Build a Digital Network
You’ve investigated your different partnership opportunities and learned how to dig deep to find and reach out to the right potential partners. Now, we’ll get into the details of moving forward with those relationships once you’ve secured them. If it interests you, you may even manage to land a guest writing opportunity on their blog or an opportunity to appear on their podcast. Guest posting can help you use your voice to speak directly to your partner’s captivated audience.
But guest posting and podcast opportunities may be harder to come by when you’re just starting out. Fortunately, there are many more ways for you to grow a strong digital network where you’re building residual referral traffic back to your site.
While you work toward getting your name out there, it’s important to also tend to the smaller threads for spinning your digital web. For example, you can create profiles on social media platforms and forums so that you can contribute to your niche’s discussion on current events, trends, questions, and the like (with a link back to your website once you’ve gotten people’s attention, of course).
You can also work with other brands that are a good match for your own, creating mutually beneficial referral and cross-promotion programs where you’re encouraging your audiences to do business with the other brand too.
In this chapter, we’ll discuss creating content with your ideal influencers. This could include guest posting on their blogs and appearing on their podcasts. We’ll also cover how to become a part of your niche’s conversation on social media and forums, as well as how to design and secure referral and cross-promotion partnerships with other companies.
2.1 Try Guest Posting on Up-and-Coming Websites
Once you identify potential guest posting sites and start reaching out to them to establish a relationship, start working on your pitch. Most young websites allow people to contribute authentic, original content on topics that are relevant to their visitors. While competition for the guest contributor spot is low, you still have to practice proper guest posting etiquette.
Below is a list of essential rules to follow.
Before the Pitch
Make Note of the Host’s Guest Posting Guidelines
If you truly want to contribute to a website, don’t send out a blind pitch. Most websites now have a guest writing guidelines page that explains everything the host requires when it comes to being featured on their blog. Spend a good 10-15 minutes on this page to get familiar with the host blog’s expectations.
Usually, the guest posting guidelines page will tell you the topics the website accepts, the number of links allowed, maximum or minimum word count, and lots of other details. Here is an example:
It’s worth mentioning that some guest posting sites don’t share a link to their writing guidelines directly on their homepage. This is intentional. These sites want new guest bloggers to come to them from a referrer or able to find their guidelines on their own.
Therefore, make it a point to do a quick search on Google if you can’t find guest posting guidelines on a website’s homepage (don’t forget to scan the footer and sidebar while you’re at it). You can use the following search strings to determine if the website has a guidelines page:
- [site name] guest post guidelines
- [site name] guest post by
- [site name] become a contributor
- [site name] calling guest writers
- [site name] submit your post
If none of these search queries get you results, email the editor to double-check if there are any guest posting guidelines to follow.
Learn the Voice of the Publication
Is it witty? Is it serious? Does the author usually give a back story? What’s the reading level? Knowing the publication’s voice helps your guest blog post fit right in and not seem so out of place to its visitors. But how do you adopt someone else’s tone?
You’ll need to carefully look at its existing tone and subject matter so you can try to mimic it.
For instance, if you want to contribute to Nerd Marketing – a blog about ecommerce marketing – or a similar publication, go through the articles it has published. Then choose a topic and write a piece in Nerd Marketing’s tone, style, and formatting. Once you’re done, compare it with the original article on website.
Adopting voice takes time and practice, and sticking to a specific one may be easier for you.
Brainstorm Some Ideas
Since you’ll get some time between the relationship-building stage and the actual pitch, here’s what to do during that phase: make a list of interesting titles.
‘Interesting’ has a few qualifications when it comes to guest posting:
- The title should be unique and intriguing.
- It should leave the visitors wanting more.
- You should include noteworthy information like an achievement or social proof of your successes.
For example, here is a captivating blog title:
That title would intrigue someone on a budget, and make them want to know more. It also has numbers as proof that shoppers can buy 20+ father’s day gift items under $50.
So, forget that idea of pre-writing headlines and putting them up for grabs to the first taker. Instead, spend a decent amount of time and brainpower to come up with fresh titles.
Quick Tip: If all else fails, and you still can’t come up with an interesting title, you can always use a headline generator like Inbound Now’s Blog Title Idea Generator for some quick inspiration.
Write Once, Format Twice
Be meticulous when you pitch your idea to guest posting sites. Over half the editors are likely to decline a pitch if it includes grammatical mistakes – regardless of how good the idea is. If you didn’t pay attention to the quality of your pitch, they think you won’t pay attention to the quality of the final submission either.
Editors don’t have time to fix spelling and grammar issues in your pitch – respect their time. Send them a perfectly formatted pitch and a well-crafted post that they will only need to upload and publish on WordPress or whichever CMS they’re using.
It’s better to submit the post once you’ve gotten the editor’s approval, though in some cases sending it along with the pitch could work in your favor. Whichever option you go with, make sure to edit it correctly before pressing the send button. Again, attention to detail is essential when it comes to guest posting.
