Who Should Sponsor Your Blog?

Should you have a sponsor for your blog? Is it worth the effort? Or are you selling out your soul by accepting filthy lucre for a company to have a say in your blog’s content and tone? And which company’s filthy lucre should you pursue?

(Yes, yes, not really, and it depends.)

I’ve been DMing with Mark Eveleigh, a first-class travel writer, book author, and photographer who takes some gorgeous photos of those places you’re never going to see before you die, about whether he should blog (he should) and if he could get a sponsor (he could). He also owns a freelance photography assignment agency where several other outstanding outdoor photographers are available for hire.

Mark Eveleigh

Mark Eveleigh. Petty jealousy and raging insecurity make me want to not help him. A guilty conscience makes me do it anyway.

Mark has an interesting situation, because a sponsorship for his personal branding blog makes a lot of sense. As I see it, he would appeal two basic categories of readers: travel enthusiasts and photography enthusiasts.

The experience levels in these two categories may range from “I wish I could do that” to the serious amateur to the consummate professional. And because Mark is a specialized travel writer and photographer — trips to remote locations to take beautiful pictures — he is most likely attracting readers who want to do similar activities, or at least learn more about it.

Why Sponsor a Blog?

Travel writers have a special niche that can appeal to a wide range of readers — from people who like to travel to people who like to read about travel — who have self-identified as loyalists and users of a particular special interest. That’s a valuable niche for marketers to tap into. Anyone who sells products to travel fans should take advantage of sponsorship opportunities.

So who should sponsor Mark’s blog?

If he wants to appeal to the travel readers, he should talk to large travel agents that specialize in adventure travel, airlines that travel to out of the way locations (think Brazil, Thailand, South Africa), adventure travel gear manufacturers, and publishers of travel guides for the adrenaline-addicted.

On the photography side of thing, he should reach out to makers and online dealers of high-end camera equipment, camera bags, and other photography-related businesses.

(Frankly, Mark’s camera manufacturer, Nikon, should be begging him to throw their logo all over his blog, and include him in their ads.)

In exchange, Mark can write include basic mentions in an occasional article, review a sponsor’s service or product, and allow some ads on his site.

Sponsorship doesn’t always have to include money though. It can also include goods or services. For someone like Mark who travels constantly, it could be free flights for a year, or an expensive new lens to review and keep.

Prove Your Value First

Of course, pursuing sponsors also means being able to prove the value of the blog itself. It means knowing the number of readers, what their interests are, what kinds of influence they have, and even who they are.

Using tools like Google Analytics for web traffic (where they came from, what they read the most), Klout for influence (your readers’ and your own), and even what your network is interested in (using Twellow.com or Gist.com) can help bloggers show where their readers are coming from and what they’re interested in.

I think that as blogs grow in popularity and blog owners are able to show something newspapers have never been able to demonstrate — accurate and up-to-date reader stats — we’re going to start seeing more marketers get involved with real bloggers who can deliver on both great content and valuable readership.

Why Is Klout Important?

My post about three secrets to improve your Klout score generated a lot of discussion, partly about other techniques, but also wondering why Klout is even important.

Billy Kirsch asked how it would influence him on Twitter. Brooke Randolph wanted to know how it would help her, and why she would want to improve her score beyond bragging rights. And Ivan Torres said it was just an artificial number that didn’t affect the experience.Screenshot of a Klout.com score

To answer these questions, let’s take a look at what your Klout score means.

Your Klout score is basically the best way we have to quantify whether you’re doing a good job on social media. While it measures mostly Twitter, it also looks at your activity on Facebook and LinkedIn. It’s a measurement of your social media influence — your clout — and whether people like and trust you enough to respond to the things you do. In other words, if your social media footprint were a sales letter, would your readers respond to your call to action?

