In the interview Mike shares with us the story behind Social Media Examiner and some crucial steps to starting and running your own successful blog and more importantly your brand.
Make sure you checkout Mike’s excellent FREE 1st Chapter of his book Launch, after watching the video!
To read the raw transcription of the interview or download the audio please see below)
If you’re fed up with the ongoing stream of marketing messages and aggressive sales techniques or as a business owner the thought of selling leaves you cold, you are going to LOVE Mike’s book ‘Launch’!
(Click the video to play instantly or watch How to Build a Business Through Relationships on YouTube!)
Jo: Okay. Here we go, ladies and gentlemen, Jo Barnes here, lovely to see you, how are you doing? I am so over the moon to be joined by Mike Stelzner, author of recent book Launch, but also probably better known to all of us guys because I’m talking about him all the time, as the founder of the Social Media Examiner site, socialmediaexaminer.com. Mike, how are you doing? Thanks so much for joining us.
Mike: Jo, I’m doing great, thank you for having me.
Jo: So where are you based right now, Mike? Where am I calling you from?
Mike: San Diego, California.
Jo: Oh how lovely. Somewhere I’d really like to visit and I haven’t managed to visit that yet.
Mike: I have not been to where you are either so that sounds like a cool place to visit.
Jo: Phuket in Thailand, it’s lovely; it’s gorgeous here.
Mike: Awesome. Awesome.
Jo: So, Mike, can I just ask, can we just start with a little bit about you, a little bit about your background? I know you launched the Social Media Examiner back in 2009, was it?
Jo: Yeah, so prior to that, can you tell us a bit about what’s got you to where you are today?
Mike: I was working in corporate America as a marketing guy, and I was wrongfully terminated because the boss was doing something that he thought I saw him do, but I didn’t even know. Long story short, he was the president of the company, and he decided to can me, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I went out on my own in the mid 1990′s and started a creative services agency, and then after that I started, when the tech market crashed, I was servicing high tech, after that I decided to be a writer, and I was writing white papers for big corporations like FedEx ,and Hewlett Packard, and Microsoft, and Motorola and all these really big companies. And then I got kind of bored of that and I decided to try getting my finger wet in this hot new space called social media, and I didn’t know squat.
Mike: So, literally before I launched Social Media Examiner, I had maybe nine months of experience with social media, so, I barely had a Twitter and a Facebook account. And as you know now Social Media Examiner now is huge, we have 450,000 people a month that come to Social Media Examiner and read our stuff and it’s been a crazy roller coaster ride.
Jo: That’s amazing. So, what was it that made you decide to launch Social Media Examiner?
Mike: Well, before Social Media Examiner I was writing these white papers and I was kind of coined the king of white papers, Marketing Sherpa called me the Grandfather of White Papers, even though my kid was only three years old. I kind of built a huge following and I like to say I graduated magna cum laude (with honour!) from the school of hard-knocks. So from a lot of trial and error I kind of figured out what works in marketing and I thought to myself, well what if I can go into a space that’s much broader than white papers?
White papers are business to business, and big business really. And social media I thought targeted all businesses of the world, all sizes, consumer focused or business focused. What if I could go into that world and quickly become one of the princes of social media? How cool would that be? Maybe I could write a book, and maybe I could do it twice. What I mean by that is become kind of a really big name in two totally different industries extremely quickly. So it was an experiment and it took off like a rocket ship, and here we are.
Jo: An experiment that really paid off.
Jo: Yeah. So can I just talk to you about that? Because I talk to a lot of my guys about when they’re thinking about launching a business, and whatever niche they choose, I talk a lot about being seen as an authority within that niche and really making a choice whether you want to become a public figure and become an authority as a public figure. There’s a lot of people who are a bit shyer, they don’t really want to put themselves right out there, and something that I always use as a great example, which is the Social Media Examiner, is how to become an authority site as opposed to a public figure. So obviously we know who Michael Stelzner is and now you’ve written your book and the rest of it, but the Social Media Examiner, it was a long time before I knew who you were, it was your site I knew lots about.
