It turns out that group work can be a lot more fulfilling when it doesn't involve decorating posterboard in the corner of a classroom while a teacher hovers over you.

Listen to it later:

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Indeed, to hear content guru Andy Crestodina espouse the advantages of content collaboration is to hear the question go from "Why should I do this?" to "Why am I not doing this?"

Since the early days of the Web, he explains, content marketing has become incredibly competitive, and the perspective of a single writer giving a single point of view is no longer sufficient. Just like news reporting, content needs people, names, perspectives.

And they certainly don't have to be celebrities. Just experts with experience will do. "All of these people wake up in the morning hoping to be interviewed," Andy says. "People love being interviewed!"

You can also just ask a question on social media and see who engages. Chances are people will. Then you can move those conversations into email, develop them further, and create a piece of content out of it! You can even make friends in the process. Win-win!

Don't slug it out by yourself, he says. Why would you? "It's harder. It's boring. It's lonely."

Who can argue with that?

Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

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Full Transcript: The Power of a Collaborative Content Strategy

George Thomas: Who do we get the pleasure of having a conversation with today? None other than Andy Crestodina. Andy Crestodina is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Orbit Media, an award-winning 50-person digital agency located in Chicago. Over the past 20 years, Andy has provided digital marketing advice to 1,000+ businesses. He speaks at national marketing conferences and writes for big marketing blogs. He's also the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing.

Andy has written 500+ articles on content strategy, search engine optimization, influencer marketing, visitor psychology, and analytics. Andy gives up to 100 presentations per year and is a frequent repeat speaker at many of the top conferences, including Content Marketing World, Social Media Marketing World, MarketingProfs B2B Forum, and many more. Marketing Smarts listener, I am excited because we are about to go on a fantastic voyage with the conversation that I had with Andy Crestodina about collaborative content marketing. Let's get into the good stuff.

Andy, what's amazing is not everybody has decided to hop onto this train of content marketing. What would you say to any marketers out there that have not embraced just a simple content marketing strategy?

Andy Crestodina: Good one. I love it. I haven't been asked this in a while. A website without a content program is an online brochure. That is literally what it is. You've produced nothing that gives anybody a reason to share, to subscribe, to visit twice. Your website is 100% sales content, which is pretty boring. I remember back in the days when a content program kind of gave your site a little bit of an edge. Now it's just about not having a disadvantage. It's sort of expected that you at least at some point stake a claim to something, offer some bit of helpful, useful advice. Without a content program, your site is 100% hype and 0% help, as Jay Baer might say.

George: Hype versus help. It's funny because we had to do that little bit of foundational piece for the listeners because obviously they saw the title, we're talking about the power of collaborative content strategy. To have collaborative content, you have to be on board with just content in general. Value, trust, reciprocity, the things that this all equals.

Today, we are talking about collaborative content strategy. The first question that came to my mind when I saw the video, by the way—just some recap for the listeners… I watched this video, and I was like OMG this needs to be an episode of the podcast. Here's the thing. The first thing that came to my brain was how is this different from normal content strategy? Maybe even this is a two-part question, how is it different from influencer marketing, when you think about it?

Andy: I think the status quo for years was just I have a perspective, I have an idea, I want to help, here's a tip, and people just write it out, and content marketing was just an endless series of 800-word articles that gave advice. Then once it got so competitive, we basically have moved into an era of post-single-point-of-view content. We're past the era where a single point of view is really sufficient. Sort of like in journalism you can't really publish a credible story without a source, journalism needs sources, content marketing needs collaborators.

I would never write an article without inviting a contributor to provide a quote, because I'd have a disadvantage. There's only one perspective, it's not very effective. We're in an era now when interviews and formats like this have an advantage because you have different perspectives. Roundups are still very effective and powerful because you get multiple perspectives, other people are sort of incentivized to share and help promote. Then there are contributor quotes.

As a marketer, you are missing an opportunity to learn while creating the content by reaching out to experts to see what they think about it. You're missing an opportunity to grow your relationships. You're missing an opportunity to get greater social reach. I really think of it as we are now firmly in a multiple POV era for content, and anything else just struggles to keep up.