A good guest blog post should:
- Be of decent length: Long-form pieces look much better than 300-worders (and research shows that they get more engagement, too). Shoot for at least 1000-1500 words. Double-check the guest posting guidelines as they might specify a word count.
- Contain visuals: Use images, infographics and custom screenshots to add meaty and unique value to your post.
- Include internal linking: Imagine the warm and fuzzy feeling the editor will get when you link to some of their best pieces in your post. Best practice is to balance the ratio of internal and external links.
- Contain ‘open loops’: Plant small seeds within your piece to bait user comments and engagement on the post after it’s published. Never underestimate the power of a blog that can create a conversation.
Lastly, don’t forget to include an author bio – that’s the golden ticket for including a link back to your website. Check the guest posting guidelines or ask the editor about their bio rules and guidelines, like how many links you can include and whether it should be in first person (“I am…”) or third person (“He/she is…”).
If the site permits, don’t be afraid to promote yourself. After all, that’s the point of guest posting. Include another link to a helpful, related resource like John McIntyre did for his Shopify guest post about automated email campaigns.
Once you’ve completed the bio, be sure to give it a second look to ensure you haven’t overused pronouns. A good idea is to replace some occurrences of these pronouns with your name to streamline the flow.
Quick Tip: If you want some help, Generatorland.com offers a useful tool for writing a dynamic and compelling author bio.
After You Get Published
Comment & Engage with Readers
You studied the voice of the host website, came up with an appropriate title, and meticulously formatted the post. That’s a lot of work, so give yourself a pat on the back for getting your guest blog post published.
But what now?
Many store owners will stop here. In certain scenarios, it’s the right frame of mind to be in. However, if you leave the contributed piece on its own, you might miss out on a number of traffic-related benefits of guest posting.
So, instead of disappearing from the scene, start responding to readers’ comments on your guest post.
Most websites use Disqus, a networked community platform that allows you to comment on posts using your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Disqus account.
You can sign up for free. A Disqus account gives you control over all your commenting activities.
Of course, expect the best and worst. You can’t please everyone online. And if visitors leave negative feedback, don’t take it personally. Always aim to create healthy discussions and engage with your readers.
To make it easier on your part, you can create templates of your replies – generic ones such as:
“Thank you, [name], for reading my post. I’m glad this is helpful to you. Here’s a post from my site that helps to answer your question more clearly: www.yoursite.com/blog.”
When you actively reply to people’s comments and show your experience, it makes a no-brainer for them to visit your site. Moreover, others who are reading through the comments get to see how knowledgeable you are, so they too are likely to visit your website.
Apart from your own comments, consider bringing your own commenters to the party too.
Here’s another thing I’m not going to sugar coat: a single guest post is essentially useless if it’s not part of a bigger buzz, conversation, or series. So encourage your friends, family, and colleagues to hit that comment section. Start by leading them to those convenient “open loops” you planted during the writing process.
By generating a buzz, you’ll help to impress your publisher. And that’s incredibly important.
Quick Tip: If you’re an evil mastermind, you can make note of your intentional open loops and any thought-worthy points as you write. Then, you can send them to your street team as inspiration for what they can comment on. Boom!
Include the Guest Blog Post in Your Next Newsletter
Research shows that people are five times more likely to see a message in an email than on Facebook.
So let’s say instead of plugging in custom content into your email newsletter, you integrate in your guest blog post. In many cases, your subscribers might better relate to your guest posting on another website than the usual updates they receive through your newsletter.
If you have access to an email marketing software and a newsletter template, you just need to make slight adjustments to the content. But if you’re new to the concept of email newsletters, tools like Canva and Adobe Spark will allow you to create an eye-catching, customizable newsletter with their free newsletter maker.
Also, you can Google ‘free newsletter templates’ to see more options. Most pre-formatted templates are designed to be compatible with popular email clients, including Gmail and Outlook.
In the newsletter, let the readers know that you’ve done some guest posting for another website. Write an enticing excerpt for the post and leave a link to the original post.
The advantage of sending a guest blog post in an email newsletter is that you get to personalize the content around it. For instance, you get to address each subscriber by their own name, as well as leave your two cents on the rest of the content that’s going out.
Get Included in RoundUp Posts
A quick Google search can help you find related roundup posts that list articles by other store owners. Try these queries:
- [Main keyword of your guest post] blog roundup
- [Main keyword of your guest post] blogs this week
- [Main keyword of your guest post] top 10 posts
Then, just reach out to the websites publishing those roundups and ask to be featured in the next one. This is a great way to get a better ROI for your guest posting.
2.2 Appear on Relevant Podcasts
As with guest posting, being featured on podcasts is a great way to drive traffic for free. And with more than 50 million monthly podcast listeners in the US alone, the time to begin talking on shows has never been better.