Your Twitter “call to action” includes things like:

  • Do people click on the links you send out. If it’s to a new blog post or an interesting article, do they follow the link, or ignore it? If you typically write and tweet interesting stuff, they’re more likely to follow it.
  • Do people retweet the interesting tweets you send out? Do they respond and share it with their networks, or do they just go “meh” and let it rot at the bottom of their Twitter barrel? If you’re engaging, witty, or really smart, then you’re probably tweeting interesting stuff that other people want to share.
  • Are people talking to or about you directly? Are they asking you questions, pointing out interesting articles to you, or inviting you to stuff? Or are you an unknown quantity like that weird kid in high school no one really paid attention to? If people know who you are, you’ll be top-of-mind when it comes time to write original tweets to specific people.

Klout measures things like this and compiles your score, based on a scale of 1 – 100. However, it’s different from your traditional grading scale: 60 is not a D, and you have to be an international star to get 100. Chris Brogan has one of the highest Twitter scores, and he has a 81. Ashton Kutcher has 81, and Justin Bieber has 100. (I also have a higher score than Helio Castroneves, even though he has more followers and more Indy 500 wins than I do, so being a celebrity is no guarantee you have a high Klout score.)

So what does a good Klout score do for you?

Truthfully, not much. You don’t win prizes, you don’t gain fame or fortune, and you don’t get book deals. Beyond bragging rights, there’s not a lot that Klout will do for you.

Except…

Except people with higher Klout scores are considered influencers. People with high Klout scores have worked hard to grow and polish their reputation, and become the kind of person other people want to click through, retweet, and talk to. And these people get some benefits from marketers who want to reach people with good reputations.

  • I received some swag and DVDs from the makers of the TV shows Lone Star and Southland. Lone Star sent me a t-shirt, some beer and martini glasses, a cooler, and a tin of popcorn. Southland sent me similar stuff. Both shows wanted me to watch their show and tell all my followers about it in the hopes that they would watch it to. (Sadly, Lone Star was canceled after two episodes.)
  • Audi asked influential designers, technology pros, and luxury lifestyle thinkers with high Klout scores to test drive their new A8 model at an exclusive San Francisco event. The hope, other than finding that Klout influencer with 100,000 bucks laying around, was that people would talk about the A8 to their friends via Twitter, their blog, YouTube, and Flickr. For the price of a what is normally an automotive journalists’ trip, Audi was able to get some word of mouth advertising and reaching a non-automotive audience who might not normally consider an Audi.
  • Bottlenotes Chicago offered tickets to the Around the World in 8 Sips Chicago free wine and cheese tasting to wine influencers. Restaurants and special events always give away free meals or passes, but by reaching out to Klout influencers, they are able to get some digital ink from the social media influencers for their food costs, without spending any more money on print advertising, or TV or radio commercials.
  • Movie studios have offered free passes to fans in the hopes that they’ll tell their friends about the movie, again providing word of mouth marketing for a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing and advertising. Rather than putting together a special screening for people, they give away free passes and reap the same benefit as the screening.

So what is the benefit to you to having a decent Klout score? Right now, not much. Free movies, free swag from TV shows, free meals, and a chance to drive a car that costs more than the average national salary. Plus, you get to dog on your friends who may have a score lower than yours.

But, and this is what’s most important, you’re getting a good indication of how your social media efforts are working out. Think of this as analytics for your social media influence. It may be an artificial number, but it’s the closest thing we’ve got to a quantitative indication about how well we’re doing. And while people are still debating the efficacy of the Klout score, it’s the best indicator out there.

So use it, take it with a grain of salt, but don’t ignore it or dismiss it out of hand. If you care about whether you’re actually making progress in your social media efforts — or you just want some cool swag — pay attention to Klout until something better comes along, or until they improve.

Three Secrets to Improve Your Klout Score

I was checking out Klout’s new beta layout, and liked how easy it was to see and understand. It really helped me get an understanding on how the whole system worked. And it made me realize I was on the right track with some of my strategies to improve my Klout.

I’m sure some people wonder why Klout is even important, or will dismiss it as nothing more than a popularity contest. But think of it as a way to show off your social media chops — quantifiable proof that you are awesome. Some marketers are even using Klout as a way to reach special influencers with their promotions. I’ve personally gotten some cool swag from TV studios that want me to watch their shows. Audi asked several Klouters to test drive their new A8, and TBS gave Sony PSP 3000s to key influencers. Plus, right or wrong, some employers are basing hiring decisions on Klout scores.

