According to a study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute, 86% of organizations surveyed are doing content marketing. Compared to outbound marketing, content marketing on average produces 3x more leads and cost 62% less.
Many businesses are getting into content marketing and investing resources to make it work, but businesses still seem to struggle when it comes to building influence and thought leadership.
Despite businesses having much more financial leverage and manpower, top solo bloggers seem to still outperform businesses in terms of influence.
How are solo individuals with limited budgets able to effectively compete against businesses with more funds and manpower in terms of influence?
Whether you are a business trying to create thought leadership and build influence through blogging or a solo blogger looking to learn from the best, here are 5 differences between solo bloggers and business bloggers. I’ve also included some lessons you can learn from successful solo bloggers to take your content marketing to the next level.
1. Differing motivations
One big advantage that successful solo bloggers have is being self-motivated. Solo bloggers know that the harder they work on their blogs, the more their blog will grow and the more money they can make from blogging in the long run.
As a result, successful solo bloggers put more time into creating quality content that stands out. Some bloggers have spent over a week working on a single blog post.
In contrast, bloggers that are hired to write for businesses get compensated in a very different way. Freelance bloggers are often paid per article, which encourages them to crank out articles as quickly as possible rather than focusing on quality.
Full-time salaried bloggers often have deadlines and are required to write a certain amount of content in a given period of time. Once again, this compensation structure encourages speed over quality.
Some solo bloggers only blog once a month, but put a lot of time into making their articles really stand out. When you take into account the amount of time that goes into each article, a business would have to spend thousands of dollars to create something similar.
Is it practical for businesses to spend that much for just one blog post?
And how can businesses compete with individuals who are working more than 40 hours a week to build their personal brands?
Suggestion: For businesses getting into content marketing, figure out a way to measure and reward quality. Talk to your bloggers, find out what they want and give them the resources they need to succeed.
Find and hire people who are naturally self-motivated and encourage them to build their own personal brand. People who have already made the effort to learn about their own niche in their own time are great candidates.
Gregory Ciotti grew Help Scout to 4 million readers per year while growing his own blog Sparring Mind to over 20,000 readers. Help Scout allowed Gregory to build his own personal brand while growing Help Scout, which is why both Help Scout and Gregory were successful.
2. Building relationships
Another thing influential solo bloggers are good at is building relationships with others. They will often share other people’s articles, link to other bloggers and reply to people who comment on their blogs.
I’ve also found that influencers are more likely to reply to emails than non-influencers. Successful bloggers know that building relationships are an important factor when it comes to building influence and succeeding in blogging.
Bloggers who write for business blogs, however, aren’t incentivized to build relationships with other people. In fact, replying to comments and emails can take time away from focusing on paid work.
I even saw a Glassdoor review once where an employee complained that their employer wanted them to spend time responding to blog comments.
It’s not surprising that businesses often overlook the importance and impact of relationship building. You rarely see data-driven studies or case studies proving that relationships correlate to more traffic or more customers.
In case you’re not sold on the importance or relationship building, here are a couple of examples worth considering…
In this article written in 2014, Neil Patel mentions that he’s received over 50,000 comments on his blogs and that it takes him 26 hours each month to reply to them. But, commenting increased sales, traffic and social shares which is why he took the time to reply to all those comments.
Alex Turnbull from GrooveHQ also grew his blog at record speed, gaining 5,000 subscribers in the first five weeks of publishing by using an engagement schedule to systematically build relationships with influencers. Instead of just emailing people with links to his article, Alex focused on building relationships with people before he needed them by sharing other people’s content and commenting on their blogs.
His approach allowed him to quickly grow GrooveHQ though content marketing into an 8-figure business.
Suggestion: Businesses should hire bloggers that view relationship building as important and perhaps even incorporate relationship building tactics and processes into their marketing workflow. They should also educate their employees and integrate a pro-relationship-building mindset as part of the company’s marketing culture.
Businesses should look for individuals who understand the importance of relationship building and who have shown signs that they see relationships as important and not just hire people that are only focused on writing.
3. Centralized voice
One advantage that solo bloggers have is the ability to have a centralized voice with their blog. People find it easier to connect with individuals rather than companies because people often view companies as more impersonal.
Some business blogs have multiple authors, which does have some advantages. Different authors can specialize in different topics and multiple author blogs typically produce more content than single author blogs, which can create more opportunities for inbound traffic from search engines or social media sharing.
However, readers can find multi-author blogs frustrating if they want to read one specific author’s content. Sometimes multiple author blogs also seem to lack an intuitive flow, producing lots of different articles that aren’t related to each other whereas single author blogs can share the writer’s journey.