In this section, our aim is to provide a roadmap for finding up-and-coming podcasts. We’ll also list examples of podcasts from different industries. Finally, we’ll share best practices for creating an effective podcast pitch.
Let’s get started.
How to Find Relevant Podcasts
Naturally, the hunt for podcasts starts with opening Google and running a search for the following keywords:
- [Your niche] podcasts
- [Your niche] new podcasts
- [Your niche] ecommerce podcasts
- [Your niche] online store podcasts
You could also try using Google advanced search operators, like I mentioned earlier. Try strings like:
- [Your niche] inurl:category/podcast/
- [Your niche] inurl:/podcast/
- [Your niche] intitle:podcast
- [Your niche] intitle:podcasts
Going back to the example of the ecommerce store that sells cosmetics, you could do something like this:
Quick Tip: Make a new tab in your outreach contact list spreadsheet that’s dedicated solely to podcasts. If podcasts will be a big part of your efforts, consider a separate spreadsheet with more segmented, organized tabs by priority or topic.
Look for Up-and-Coming Podcasts on iTunes
iTunes Store has a podcast section that lets you browse, find, and subscribe to podcasts in different categories, most of which are free. Follow these steps to find upcoming podcasts in iTunes:
- Open iTunes on your computer.
- Click on the tab that says ‘Music’ on the top left of the screen.
- Scroll down and click on the ‘podcasts’ option.
On the right side of the screen that opens up, you’ll find an option to navigate categories. Choose a category related to your business to find relevant podcasts. Alternatively, you can type in a keyword related to your niche in the iTunes search bar for the purpose.
Quick Tip: Check out the ‘New & Noteworthy’ section. While they’re usually high-traffic podcasts, you may see some up-and-comers who have caught one of their first glimpses of going viral. In any event, this is also a strong section to get ideas and inspiration from. As always, write down new ideas in your spreadsheet.
Once you’ve made a list of podcasts that you’re interested in, it’s time to contact the host. Doing so requires you to visit the host’s website and find their email address/contact information. Fortunately, iTunes provides a link to the main website or magazine that owns the podcast or has rights to it.
Click the ‘website’ link in the bottom left corner of the screen to go to the host’s main website. Ideally, you’ll be able to figure out who to contact. But if you don’t see an email address or contact form, try searching for the host in Google or on social media.
Look at a Podcast Directory or Amazon to Discover Hidden Gems
Consider looking at a podcast directory for more ideas. The following podcast directories are another great resource to discover up-and-coming podcasts:
- Podcasts.com: Navigate podcast.com using ‘Channels’ or go through the recommendations first.
- Podcast Alley: Access categories with a drop-down menu or visit the hosts’ websites.
- Stitcher: The directory organizes the podcasts as ‘stations’ that people can browse and listen to.
Identify relevant podcasts, then read their about page to figure out who to contact.
In addition to a podcast directory search, you can visit Amazon to see if any authors have published books related to your business. Because authors are often invited as guests on podcasts, you may be able to find a podcast that features authors who you might be able to work with. Then, use Google and iTunes search to see what podcasts they’ve been featured on to expand your choices.
For instance, if you search for ‘ecommerce books’ on Amazon, it displays the following results:
Assume you want to know if Tanner Larsson, author of Ecommerce Evolved: The Essential Playbook to Build, Grow & Scale a Successful Ecommerce Business, has made any podcasts appearances, you’d search for keywords like:
- Tanner Larsson podcast
- podcasts Tanner Larsson
- Tanner Larsson ecommerce podcast
The first option returns the following results in Google Search:
It’s clear that the author has appeared on a couple of podcasts to give ecommerce lessons. You can browse through the host’s website to see if they have spots open.
Examples of Podcasts
Let’s take a look at some up-and-coming podcasts in different industries.
Even if you decide not to pitch these specific podcasts, listen to a few episodes to get an idea of how podcasting works, what kind of people are invited to contribute, and what kind of topics are regularly discussed.
Fashion Hags is a biweekly podcast where funny and charming millennial hosts Abby, Evan, and Katie discuss insider information from the fashion industry. They do a great job at making serious fashion topics interesting, informative, and approachable.
In Breaking Beauty, longtime magazine beauty editors Jill Dunn and Carlene Higgins present the stories behind some of the most popular beauty products on the shelves. They focus on how people broke into the industry and turned little ideas into big successes.
In the EcomFire Podcast, hosts Klint and Ben interview entrepreneurs and examine tips for starting an online business. If you’re currently involved in things like dropshipping, Amazon FBA, and affiliate marketing, this podcast could be a good chance to share your experience.
The Fitness and Lifestyle Podcast is a weekly fitness and nutrition podcast in which host Dan Kennedy interviews guests and offers advice on all aspects of health, fitness, business and lifestyle in an informative and inspirational way.