Mike: Yeah. Let me just share a little side thing here, when I was the white paper guy, it was all about Mike Stelzner, and it was all about me and everybody wanted only me, and there was limits to how much of me could go around and I hit a glass ceiling where I just couldn’t do it anymore because everybody and their mother only wanted to work with me even though I had other people on my team that were writers. So I had all that fame stuff, and it was cool, and I decided that when I launched Social Media Examiner to put other people first instead of me. It was a very different business model.
The only people who really know that I am Social Media Examiner are the people who get the daily emails in their inbox or the people who might see me on camera when I do all these video interviews. Instead I decided to create a movement, and it’s a lot easier for people to join a movement, meaning my peers, than it is for people to join the Mike Stelzner xxx fill in the blank. And I think that was the key to my success was creating something that shined the light on other people first and put me in the backdrop. That allowed me to recruit and work with really key strategical alliance partners like Mari Smith, who your audience is already familiar with, Jason Falls from Social Media Explorer, Denise Wakeman from the Blog Squad and Chris Garret who is the co-author of ProBlogger with Darren Rowse. I developed a relationship with these folks early, and together we created something really cool. Social Media Examiner was always owned by Mike Stelzner but they became part of the movement, and that’s part of the reason why we grew as quick as we could because we created a brand instead of creating a personality.
And I think that has long term ramifications that are very important for businesses because I don’t work the crazy 60 to 70 hours a week that I used to work with my white paper business, I’m working 40 hours a week, maybe 50. If I ever want to sell this business, I can because it’s not tied to me, and it’s made it a lot easier to grow because people stand behind the brand instead of just a person, and that really makes it kind of different and fun. I write about it quite a bit in my book, about how much easier it is to grow a business when it’s really just not about you.
Jo: That’s an amazing piece of advice, thanks for that Mike. It’s a bit of a gold there, I think. So it was a real collaborative effort getting Social Media Examiner off the ground and growing as much as it has now?
Mike: It still is a collaborative effort. What’s great is none of our writers get paid, we have more than 60 writers that write for us regularly, and they do it because there’s something in it for them, and it’s exposure. In the beginning it was, we want to be a part of this cool thing that this guy Mike Stelzner, who has a good track record is a part of. But over time, it was we want to be a part of this big thing because it’s the biggest thing there is right now, you know what I mean? Like Social Media Examiner is the biggest online publication just for social media marketing in the world, and that makes it very easy for people to want to be part of it. We get 25 enquiries a week from people who want to write for us, isn’t that awesome? And we don’t have to pay any of them.
Jo: That’s amazing.
Mike: We’re working with a multi-million dollar business as a result, you know, as a result of building an audience, and then on top of that, a business.
Jo: Fantastic. So going back to the fact that you were talking about you built these relationships early, that’s a key thing, isn’t it? Especially with social media, this whole thing about building relationships. Is there any advice you can give to people out there just starting out about how to go about maybe approaching people and starting. I mean did you have kind of like a really clear vision of exactly how Social Media Examiner was going to pan out and therefore the kind of relationships you needed to build at the beginning, or was it sort of more of an organic . . .
Mike: I did but I’m not normal, you know what I mean? So I am long-term strategic thinker.
Mike: But, here’s the thing, to the tips. I think what you need to do in the beginning if you’re going to try to build a publishing site like Social Media Examiner, online magazine if you will that’s got a bunch of players, you’ve gotta figure out who the players are and what they want, and then you have to start giving them what they want. So for example, lets say in your industry there’s six or seven people that are kind of the big names that are in your industry, maybe what you could do is just start, if you already have a blog, let’s say, like I already had white papers source side of the business, I started interviewing these people and giving them press to my existing audience.
I started reviewing their books, I started getting on camera with them at trade shows, kind of like what you and I are doing but in person. And beginning to let them experience some of the love, and I never asked anything from them. So the idea is really to, a lot of people want basic things, they want recognition for example, that’s one of the first things everybody wants, so if you can maybe start writing book reviews, un-solicited, for these people and I guarantee it if they have a brand new book out they’ll notice it because book authors want that stuff.
