Content Marketing
How to Build an Army of Volunteer Contributors for Your Blog

How to Build an Army of Volunteer Contributors for Your Blog

October 2, 2020
4 min read

Every content marketer faces the challenge at some point of trying to figure out how to publish enough content to make a difference to your audience and your business.

But you only have a tiny budget. And you want to maintain a high level of quality. So how do you get the volume you need at a price you can afford?

Part of the answer comes down to building a volunteer army of contributors who will give you high-quality content, on the topics important to your business, for absolutely no money.

That’s right. You can get access to tons of articles, infographics and videos. And it turns out, all you have to do is ask.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Start out with your own vision. Try and answer questions that bug you and your immediate circle.
  • Chase content creators you admire. Make your blog worthy of their writing.
  • Use tools as best as you can to facilitate better content creation automate distribution.
  • Activate employees for content promotion.

Let me explain a little further . . .

How I Built a Media Company with No Employees

Back in 2010, I started blogging on this very site but under the brand name B2B Marketing Insider. I started publishing my own rants and raves on content marketing, social media and marketing strategy right here because I wanted to share my experiences as a marketing insider, working at recognized company.

My very first blog post answered Why I Am In Marketing. And I’m pretty sure no one read it. But because of my consistent approach to answering questions I myself was asking and I knew my colleagues were asking, I started to rank for search terms like “what is marketing?

Fast forward 10 years, and now we rank #1 and get a million organic search visitors every year. In fact, all of our new customers come from the content we publish here and share on LinkedIn and Twitter.

This has been the engine for growth for Marketing Insider Group. But what about a worldwide, billion-dollar brand. How do you scale content marketing without a big budget?

SAP Digitalist Magazine Extends the Model

While still at SAP, I took a similar approach to the company’s Insight blog. I was given very little money to build the site and almost nothing to create original content.

I actually wrote the first 24 articles myself summarizing white papers  produced by our campaign team. 6 articles for each of the 4 categories we launched with.

But we wanted to publish 1 article every day for each of the 4 topics. So without any budget, how was I going to find authors and articles who would write for me for free?

The answer: I built an army of volunteer authors based on serving their own self-interest.

Step 1: I identified all the internal employees who were already blogging on the topics I thought our audience was interested in. They had to already be writing high-quality content. Ideally, I also looked for those who had a built-in social audience. I found 12 great bloggers.

Step 2: I approached them and pitched the dream I was chasing of building a world-class content marketing hub. I tapped into their emotions and their own dreams of reaching new and bigger audiences. I asked them simply for permission to allow me to syndicate their existing blogs through an RSS feed. All 12 agreed and gave me permission to syndicate their content.

Step 3: Using the WordPress RSS Aggregator Plug-in, I added their existing RSS feeds and all their posts started coming in as new, full-length article drafts I could post on our site.

Step 4: To make sure we were helping both our audience and the authors, we did a few things:

  • We generally waited a few days to post their articles so they could get all the benefit of their original posting.
  • We shared every story on our social channels.
  • We thanked our authors on twitter.
  • We shared tips and tricks and created a sense of community with our authors

We believed strongly in creating a sense of community with both our readers and our authors that went beyond just the traffic and exposure we were giving them.

Step 5: Using the amazing results from the traffic, engagement and conversion we started seeing, I requested and received budget for original content creation and later and a budget for paid distribution.

We also started reaching out to external bloggers and thought leaders. At some point, we hit a tipping point and bloggers started coming to us and asking to become contributors for both original and syndicated content. We had reached what I love to call “escape velocity” where growth becomes a virtuous cycle of publishing, sharing and engaging with more readers and contributors.

Step 6: Extending the community. My amazing former team sends out a weekly author newsletter that lists the “top 10” posts of the week, recognizes an “author of the week” and provides writing tips and examples of great content from others.

I am sharing these stories and tips and steps to building your own volunteer army of content contributors so that you can see the same kind of success that these sites, and now many more are seeing.

SAP’s Content Marketing Results

We saw nearly half a million visitors to our website in just he first year:

We also created an infographic to show how we were reaching, engaging, and converting that traffic into leads for our sales team.

And this helped us to measure true content marketing ROI:

I even wrote a whole book about this, called The Content Formula. Check out the 10 Content Marketing ROI formulas and calculations anyone can use to measure content marketing ROI.

Employee Activation

I call this approach Employee Activation and I think it’s truly the future of marketing.

What is employee activation? Employee activation is a formal program that encourages employees of a business to organically and authentically create and share thought leadership content and brand stories about the topics that interest them.

All you need to do is align the interests of your audience, with the topics you want to focus on, and the content written by engaged employees, and you can make this work.

5 thoughts on “How to Build an Army of Volunteer Contributors for Your Blog

  1. Tom Treanor

    Michael – as one of the authors whose marketing blog is syndicated in B2C, it’s interesting to hear about the founding and evolution of the site. Thanks a lot for sharing the history and details!

  2. Carla Johnson

    Hi Michael,
    This is great advice and I love that you’ve pointed out the simplicity of how you actually do this. Companies often nix this approach to building audiences because they think that it’s too much work. When, in fact, it’s sticking with the traditional ways of building online audiences that are overwhelming.

    Thanks for another great post,

  3. Michael Brenner

    Thanks so much Tom! I always try to tell brands that this content marketing gig is not as hard as everyone thinks. It’s not exactly easy either, but there are ways to make it work on a limited budget.

  4. Michael Brenner

    Thanks Carla, it’s so important to think about the right mix of content to drive both efficiency with your budget spend and effectiveness. Original content is great for SEO but can be expensive. Curated content is great for Social but doesn’t help SEO as much even if it is free or lower cost. Syndicated content helps to drive traffic with great content for little or no cost. It also helps to build community with your influencers and target audiences. So everybody wins!

  5. Rodney Robinson

    That is impressive, Michael. It is amazing what a committed team can do. I have considered guest posts and collaborations on my blog, so this was a useful how to. Thanks again.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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