How I Built This is a podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists. Host Guy Raz examines the successes and failures of some of the biggest companies and brands in the world. Although not technically an up-and-coming podcast, each episode contains a special segment where he interviews small and independent business owners – a fantastic opportunity for anyone looking for wide exposure.
Quick Tip: Choose at least five truly awesome podcasts to subscribe to and listen to regularly. Not only will you learn more about the industry, but you’ll become more familiarized with what you think is awesome in terms of style, subject matter, unique insights, and delivery – which will in turn make it easier to be awesome.
How to Pitch Yourself as an Interviewee
Creating a podcast takes time.
For example, Jessica Rhodes of the ‘Rhodes to Success’ podcast says that it takes 12 to 16 hours of work for a podcaster to plan, produce and promote their show. Podcasters simply don’t have the time to search through hundreds of pitches looking for the perfect guest to interview.
As with guest posting, you need to create a pitch that stands out. Explain to the podcaster who you are, why you’re interested in their show, how you are qualified to speak about topics in their industry, and what value you can provide their audience.
Successfully pitching a podcast takes a lot of effort. You might be turned down numerous times before you get your first opportunity. But having a great pitch can help you get there faster.
Let’s look at seven steps you can follow to create a great email pitch that will work for any industry.
- Write a Clear and Interesting Subject Line
The podcaster is probably sorting through hundreds of emails a day, so you want a subject line that makes your request clear. Let them know you’re making a podcast pitch and give them an idea of your topic.
A good subject line for an ecommerce store owner pitching a beauty podcast would be:
“Podcast Idea: Beauty Secrets I Learned while Living in India”
Try to avoid subject lines longer than this, as you want the whole subject to show up in their inbox.
- Introduce Yourself
Tell the podcaster who you are, your background, and what business you’re in. If you have any unique traits or interesting stories that make you stand out, this is a good time to let them know. Remember – they’re probably busy, so you want to keep your introduction short and sweet.
Here’s an introduction that might pique the interest of a beauty blogger:
My name is [your name] and I work at [your business]. I’m a big fan of your show, and I’d love the chance to be a guest. I recently returned from a year living in India studying the beauty and fashion industry there.”
- Pitch Your Topic
It’s time for the hook. You need to come up with an idea for a topic that is suitable for your target’s podcasting style and provides value for their audience. It’s a good idea to focus on just one topic, but if you have some alternative ideas, you can mention them too.
You should also let the podcaster know that you’re open to discussing other topics. They may not be interested in your ideas, but they may be interested in you.
Here’s an interesting pitch:
“While I was in India I discovered an amazing recipe that women use to create an all natural makeup remover. It uses a mix of products that you can get at any Indian food market. I think this would be a topic your audience would really love to hear about. I’d also be interested in talking about any other topics related to the beauty industry in India.”
- Emphasize Your Value
Podcasters want to know that you’re going to bring value to their audience, but they also want to know that you’ll bring value to them personally as an up-and-coming podcaster. It’s a good idea to mention that you’ll be promoting the podcast to your own community. Include details like your own audience and places you’ve been featured.
This is a good example that shows value:
“If you’re interested in interviewing me, I’d be happy to share the interview with my own audience. I currently have [number] customers signed up to my store’s mailing list, and I think they’d all be interested in hearing your podcast. My store was recently featured on the [blog name] blog, and I’d be happy to let them know about the interview too.”
- Talk about Your Audio Equipment
This is one step that is often overlooked when making a pitch. Podcasters hate low audio quality interviews. At best, they’ll get complaints from their audience about the audio quality. At worst, they won’t be able to use the interview.
Most interviewers use a program such as Skype or FaceTime to conduct interviews, so make sure you’ve got a copy of them. Also, make sure you have a good internet connection, a quality headset, and most importantly, a good quality microphone. This will be an up-front investment, but you can get a starter mic like the Samson Go Mic for as low at $35.
If you have all those, let the podcaster know:
“I usually use Skype for interviews. I’ve got a fantastic Shure microphone and a high-speed internet connection, so I’m sure we could produce a high quality interview.”
- Include Your Calendar and Contact Details
These details are important for the podcaster to be able to contact you, but they can also help the podcaster learn more about you and your audience. Including a link to your business and your social media details lets them see that you are both serious and professional.
Quick Tip: When scheduling a call, consider sending a link from an online calendar service like Calendly or ScheduleOnce to streamline the process and avoid any delays caused by back-and-forth emailing.
Here’s a good example:
“If you’re free, I’d love to schedule a call with you sometime this week. Here’s a link that shows when I’m available [link]. You can also check out my website here [link] and my social media feeds here [link].”
- Sign Off
Keep it simple:
“Thanks for your time. I’m really looking forward to hearing from you.
2.3 Join Discussions on Social Media Groups and Forums
I know, I know: you’ve heard this advice before. But being a part of your industry’s discussion has withstood the test of time. Even before the internet started to dominate the way we communicate, there were networking parties, social hours, and the like. In these gatherings, the most interesting and valuable people were the ones who were invited to other events and introduced to mutual contacts – not the ones wearing sandwich boards to promote their business.