George: It's interesting. I love that you're like quotes and interviews and roundtables, and things like that. Those are the different kinds of things that you might do when we're talking about collaborative content strategy. But you have companies out there that are like, "Let me hire an influencer to do this marketing." Maybe talk about how the mindset in which you go to create the collaborative content with the people isn't maybe always about paying somebody to say the thing. What is it?

Andy: Every channel has organic and paid. Search has organic and paid. Social has organic and paid. Influencer marketing has organic and paid. In each example, paid is advertising. Paid influencer marketing is called advertising. That's what it is. It must be disclosed as such. It's just paying someone for product placement or for the mention. Advertising is interruptive. The visitor is there for a different reason, and you shoehorn in your message by paying them to inject your value prop in the middle of something else.

Collaborative content marketing is also known as organic influencer marketing, which is just creating greater levels of value, greater levels of trust. Collaborative content marketing, you could also just describe as organic influencer marketing.

As an example, I wrote this article about how a great content strategy if you've done a lot of how-to is to put it together, make it a curriculum. Curriculum development is an excellent content strategy. Wait a minute. I've done that myself, but I can't be the only example here. Who else do I know? Joanna Wiebe, founder of Copyhackers. Perfect perspective. I reached out for a quote. She gave me something back. It's awesome, better article, better perspective. Who else knows about this, who has done a lot of publishing and put it all together? Ann Handley. I reached out. So grateful she responded and gave me some insights. Perfect, made it a better piece, more perspective.

Why not upgrade the quality of your content by getting other points of view? They are influencers, if nothing else, within their networks. They don't have to be celebrities. When you include them in a collaborative way, it's organic. Collaborative content equals organic influencer marketing.

George: I love where this is going. First of all, hopefully, Marketing Smarts listeners, you're hearing the word that has been said multiple times of upping the quality of your content, because it is at this level of which we have to really dig in. Having other people help do that with these quotes, reaching out and realizing we're not the only ones that have done this thing.

Andy, you did a great job of dancing around the tulips on the question that I want to ask next. I think it does tie back to the human on the other side of the page, or the human on the other side of the video, or whatever the content is. One of the things I like to dig into is the why of the thing that we typically talk about on these episodes. When you think of creating collaborative content, what's the important human why to even go in this direction?

Andy: There's a couple of ways that works. One is content that is more visual has an advantage at keeping the visitor engaged. Let's be honest, our visitors are scanning a lot of the time, so you're trying to find ways to add something of visual interest at every scroll depth. Formatting can do that. Images also do that. When I add a contributor quote to a piece, I have the face, the name, the link, the title, the company, the quote. You're making the content more engaging visually to the scan reader. That's one.

Another thing is everything that you say as a marketer is automatically marketing. As soon as you put quotes around it, it becomes a third-party, it becomes an additional perspective. I'm not an attorney, but lawyers go to court and they put a witness in the witness box. Why? Because you need to create a case. You're looking for other voices. The quotes are the most powerful key on your keyboard. Any chance you have to put something in quotes, don't miss the chance, because now the reader is getting that from another perspective. It feels like a third-party, it's like an endorsement, it's somehow more credible. It's like a new voice. So, it checks that box.

Also, as I mentioned, you're going to get greater social reach because an ally in creating content is an ally in then promoting content. Unless you have people in your content, you did not optimize for social. Everyone knows content optimized for search includes keywords in your title, your header, your body text. What it took me years to figure out is that content optimized for social media has people, faces, names, quotes, perspective. That's what optimized for social means. It checks all the boxes.

Plus, in the long run, separate from your brand, separate from your leads, separate from your employer, grow your own network, make friends. If you're not making friends, you're doing it wrong. Have some fun. It's more fun. Don't do it alone. That's boring. Enjoy your job by doing it together with other people. We need that now more than ever.

George: I love this. Enjoy your job. Maybe go to play, don't go to work. That will help the mindset on that.

Andy: Yes.

George: I love that you said the quotes are the most powerful key on your keyboard. That is a tweetable moment right there. Marketing Smarts listeners, just tweet that. Make a quote, put a picture, maybe it's Andy's face, throw that out on the internet because that was golden.