For businesses looking to build authority and influence, consider selecting someone to be the blog’s main personality. This person ideally should have good credibility in their field or be able to consistently create interesting content.
Suggestion: Multi-author blogs can work, but having a centralized voice or a primary content creator can help with building influence. The Moz blog with Rand Fishkin is a great example of how a business can create a lot of content form, multiple authors while building authority by showcasing a strong central individual.
Rand Fishkin released content regularly including a weekly video called Whiteboard Friday. His content was prominently displayed on the main Moz blog.
Other people could contribute content as well and their content showed up on the YouMoz blog. Content that performed well on YouMoz would get promoted to the main Moz blog for more visibility.
Give readers options for subscribing to topics they want to learn about or if practical, create separate blogs to target separate topics of interest. For example, HubSpot has three separate blogs for sales tactics, marketing ideas and tips for running an agency.
Make it easy for readers to follow the topics and people that they are interested in.
4. Experience and experimentation
Another reason that solo bloggers are able to stand out is that many of them aren’t solely focused on writing. Instead, they also spend time mastering their craft, continuing to learn from others in their niche and even experimenting on their own.
For example, a marketing blogger who takes action and achieves an amazing result can publish a case study sharing their results with everyone. Being able to showcase real results helps build credibility and authority.
One experiment that helped me get noticed was my very first expert roundup, which ended up getting over 5,000 social shares (according to BuzzSumo).
I followed up on that success by writing a guide on Smart Blogger which ended up ranking in the search engines for the term “expert roundup” and also attracting a lot of social shares and inbound links.
When hiring content writers, businesses often focus on hiring people to focus mainly on writing content. While there are some advantages to being able to focus on just writing, not spending time taking action limits a writer’s potential influence and growth.
Someone that is strictly a writer won’t be able to produce their own case studies and also won’t benefit from insights that are gained from experience.
Suggestion: Find writers that have a strong curiosity in the niche they are writing about and who are likely to spend their own time learning about and actually gaining experience in that field. A food blogger should enjoy cooking or baking in their spare time and a marketing blogger should be constantly learning about and even doing marketing experiments to see what happens.
In some cases, businesses can benefit from allowing their writers to either experiment on their own or participate in relevant activities. For example, a marketing blogger can assist a company’s marketing team and observe as the marketing team executes their marketing plan. Being able to participate in and observe marketing first hand will make the writer more credible and knowledgeable about the topic.
5. Flexibility with content creation
Companies who are more organized with their content marketing have a documented content strategy and that strategy often includes details on how they will select topics for content creation.
For example, some companies that I have worked with do keyword research and write articles that are designed to attract search engine traffic. The basic idea is that if they rank for lots of keywords in their niche, then potential clients and customers will become familiar with their company name through their content.
Having a documented content strategy has a lot of advantages. It speeds up the content creation process because topic creation is now systematic and has clear goals.
However, having a content creation strategy that is too rigid has some downsides as well.
Solo bloggers often engage their readers by writing articles that aren’t keyword targeted but instead designed to spur discussion or showcase unique ideas.
For example, when content marketing was starting to gain popularity, Mark Schaeffer wrote an article discussing the concept of “content shock”.
The idea behind content shock was that as more businesses invested into content creation, people would get overwhelmed with all the content out there and content marketing would become less effective. People would either have to get more creative to create content that really stands out to rise above the noise or be able to spend lots of money to build an audience to outperform competitors with smaller budgets.
Before Mark wrote about it, content shock wasn’t an SEO keyword phrase. This article was an example of the type of content that can create thought leadership by challenging conventional ideas and sharing new perspectives.
Another well-known example in the SEO niche is Brian Dean’s Skyscraper technique, which became a popular link building technique. Brian quickly grew his influence by sharing his own personal case study and a powerful link building tactic that allowed him to rapidly grow his own SEO traffic.
These types of articles are unique and help build influence and authority, but aren’t typically covered in a company’s content strategy.
Suggestion: Having a documented content strategy is good, but allow writers to get creative from time to time. In fact, encourage them to think outside the box and figure out ways to encourage the creation of “thought leadership” content.
Encourage self-development and experimentation by providing resources for continued learning and ongoing education. Consider scheduling time for your writing and marketing team to brainstorm content ideas. Ideas for thought leadership content may come along rarely, but when they do, make sure your writers feel comfortable suggesting and experimenting with new ideas.
To sum it up
Building influence is a big challenge for both companies and individuals, but we can learn a lot by paying close attention to what other people have done in the past to successfully build their own influence. Encourage creativity and self-development and look for people who want to become actual experts in their fields and not just writers.
Also, remember that not all success factors are measurable, like building relationships. But pay attention to what successful solo bloggers value and make sure your marketing culture incorporates those ideas.