While the medium has changed drastically in the modern age, the process, goals, and outcomes remain timeless. Social media groups and online forums are similar to these ‘old-fashioned’ networking events as they provide a convenient e-gathering place for people who are relevant to your industry. And just like these events, it’s not just about physically being there, but by making a meaningful contribution.
It’s human nature to want to know more about people who are driving the conversation forward. Online, this instinct shows itself when we find a user interesting. We click through to their profile to investigate further and see what other interesting stuff they’ve put out.
So the purpose here isn’t necessarily a hard sell. With every useful comment and post you make, you’re building equity in your own credibility. And that investment has a huge payout in the long run.
In this section, we’ll look at how to join useful social media groups and forums, and what to do once you’ve become a member so you can generate genuine interest in yourself and your brand.
Join a Facebook Group
With over two billion monthly active users, Facebook is the biggest social media platform in the world. Traditionally, Facebook activity has focused on social connections. However, more and more people have started using Facebook groups to create valuable business relationships.
To find a group relevant to your business, log in to your Facebook account and click on ‘Groups’ in the Explore sidebar.
On the Discover Groups landing page, you’ll be presented with suggestions for groups to join. You can browse through groups in different categories and you can click on the group link to get more information about the group.
If you can’t find an appropriate group to join, you can use the search bar to look for groups. Simply search for ‘[your industry] groups’ and you should be presented with some good options. For instance, if you sell travel products, you can search for ‘traveling groups’.
You might notice that some groups are ‘Open’ and some are ‘Closed’. In open groups, content is viewable by anyone. In closed groups, admins must approve new members and content is only visible to other members.
You can learn about the group’s philosophy and rules by reading the description in the ‘About This Group’ section. If you find a group you want to join, click the ‘Join Group’ button. You might have to answer some questions in order to be accepted, and approval may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.
Once you’ve been accepted into a group, take some time to read through recent posts and get a feel for how the group works. Take particular note of what kind of posts are popular and what kind of topics are being discussed.
Quick Tip: On your homepage’s left sidebar, you can rearrange your groups to help minimize the clutter and put the most important ones first.
Join a LinkedIn Group
Although LinkedIn has fewer users than Facebook, it can be a better choice for business owners who want to connect with other professionals on a personal level. Unlike Facebook, members participate on LinkedIn for the sole purpose of growing their business network and furthering their career. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 80% of B2B leads generated on social networks come from LinkedIn.
There are two good ways to find relevant LinkedIn groups.
The first way is to use the search bar. Enter any keywords that are relevant to your industry and look for results that are marked ‘Group’. For instance, if you sell camera accessories, you might want to look for photography related groups – such groups’ audiences would likely be interested in your offerings.
The second way is to go to the profile of one of your connections and see which groups they are a member of. You can find their groups by going to their page, scrolling down to ‘Interests’, clicking ‘See More’ and clicking the ‘Groups’ option. Most LinkedIn groups are public, so even if you can’t read the posts, you can learn about the group and request membership.
Once you’ve found a group to join, click on the ‘Ask to join’ button. Like Facebook groups, you usually need to be vetted by a moderator before being allowed access to the group.
Quick Tip: You can join up to 50 LinkedIn groups, so be choosy: look for groups that are closely relevant to your goals with lots of group engagement and relatively high members.
Join a Twitter Chat
Twitter is optimized for one-off posts rather than long back-and-forth discussions, which can make it hard to find the right time to engage with relevant people in your industry.
One solution is to join a Twitter chat, which is when a group gathers at a designated day and time to take part in a discussion. Twitter chats usually last for a set duration of time (eg. one hour), and participants use a specific hashtag when posting.
The most common way to find a Twitter chat is to follow influential people in your industry and see which chats they are participating in.
There are no specific rules or requirements for joining a Twitter chat. All you have to do is show up, contribute, and follow up with people who could be valuable connections. You can then consider partnership opportunities, like creating a referral partnership with them to drive traffic (more on this in the next section).
Quick Tip: Once you’ve spent some time exploring and participating, you’ll have an idea of the types of conversations that are happening in your industry. Then you’ll be able to fill in any gaps by hosting your own Twitter chat.
Join a Discussion Forum
Discussion forums are a form of social media that was around long before Facebook and LinkedIn. Sites like Reddit, Quora and Digg are places for people to gather and share information, news, and opinions.
The biggest difference between these discussion forums and the other social media sites is that members of these sites are usually anonymous. Discussion forums can be great for making business connections, but you have to be extra careful choosing who you engage with.
Reddit, the self-proclaimed ‘front page of the Internet’ is a good discussion forum to start because of the wide variety of discussions available.
To find a discussion to join, enter a relevant keyword in the search bar and look for an appropriate subreddit (a forum with a specific topic).
