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Aug 30, 2016

Approx. 5 min. read

Influencer Insights, Part 1: Mark Schaefer

We live in a time when power is shifting towards individuals, Mark Schaefer believes. The function of content is also in flux, and many companies...

We live in a time when power is shifting towards individuals, Mark Schaefer believes. The function of content is also in flux, and many companies must re-evaluate the notion of chasing cold leads as a business objective.


We discuss content marketing and social media with Mark Schaefer, recognized speaker on marketing strategy and author of five best-selling marketing books. He also acts as the Executive Director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, co-hosts The Marketing Companion podcast and blogs at {grow}, one of the most notable marketing blogs around. 


In one of your blog posts, you mention one of the difficult aspects of living in the digital era: mistakes can quickly and irreversibly be posted online. Has the virality of content made it necessary to master the skills of personal branding on social media?

I actually think the potential benefit of posting content far outweighs the risks. We live in an amazing time. The centers of power have shifted from an editor's desk or some ad agency to individual experts who publish on the web. Everyone can have an opportunity to create their own power, their own influence in amazing ways.

Sometimes, mistakes get published and that can lead to trouble. But if you're a professional and responsible person offline, you'll probably succeed in the same way online.


What challenges does this 24/7 availability of content pose for companies' content strategies, and on the other hand, what possibilities?

We are moving toward an ad-free society. You can see this trend thundering toward us. I probably watch more television than I ever have, but I rarely see ads through streaming services. I subscribe to ad-free music services. Ad blockers are tipping the ad industry into crisis.


Companies are learning that people will not spend time with their ads like they used to, but they will spend time with their stories. So more and more of the marketing budget is moving toward creating helpful and compelling content.

Which creates a secondary problem by the way. As the density of available content goes up, so do the competitive hurdles. It is getting harder and harder to stand out in some industries. For this reason, marketers need to start looking beyond simply publishing.

The economic value of content that is not seen and shared is zero. To be effective, we need to learn about who is sharing our content, where and why. That is where the true economic value is being derived and that is the theme of my book The Content Code.

Related: Influencer Insights, Part 6: Steve Cartwright

You have pondered whether content should be targeted at simply generating leads or building relationships. Can you think of approaches for doing both? Could a more human approach to marketing (human-to-human marketing, investing more in social media) be a way to attract the interest of prospects, while also building relationships with them?  

I think there is a place for building "traffic" as a goal for some businesses. But if you look at the statistics, most of these visitors are merely tourists – they don't stick around and take any actions, and they don't come back.


I am a proponent of a longer-term view that we need to strategically position our content as a way to connect and nurture relationships with potential customers who will actually do something instead of using content as a tactic to trick people into clicking a link. It's easy to use content and SEO to trick people into a click. But it's virtually impossible to trick them into buying something.

We need to re-visit the fundamental roots of the commercial relationship. People buy from whom they know, like, and trust. Shouldn't that be the greater goal of our content, instead of merely generating cold leads? This takes a shift in mindset, but shift that is necessary, in my opinion.


It's technically possible for anyone to become an influencer through social media these days. What do you see as the most important measurements of real influence and thought leadership?

I suppose it is true that theoretically anyone could become an influencer, but practically, it is actually difficult to achieve, especially in this increasingly noisy world. It requires just the right combination of expertise and passion combined with a potential audience large enough to make a difference. It takes a lot of work producing quality content and engaging with people. So, it is possible and I believe there is a process you can follow to give yourself the best shot at success.


In terms of measurement, it's hard to compare one "thought leader" against another but I do think there are three primary measures you can employ to see if you are trending up.

The first is a measure of awareness. If more people are aware of you, that is a leading indicator of positive personal results over time. Awareness can be measured by a combination of factors but easy measurements like mentions, "likes" and content sharing makes sense. To get this to go up, you must create and share interesting content and engage with people.

The second measure is inquiries. If your reputation as a thought leader is being established, you would expect to see this show up as signs of interest in your professional work. I would capture an inquiry of any kind – to speak, to contribute content, to provide advice – as a sign that your reputation is improving. Again, I would see that as a leading indicator of success.

The third measure must be connected to your personal goals. Why do you want to build a personal brand? Is it to get more business? To share your ideas more broadly? To get a book contract? Only you can determine if you're reaching your own goals and your work is providing personal reward.

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Written by

Annika Rautakoura

Annika Rautakoura

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