Maybe offer to do interviews with them, maybe ask them insightful questions, promote the heck out of them, and don’t ask for anything in return, don’t say would you tweet this, don’t say would you do this, because then it’s an exchange. Instead give it as a gift, if you start giving gifts to people you will stand out, like for example Seth Godin who is big in the world of marketing or Guy Kawasaki who is also the former Apple fellow, the Apple evangelist. Both of these people are people that I developed relationships with.
In the case of Seth, I emailed him and said Seth, can I help you? We had done some email correspondence in the past, and he says as a matter of fact, you can, and I said how can I help you? And he said so and so will be in touch. So this gal, and by the way I said how can I help you out and by the way our site has got a big small business audience in case you need any love from us or whatever, and then he said so and so will be in touch, this gal reached out to me and she says he’s got a brand new book coming out called Linchpin and I said how about I interview Seth and write a really kinda cool review, you know I mean uh do a really great interview of him for his launch and we do it the day his book comes out. He loved it.
An you know later on down the road I’ve come to develop a good relationship with Seth, so that’s kind of how you do it, you just give people great value but you figure out a way to make content out of it. So that at the end of the day what your audience wants is great content, so for example if there’s a big event, maybe you go to the event and write a review on the event and maybe the event coordinators might see it and maybe later down the road that could lead to you speaking at the event. You see it’s really all about planting lots of seeds.
In fact, my book was going to be called Seed Marketing but Wiley rejected the title because it’s all about planting lots of seeds, some will germinate and grow, and others won’t but the idea is that if you’re planting enough of them, something positive will come and you can begin those relationships. And just one quick caveat, when we started Social Media Examiner I took a camera crew with me to a major trade show called Blog World and I did like 15 interviews with people like Chris Brogan, and Mari Smith, and Steve Rebel, and Richard Jalichandra who is the CEO of Technorati. And these interviews we ended up releasing over time on our site, and the authors loved it, they tweeted about it, it made them look good and it started building relationships with all of these people that today I have very strong relationships with.
Jo: Mike, I love what you’re saying, it’s just brilliant. Stuff we talk about on the Social Networking Academy, we talk loads about giving value, you know if you adopt that mind set of just going out and giving loads and loads of value first, then everything else will follow, whether it’s relationships, whether it’s the growth of your business, whether it’s revenue, everything else will follow if you go out and give value first. So thanks for that, that’s brilliant. But it leads us also very nicely to your book, can you tell us a little bit about your book, Launch?
Mike: Yeah, the subtitle is called How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond The Competition, and the premise of the book is this thing I call the elevation principle. If you think of your business like a rocket ship, as a matter of fact I’ve got a little sample right here. Your job is to navigate this thing into new frontiers and the formula for the elevation principle is great content, plus other people, minus marketing messages, equals growth.
So great content is the core of everything we do at Social Media Examiner, it’s the how-to articles that are really in depth, it’s the case studies of successful businesses, and how they did it. That kind of stuff. Everybody loves that kind of stuff. The other people component is about identifying those experts that we’ve been talking about during this interview and tapping their minds and sharing what’s in their brain with your audience, which is great content, but more importantly can lead to strategic alliances.
And then the minus marketing messages, nobody likes marketing messages so just can the marketing messages. When you mix all three of those together, you can grow extremely fast, which is exactly what we did at Social Media Examiner, and the book talks about how to identify the experts, how to create the content, how to market without marketing so to speak.
Jo: Fantastic. So when you say can the marketing messages, I mean I do notice obviously that on the Social Media Examiner there are really, the only thing you ever really advertise massively is the Facebook Summits every year. How do you monetize the Social Media Examiner?