Once you’ve clicked on the link to the subreddit, you can see a list of recent discussion topics. In the sidebar, you can find information about the group and you can read the group rules. If you choose to participate in the group, you can click the ‘Subscribe’ button to be automatically updated of any changes.
How to Participate in Social Media Groups and Forums
Social media groups and forums have a specific etiquette you’ll need to follow if you want to be successful at making connections and growing your digital network. The most important thing to remember is that social media networking is a two-way street in which participants are expected to give and receive. It’s bad etiquette to ask members for something before offering the group something first.
Read the Group Rules
Each group or forum has a unique set of rules for participation, so the first thing you need to do when joining a new group is to make sure you’re familiar with all the rules
Here’s an example of the group rules from the Reddit Entrepreneur forum:
Rules are enforced by group moderators. If you break the group rules, you could be liable for a penalty such as having your post removed, or being temporarily or permanently banned.
Many social media groups and forums require new members to introduce themselves before posting, but even if it’s not a requirement, you should make a good first impression by posting a friendly self-introduction.
Even though your ultimate goal is to drive traffic to your store, you shouldn’t jump straight into self-promotion. Keep your introduction short and simple, and focus on the value you intend to bring to the community.
Here’s an example of a bad introduction that may get flagged as spam:
Here’s a much better example that the owner of a climbing goods ecommerce store could use when joining a Facebook mountain climbing group:
This introduction is informative and friendly, and lets members know you can provide valuable contributions to the group. It may even prompt members to ask about your online store.
Comment on Discussions
Before starting your own discussion topic, it’s a good idea to make informative contributions to discussions that are already underway. By providing helpful and insightful advice, you can establish yourself as a community member who can provide value. This is important when you start directly engaging with specific individuals as they will be more inclined to connect with you if you are known within the group.
As with all interactions on social media groups and forums, you should try to provide value with your comments. Here’s an example of a comment that is polite, but provides little value to the discussion:
Here’s an example that the owner of a tech goods ecommerce store could us to provide value to a LinkedIn discussion on Virtual Reality technology:
This sort of comment will promote more discussion and hopefully attract the attention of members of the group.
Start Your Own Discussion
Once you’ve established yourself as a valued contributor to the group, you can start to grow your own influence by starting your own conversation. When creating a new discussion topic, consider the goal of your post – do you want to provide useful content for the group, highlight your own value, or even strengthen connections with another member by promoting them?
Different types of posts work well in different groups, and once you’ve spent time contributing to discussions, you’ll have a better idea of what works best in your situation. Don’t forget to keep the discussion moving forward by continuing to respond to comments and answering questions.
Here are some post ideas to consider:
- Create custom content for your group.
Although creating custom content that provides value for your group can be time-consuming, it can be effective for promoting discussion and displaying your knowledge. If you already have original content from your ecommerce store website, you can repurpose it to suit each social media group or forum.
For example, the owner of a travel goods ecommerce store could post an original article to a travel group titled “Ten things you need to take on an overnight flight”, containing lots of “insider information” that group members would find useful.
- Share news from your industry.
Sharing news about changes and trends in your industry is a great way to provide value to the community without having to create new content yourself. However, it’s important to make sure that the news is relevant and taken from a reliable source.
Only sharing news sourced from other sites can actually hurt your reputation, so balance these kinds of posts with plenty of your own original content. You should also double-check the group rules for linking to external sources.
- Teach members a new skill.
If you have valuable skills in your field, social media groups and forums provide the perfect place to show off your expertise while providing free value to group members. Teaching posts should focus on providing useful knowledge without expecting anything in return. If your group allows posting images or videos, this can be a good opportunity to get your face out there, not just your name.
A great example of teaching members a new skill would be the owner of a car parts ecommerce store posting a video that teaches members of a car fan club group how to change their brake pads.
- Create lively debate.
People on social media love to express their own opinions, so posting a comment about a controversial issue can be a great way to create debate amongst group members. You have to be careful when choosing a topic or expressing an opinion though, as you run the risk of alienating members.
Asking a question or posting a quote from an influential person in your industry can be effective for creating debate in Twitter chats where there is a character limit.
- Ask for advice.
Social media groups and forums rely on the give-and-take of value. While sharing your expertise can provide value to others, asking for advice can be just as effective for creating connections with other members. Most people will be more than happy to help you, and simply thanking them could lead to continued dialogue with influential group members.
Engage with Your New Connections
The ultimate goal of participating in discussions on social media groups and forums is to establish connections that will help drive traffic to your store. As with guest posting, these discussions could help you show off your expertise and drive traffic to your store. Once you’ve established yourself as an authority within the group, you’ll need to take the next step by engaging with your connections on a more personal level. You can message them, set up a phone call, or even invite them out for coffee to start discussing ways in which you can help each other grow your businesses.