Here's the thing. I know there's imposter syndrome, there's who am I to do this thing. They could easily be watching or listening to you and I and say, "I'm not an Ann Handley. I'm not an Andy Crestodina. I'm not a Chris Brogan. I'm not a Jay Baer," or whatever name they put in their mind, "How do I reach out to people? How do I collaborate? Why would anybody want to collaborate with me?" First of all, knock that off. They're going to want to, trust me.

But let's get into the question, how can listeners actually get started with this collaborative content strategy? What are maybe some tips or tricks, either mindset or process that will help them unlock this magic?

Andy: Large social accounts are a bit overrated. Anyone who has worked with a large social account can tell you that. The point is not to collaborate with a celebrity. You don't need a Jay or a Joe or an Ann here to be successful at this. A lot of what I just described has nothing to do with the social reach of the collaborator. Enjoying your job, adding visual prominence, adding other points of view, learning by creating your content, none of that has anything to do with the perceived level of visibility of the collaborator.

Yes, they'll enjoy it anyway. Try it anyway. It doesn't hurt. What's going to happen? Nothing happens. That's the worst case scenario is that the person doesn't respond to you and nothing happens. Not a big deal. Taking a chance and doing a bit of outreach is helpful. By the way, all of these people wake up in the morning hoping to be interviewed. People love to be interviewed. To them, you are a press hit.

That's what has happened, this paradigm shift. Now you're the media. That's the change on the internet is that everyone is a publisher now. As the media, when you reach out to someone and ask them if they'd like to contribute to this piece you're making, they're very likely going to be excited about that. Pro influencers are the best at this because they know what it's worth, they know how easy it is. They drop everything and they're ready, they budget time to respond for little PR opportunities like this. Actually, I've found that you get some of the better results reaching out to people that do this frequently because they're on their game with it.

But set all of that aside and just try this one. If you're considering writing a piece of content that answers a question, post the question on social media and just see who engages with it. Now, the people who give very interesting responses, move that conversation to email and consider them as contributors and collaborators who might be part of a roundup or give you a contributor quote. Then when this post goes live that you created with those other points of view, go back to the original post on social media where you asked the question, see who else engaged with it, and now mention them, or tag them, or send it directly to them after it goes live.

It's like priming the pump. Ask the question first, then go produce the content together with some of your best answerers, and then after the piece is published, go back to the original post where the question was asked, and you can keep that conversation going. In other words, if you just wait until the piece is live before you try to begin social promotion, it's a little too late. I like that idea of priming the pump by asking questions on social in advance to publishing. It's a good way to find new collaborators.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, we just hit the rewind part of the podcast. You need to rewind and listen to that part. What's funny is I think you may have answered the question that I want to ask next, but I'm still going to ask the question because I've found over time that when we have guests, they have these additional tricks up their sleeve every now and then. How do you find, or how have you found and met the collaborators that you've worked with?

Andy: I love the question. I don't have a good packaged up answer to that. A lot of it just sort of happens by traveling through life. I'm at an event and there's a bunch of smart people, and I get this idea to ask all these different people the same question, I leave the event with a roundup. Maybe that was who I was eating lunch with.

I was invited to create some kind of survey, there's a company doing surveys in collaboration with marketers, so I'm going to make this survey. I was just on social, I hadn't seen Ross Simmons in a while, maybe he can do the survey together with me. Let's both get the data, let's both do analysis, let's both write articles on the same topic and then reference each other. That would be better for both of us. So, I asked Ross, "I'm doing a survey. Interested?" Immediate yes, writes back, moved it from social to email.

I know there are tools for this, Analytica and Trackr, and lots of tools for finding influencers. Those tools will help you find people that you hadn't considered. Bartoro shows you hidden gems and which podcasts are talking about which topics. But honestly, the way that I met all of the people that I know was just by being active in communities, live events, just on social media, just listening and talking to people.

When you have an article that's on a topic, you have to find someone who is relevant to that topic, it's kind of who is top of mind for you. It's reason number ten million to be active on social media so that you are more likely to be top of mind to others when they're looking for a collaborator. So, my answer is really just build your network, just be active, think of people who are relevant to the topic, reach out to some.

I should say this. You can't wait until the last minute, because it stresses people out, or they won't respond, or it's too hard. You have to plan your content a little bit farther in advance if you're doing collaborative work. Give people at least a week or so. Some people are really Johnny on the spot. A lot of people need a little more time to think about a good answer.