Mike: So we do three summits a year, one on Facebook, one on social media, and one on small business now. And we only advertise those events and that’s only about 50% of the time, so the rest of the time we have no advertising on the site at all, and we have a policy that prohibits any advertising on SocialMediaExaminer.com. This is probably the reason why our stuff gets shared so popular on Linked In and Facebook and Twitter, which brings all of these people in. How we make our money is a sub-segment of our audience decides to subscribe to our daily email newsletters, it goes like this, your content is so good I want to sign up to get more of it.
And we have about 117,000 people that are on that list, and every day they get an email that’s about a 70 word article and then they link to read the article. Once we’ve grown that list, that allows us to promote our summits to that list of 117,000 people and that’s how we’re making our money, selling our events to the captive audience of email subscribers. And then we do sell some little ads in those email newsletter lists, but they’re positioned so that they don’t even look like ads, they’re like, our advertisers are advertising free webinars, free ebooks, so it comes across as free content, but 85% of our revenue comes from our events, 15% comes from our newsletter, but it’s all done in a way that doesn’t appear to be advertising at all.
Jo: Clever, very clever. Sorry, I wandered off then slightly but just going back to the book, Launch is available right now, correct? And people can find out more information at theelevationprinciple.com or just elevationprinciple.com?
Mike: Elevationprinciple.com, we have the first chapter of the book, and a little secret, I wrote the whole book in the first chapter, and it’s free. So I practice what I preach, you can actually read the entire first chapter of the book, never get the book and learn an enormous amount from just the first chapter of the book, and that was a little secret thing I did with Wiley and they were okay with it, it’s a very long chapter.
If you go to Amazon you can get the book, but you’re not going to get the free chapter of the book unless you go to Elevation Principle. It’s been fun, I had to write the book to re-brand myself, because I was known as a white paper guy and now I want to be known as not the white paper guy anymore, so that’s the reason I wrote the book. There’s not a lot of money in books, it was a labour of love.
Jo: Yeah, and is it working? Are you finding that you’re re-branding yourself?
Mike: Absolutely, I’ve been keynoting all of these big events and I keynoted Blog World and I was speaking at the International Spa Association and all these other things, so it’s definitely re-branded me, which is important. You don’t have to write a book, is the take home message, to be successful, all you have to do is write great content on your blog, and frankly, you don’t have to write it, I don’t write any of the content on Social Media Examiner, all I do is the interviews on video, and then everyone else writes all the stuff. So you can kind of use any format that works for you, audio, video, writing. But it’s a lot of fun, I really love what I’m doing right now.
Jo: Fantastic, that’s brilliant. So before we go Mike, just one last message, have you got any advice for people just getting started out there?
Mike: Yeah, for the person who is maybe you know, thinking about going out on their own, maybe not working for the boss, the man. I would encourage you that if you get a crazy idea like I did, follow it. We are in an era that is nothing like has ever existed in our lifetime, there is an incredible opportunity for you to leverage free tools like a blog, like Facebook, like Twitter, like Linked In and to very, very quickly build a consultancy, build a publishing site upon which you can build advertising revenue or your own business.
I just think it’s such an incredible opportunity and you have all the tools, and they’re free. All you need is time. I’m just so impressed to see how many people are in that 50 and over crowd that are just taking the bull by the horn and are really doing amazing things using social media so I would encourage you to go for it, what have you got to lose? You can even just do it part time, and see if it works for you before you decide to leave whatever you’re doing, but I would strongly suggest you .. .
Jo: Just finish that last sentence there Mike, because you just cut out. You strongly suggest that you go for it, is that what you said?
Mike: Yeah, I strongly suggest that you give it a shot.
Jo: Give it a shot. Fantastic, wonderful. Mike, I tell you what, I could talk to you for hours, I’d just love to know where you think social media is going, all that kind of stuff, but maybe we’ll save that for another interview, another time. Mike Stelzner, thank you so much for giving us the time today, I really, really appreciate it. I’ll put the link to ElevationPrinciple.com below this video guys, so go out and grab the first chapter of Mike’s book. All the very best Mike, with Social Media Examiner and everything else that you’ve got planned.
Mike: Thank you very much.
Jo: Thanks ever so much Mike, take care.
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