A Shining Example: Eric Bandholz of Beardbrand
Eric Bandholz of Beardbrand has mastered this strategy. If you take a look at his Reddit account, you’ll find hundreds of posts and comments on other posts. He’s accrued more than 50,000 karma points, which users earn when their posts and comments are upvoted by other users. (So that means Eric has gotten more than 50,000 upvotes. He’s kind of a big deal.)
He’s active in 10 communities and moderates three, including the r/beardbrand community he created for his company.
Here are just a couple of his more recent posts:
You can tell just by skimming through his activity on the site that he’s genuinely interested in adding to the discussion. With his business expertise, he’s a valuable contributor to the entrepreneurial communities he’s active in. And obviously, with that fluffy beard, he truly belongs in those beard communities.
Quick Tip: List out some words that represent your brand and your own personal expertise, like ‘technology’ or ‘entrepreneur’. Then type them into the search bar to find the best communities to participate in and top Redditors to interact with.
2.4 Create Referral Partnerships and Cross-Promote with Other Companies
When you’re growing an ecommerce business, it’s common to think of all other companies in your industry as competitors who are constantly trying to steal your customers away. However, once you get past this mindset, you’ll find that many of these companies are actually potential allies.
By creating referral partnerships with businesses that complement rather than compete with your own store, you’ll have access to mutually beneficial avenues of growth that wouldn’t be available when working alone.
This may involve referring customers to a partner when they’re looking for products you don’t sell, cross-promoting products or services, or even co-producing original products or content. It could also include guest posting on their blog, or asking them to guest post on yours.
No matter what kind of program you undertake, the key to a successful referral partnership is that both parties benefit and grow together. A good partnership will:
Keep your customers happy. When customers are looking for a product or service you don’t provide, they will appreciate being directed to a referral partner who can provide what they’re looking for.
Inspire trust. A Nielsen survey on advertising and trust found that referrals are the most trusted form of advertising across all demographics, outdoing all kinds of editorial content, brand sponsorship, and all forms of ads. Therefore, if you can get referrals from a company with a trusted reputation, referral customers will be more likely to trust your business.
Lower running costs. A referral partnership allows companies to pool resources such as market information, content, and talent. Something as simple as guest posting on each other’s sites and sharing blog posts, images and videos with a referral partner could help both businesses save money on content marketing.
Give access to a warm audience. Partnering with a complementary business will give you quick access to a new set of qualified customers that have a history of buying products related to your niche.
Grow your business. A study by Heinz Marketing found that not only do 86% of companies with referral programs see growth, but referred customers have a higher lifetime value.
Source: Business Builders Group
Types of Businesses You Can Partner With
The first step in creating a successful referral partnership is deciding what kind of business you want to partner with. It doesn’t make sense to partner with a competing company – e.g. a green tea subscription box company partnering with another green tea subscription box company – because there’s no benefit to either of your businesses. You’ll just be competing to sell the same products to the same customers.
Instead, focus on finding companies that add value to your business. These companies could sell products that complement your own products, sell products in the same niche, sell products to a similar audience, or could even offer a service rather than a product.
Here are some ideas for businesses you can partner with:
A business in the same industry which sells complementary products
This is a popular scenario because potential referral marketing partners are easy to identify, and you should both be targeting the same audience. All you have to do is think about what kind of products people commonly use with your product.
For example, if you run an ecommerce site that sells high-end gaming PCs, you should ask yourself what products gamers use when they play video games (a mouse, a keyboard, a chair). An ecommerce store that sells high-end peripherals would make a great referral partner for your business.
A business in a different industry which sells to the same audience
This scenario requires a little more research as you’ll be looking for companies outside your industry. A good way to find potential referral partners is to start by creating a profile of your ideal customer, identifying all the products this customer uses and needs.
For example, if you run an ecommerce store that sells school uniforms, you should ask yourself who uses your product (in this case, it would be students), and what other products this customer needs. Some possible partners could be stationery stores, sports equipment stores, and shoe stores.
A business that sells similar products to a similar audience
This scenario is a little more difficult, as you need to look for a business selling products that are similar enough to appeal to each other’s audience, yet different enough so that you aren’t competing. You can often identify potential partners by keeping track of customer requests for products you don’t currently stock.
For example, if you run an ecommerce store that sells new camera lenses for modern digital cameras, you might notice that your customers often ask about used, vintage, and rare lenses. A great referral partner would be an ecommerce store that exclusively sells old lenses, as their customer base will most likely include people who are also interested in new camera equipment.
A service business that complements your ecommerce business
This scenario requires thinking outside the box. To identify a potential referral partner, you’ll need to consider how and why people use your product. In particular, you’ll need to focus on the situations in which your product is used, rather than the kind of people that use your product.
For example, if you run an ecommerce store that sells travel luggage, you should ask yourself when people use your product (when they travel), and what service businesses operate in that industry. A good referral partner would be a travel business that focuses on airline tickets, accommodation, and tours.