George: Listeners, I wonder if you heard the same thing that I heard. Andy, as you were answering that, the words it just happens organically because I'm human and this is kind of the way my brain works. Which if we take that and unpack it for the listeners it's like how can you train yourself to think about things that are happening in your normal life as content ideas, and the people that happen to be there with you as the content collaborators that you pull in. It doesn't have to be rocket surgery. It's like, "Hey, you're with me. Let's do this thing. Sure. That sounds great."

Andy: That's the best way to do it. Just have a conversation. Just meet people. We're just out there, we're both at the same place. I had a major collaboration that came out of a conversation at a bar. I was with Michelle Lynn, I was with Morgan from SurveyMonkey, we were just having this conversation, "What is thought leadership? Is there even a good definition for that? Is this stuff thought leadership or is it just purely educational, or is there a difference?"

We did a great piece of research, we surveyed a ton of marketers, and we all published separately. It was so fun. It was so cool to see what came out of that. I turned it into a presentation, and a video, and an article about this topic of thought leadership and I got a lot of other perspectives on it. That started in a bar. Lots of good things start in bars.

George: Actually, I think my marriage started in a bar, but that's a totally different podcast.

Andy: Very collaborative.

George: Yes, very collaborative. As people get it, one of the things I like to do is stop the trainwreck before it potentially happens. What are some hurdles that the listeners may face when getting started with collaborative content? This could be technical, it could be mental, it could be both. Where does your brain go as far as watch out for this here?

Andy: I think that there is a problem with roundups, especially in marketing communities and marketing topics, where people say, "I saw the data, I should do roundups. I heard the podcast, I should be collaborative. I'm going to send this question to 65 people, and I'm going to copy and paste 65 answers into one super tall page." It's just not interesting. There's no added value. People who land on that are just going to be scanning.

I think you should at least group common answers together, or add your own analysis to the top, or produce a data point from it. If you're getting 65 people to give answers, maybe eight out of 10 of them said something, produce a statistic from it or something. I don't love the copy and paste jobs of those roundups that are like 108 marketers talk about TikTok. Add your own perspective, add value to it, please. It's more than just copy and paste. That's not ideal.

Another challenge I mentioned earlier, you have to start early, you can't do it last minute. If I have an idea for an article, I might now begin by asking myself who could contribute. If I have a deadline in a week, I want to give them as much time as possible. Don't send them something on Friday that you need on Monday morning. I don't get good results that way. That doesn't help.

Also, I think don't expect the contributors to share. It's etiquette, but it's not required. It's a nice to have thing. Reciprocity is a very long game. The ideal outcome from this is friendship, by the way. It's not a mercenary act where we demand that everybody makes a social post about this that goes live. It's nice if they do, but that's not the main reason we're doing it.

Those are some things. Keep your roundups non-boring. Add value however you can. Add analysis. Give contributors time. Invite them to share, but if it was a transaction, they added their perspective and you gave them a little bit of exposure value. They are not required to go all out and promote this from every channel.

George: So much good stuff in that last part. As you were talking, I was like can you make it kind of a journey, can you make it something that I want to make it through the page instead of where I can blatantly tell that you don't give a crap and you're just trying to game a system. We watch two, three, four hour movies because it takes us on a journey. Can your content do that?

You've given us a couple of examples, but I'd be remiss if I didn't ask if there are some other examples you could give us around content collaborations, whether it's with you or some things you've seen out on the internet that you think are great examples to look at. Where does your mind go with that?

Andy: Now that live events are back, and I hope that as many listeners here as possible will be joining us for the B2B Forum, if you go to an event with a plan as a marketer, if it's a marketing event, you have an opportunity because you're going to be sitting next to and around and seeing in the halls a lot of other experts, people who you could make something with, to collaborate with.

Some of the most fun things that I've done in marketing were ideas that I had on the way to the conference and when I got there just did recordings. One time, I had this idea, and my first person was Ian Clary. I asked Ian a question, and he answered it on video. Then at the end of his answer, he asked another question, so then I took his question over to Mark Schaeffer. "Mark, will you answer Ian's question and then ask your own?" It was a pay it forward type thing, asking questions. I had 36 of them in the end. It was super fun, super weird, very compelling content because people were invited to ask the next question of someone else. It was partly an experiment, which is part of marketing. That was just fun.

