him a good person to hire. What if he had stopped posting after a single article, assuming that if he couldn’t attribute sales to the single post that his work was for naught?
Be Continually Evaluating and Changing.
In the earlier days of publishing, Norton used his blog to share his insights and to promote his business activities. Today the situation is entirely reversed. “Nobody simply ‘comes to my blog,’” he observes. Now he uses social media posting and email to bring people back to his blog.
Your E-mail List is Your Gold.
You cannot bank on any outside platform or publication to be your primary resource for followers, Norton maintains. No matter where you post or what you provide, the end of the piece should include an invitation that draws you out to your own site and offers the reader something of value in exchange for their email address. Now you have a genuine follower who is at least indirectly subscribed. As readers peruse social media, they are somewhat randomly looking for something to interest and inspire them, perhaps from their favorite authors or in some cases, from somebody new.
But when you have a subscribed follower, you’ve achieved marketing gold. As an example, Norton notes, “I read Seth Godin’s blog every day. But it’s not because I go to his website or that I follow his posts on social media. It’s because I get it in my email. Every day I receive that exposure because I have an alignment to Seth’s ideas, and I have willingly subscribed to see what he will say.”
“I would rather have 1,000 loyal email subscribers than a million likes, any day (but if I have a million likes, I can advertise to them and could perhaps create many thousands of interested subscribers, which is perhaps the greatest return a thought leadership writer earns.)”
When you are aligned with an influencer or writer and obtain value from their material, you are glad to receive it. Over time, you are also open to the writer’s invitations to go deeper, to make a purchase, to do more. Now it’s not necessary to behave like a shameless self-promoter or a “marketing dirt bag.” Customers (and bloggers, broadcasters and reporters) will, for the most part, be seeking you out.
In Norton’s case, he works entirely from his home, and has done so for years. Not only has he never hired a PR agency, as a serial entrepreneur, advisor to corporations, management coach and career and personal development leader, he has intentionally chosen not to fulfill a traditional corporate role. Yet he is in continual demand for his services from clients ranging from enterprise companies to startup entrepreneurs.
How could these high value-add and “soft sell” strategies be working for you?
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This story was originally published at www.forbes.com. Information about Cheryl Snapp Conner’s Content University program to help businesses and executives tell their stories better is available here.