Quick Tip: To help think of some unique ideas, just try a Google search for ‘[your niche] ecommerce partnerships’. Doing this search for ‘beauty’ brings up a partnership between a beauty brand and a singer retailing beauty products through Spotify. Now that’s creative.
Types of Referral Partnerships You Can Set Up
The next thing you’ll need to think about is what kind of partnership you want to create. The options available depend on factors such as what kind of products you’re selling, what kind of business you’ve chosen to partner with, and how much risk each partner is willing to take.
Let’s take a look at four popular referral program examples and see how they could be applied to businesses from the previous section.
A fee-based referral partnership
This is a good option for ecommerce businesses because it’s easy to organize, easy to maintain, and can be quickly dissolved if it doesn’t work out. In this kind of partnership, your partner receives a finder’s fee or referral bonus for each customer they send to you who ends up making a purchase.
Using a previous example, an ecommerce store that sells new camera lenses could opt in a fee-based referral partnership with your store selling used lenses. Your partner could add a banner advertisement or a link in their email newsletter with this simple message:
“At [store name], we focus on selling the newest camera lenses. But if you’re looking for a great deal on used lenses, we recommend checking out [partner’s URL].”
Anytime one of their customers uses the link to purchase a vintage lens, they’ll receive a small percentage of the sale, while you’ll get a referred visit.
A cross-promotional partnership
This is another popular option for ecommerce businesses as both partners will be creating promotions that appeal to the same audience. However, it requires more commitment than a fee-based partnership. In this kind of partnership, partners can run concurrent special promotions, list promotional products on each other’s stores, offer samples to each other’s customers, or even create promotional bundles that include products from each store.
For example, a high-end gaming PC store could partner with a business that sells gaming chairs and offer a special discount package – get 15% off both a new computer and a new chair when you buy them together.
Here’s another example:
Each partner contributes something to the offer to make it lucrative.
A co-marketing partnership
This option requires a large amount of trust and commitment. You won’t just be referring customers to each other, you’ll be combining your resources to create marketing material and content that can be used by both partners. This kind of partnership could include sharing content from one another’s social media pages, guest posting on one another’s sites, co-creating content, and combining marketing campaigns.
For example, a school uniform ecommerce store could partner with an online stationery business to create a joint ‘back to school’ advertising campaign. Both businesses will be able to save time and money by creating complementary marketing materials that can be sent to the same audience.
An online/offline referral partnership
This option requires the most work as you’ll be partnering with a different kind of business. However, it has great potential as your business will be exposed to a very different audience. In this kind of partnership, you can refer customers to service businesses or stores that don’t have an online presence and work together on cross-promotion and marketing.
For example, an ecommerce luggage business could partner with a travel company and create a luggage giveaway competition. Your company can supply a free luggage set for the travel company to give to a lucky customer. In return, they can write a glowing recommendation of your luggage when creating the promotional materials for the giveaway.
How to Identify and Contact Referral Partners
By now you should have some idea of what kind of business you’d like to partner with, but it’s a good idea to narrow your list down further. If you refer a customer to a partner and they have a bad experience, it’s going to reflect poorly on your own business, so you need to look for a company that shares your values and that you can trust.
An ideal partner should satisfy the following criteria:
- They complement rather than compete with your business
- They have a sizeable and active audience.
- The potential partner has a good reputation.
- They have similar brand values to your business.
Quick Tip: SimilarWeb is a free online service you can use to analyze a website’s traffic, audience and engagement to help you identify good partners.
When you’re looking for companies to partner with, the best place to start is Google. You can use search terms such as:
- ‘[target industry] online store’
- ‘[target industry] ecommerce store’
- ‘[target industry] [your location]’
Once you’ve identified a possible referral partner, you can reach out to them by email, social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), or through the customer portal on their site. Here’s a basic template you can use:
An outreach message should include a short introduction of you and your business, a brief summary of why you’re contacting them, and an invitation to set up a call or a meeting to discuss a possible partnership.
Chapter 2 Takeaways
Vary your strategies and presence to build a comprehensive online network. Start guest posting on relevant sites and secure podcast appearances with key micro-influencers and up-and-comers. Follow the influencer’s guest writing guidelines and general etiquette, and nurture the blog and podcast even after it’s published. Promote it on your own channels, repurpose and redistribute when possible, and engage with people who interact with it.
Join social media groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media platforms, as well as web forums like Reddit, Quora, and Digg.
Be real and relatable while making every single interaction meaningful.
Don’t just peddle your products or try to self-promote that you’re an ‘authority’ or a ‘guru’ (unless you want to make people think you’re just a stuck-up jerk).
Partner with related businesses to create referral and cross-promotion opportunities.
An example could be a luggage brand partnering with a travel company to get business from soon-to-be travelers, or a gaming PC brand partnering with a gaming chair brand to offer a package deal. While the most obvious partnerships will cost money, there’s a lot of room to get creative.