If you go to an event, go with a little bit of a plan or an idea to maybe collaborate with a few other people. Set up a breakfast. Start a conversation. Follow up later, reach out to them. Maybe three or four people can all write on a similar topic, sync your marketing calendars for the month so that you're all publishing on the same topics. Refer to each other's content. Include each other in your work.

Those are things where I'm such a fan, I'm so grateful that we're at a point now where people are comfortable enough to meet up live. Those are things where I just think don't go home without something, without some idea, without some input from some other people. You're going to get 10 times the value of the person who didn't do it. One of the best outcomes from attending a live event is to make connections that lead to creative outcomes and new content.

George: I love this. There's a couple of things on this interview. I don't know about you, listeners, you need to let us know, I think this interview is mad dope. There's a couple of things in that section where Andy basically said to my brain don't be afraid to jump feet first into the petri dish when it comes to actually creating this content that you're collaborating with people on. Then you started to talk about same schedules, same topics, and my brain was like you mean have friends on the internet that you are actually strategizing together on what you're putting out into the world to put a dent in. Wow, that's fascinating.

Hopefully, rewind, listen to that again, jot down your notes. What does this mean for you? What does it mean for your business? There is a goldmine in this interview of different content and human elements that we should be paying attention to as we move forward.

Andy, how long have you been doing marketing, by the way?

Andy: My content marketing program just passed its 15th birthday, so our content marketing has gone on now for 15 years. I started doing SEO and analytics 20 years ago, in the very beginning after starting the business. So, since 2000 or 2001. My first blog post wasn't until 2007.

George: That still makes you a content sensei. Since you're a content sensei, and we have people, the students who are listening to what we're talking about, what are some final words of wisdom? You've earned them. Some final words of wisdom that the Marketing Smarts listeners should take away with them, whether it's just on content marketing or more specifically this collaborative content marketing strategy that they should think of moving forward.

Andy: Don't go it alone. It's harder, it's boring, it's lonely. There are people out there who will be thrilled that you contacted them and asked them for their perspective. It's not important if they're famous. It's important if they're interesting and have a perspective. Over time, you're going to build a small community around you of people who love to work together, people who share each other's work, people who contribute to each other's work.

I feel bad for the marketers that write every article on their own. They publish every article, the day that article goes live nobody knew it was going to exist until it went live, nobody was waiting for it. They never write for any websites except their own.

Let's mention that. Guest posting, writing for other people, doing outreach, offering to publish on someone else's website is also a form of collaboration. Inviting others to publish on your platform is a form of collaboration. What's the phrase? If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Content marketing is a long game. We always say it's a marathon, not a sprint. You're going to go far, so go together. Build relationships, meet experts, learn from them.

It's a contest of generosity. The most generous brands win. To be the most generous brand, you're going to need a little team to do it with you. You're going to have to enlist the help of others. You're going to offer your help to others. In the long run, you're going to go way farther and you're going to get way better outcomes with this collaborative, strategic, more generous approach. Gone are the days of doing it solo. Never write another piece of content without a contributor quote.

George: I feel like I went to content marketing church. I don't know about you, but that last section was amazing. I have to jot all of that down on my walls somewhere. Andy, if people want to reach out to you, if they have questions or want to collaborate, or whatever, where do you want to send them?

Andy: Every two weeks, my frequency never changed, I still write one article every two weeks on In the COVID era, I decided to push my extra time of not being at events into YouTube, so there's an Orbit Media Studios YouTube account. Then just LinkedIn is probably the best network. Connect with me. It says follow, but you can skip that and go to the connect button. Then we'll be connected. Ask me anything, anyone out there, on any topic, any format. If I can help you, I will.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I sure hope so. I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast? Make sure you reach out and let us know either in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B. I know for me one of the most mind-blowing sections of this episode was the fact of how it just happens naturally. Being a human, hanging out with people, having a mindset of creating content and creating that content collaboratively. There were so many rewind points to this episode, but all good things must come to an end.

We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode where we talk with Brian Dean, I hope you do just a couple of things.

One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen to next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

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