So here are three secrets you can use to improve your Klout score.

1. Reduce the number of followers.

This seems counter-intuitive at first, but it makes sense when you realize that one of Klout’s scores is your Amplification Probability, or “the likelihood that your content will be acted upon.” The more followers you have who are not acting on your tweets, the lower this score will be.

Think of it this way: if you have 2,000 followers, and 20 of them retweet something you send, you have a 1% retweet rate. But let’s say you drop that to 1,000 followers — eliminating people who haven’t used Twitter in a few months, spammers, and abandoned accounts — and you still get those 20 retweets, you now have a 2% retweet rate. Your Amplification Probability rate has doubled.

Tactic: Use ManageFlitter.com to find all people who have not tweeted within the last 2 months or longer, and unfollow them. This will get rid of the people who aren’t contributing anything to you, and cut out all the deadwood. They’re adding to your Following count, but aren’t doing anything at all, except dragging the value of your network down.

Tactic #2: Make sure you’re actually creating interesting stuff that people want to act on. See Secret #3 for more on that.

2. Engage mostly with people who are likely to engage with you.

Klout measures your True Reach, which is an indication of how engaged your network is. If they’re engaged with their own networks and are talking with people, not blasting and broadcasting, this adds value to your network, especially if they respond to you. It means they’re real people, not bots, not spammers, and not celebrities.

This doesn’t mean you should only follow people who are following you. There are some people who may have valuable information you want to get, and if you ignore them, you could be missing some important stuff. But it means you need to be selective about those people you follow. Don’t just follow people because you think they might be interesting. Be sure.

Tactic: I hate to say it, but drop all the celebrities you’re following (keep your favorite one or two). Also drop the news networks you’re not paying attention to. Block & Report for Spam anyone who is spamming out junk. And unfollow anyone whose sole Twitter contribution is nothing but motivational quotes. One or two quotes a day is fine, but when there are 10 a day, and nothing else, they don’t need to be in your Twitter stream.

Tactic #2: Use ManageFlitter to identify those people, and then use Formulists.com to keep that list clean. Formulists will show you people who have unfollowed you. Use the “Recently Unfollowed Me” list a few times a week to identify those spammers. It’s also a common tactic of spammers to follow a bunch of people, get those people to follow back, and then unfollow everyone. This lets them artificially boost their number. But Formulists lets you spot those people

Tactic #3: Pay close attention to your new followers. Don’t automatically follow everyone back. Ignore people who don’t have an avatar, a bio, or talk about helping people make money in their bio.

3. Make an impression on influencers.

I once asked Jason Falls what the secret was to getting a lot of readers on a blog, and he said, “Write good shit.” If you read his Social Media Explorer blog, you get a daily dose of good stuff, sometimes two or three articles in a single day. Doug Karr does the same thing with his Marketing Tech blog.

If you want to reach influencers — people with high Klout scores — you need to be innovative. Write about new ideas, new tools, new strategies, new ways of thinking. You can’t just aggregate the same old stuff that everyone else has seen.

Strategy: (This point is a whole strategy, not just a simple tactic). Your blog is the hub of your personal branding campaign. It needs to rock. You need to write your own good shit, and get a lot of people to notice it. If you get a lot of people interested in what you’re talking about, it will eventually catch the interest of the other influencers. As they catch on, your stuff will spread, and your Network Influence will grow.

Tactic: Get to know the influencers, offline if possible. Attend conferences and networking events. Have coffee or lunch with them. Interact with them online too. Set up your TweetDeck or Hootsuite app with columns and lists so you can keep track of your industry’s influencers. When you read their tweets, respond where appropriate.

Tactic #2: Don’t be afraid to ask your influencers to retweet your stuff once in a while. Don’t make it a regular thing. Once a week is probably too much. Once a month is okay. But — and this is a big one — make sure you’re retweeting their stuff a whole lot more. It shows that you have an interest in them and believe in what they say. While they don’t have to do it for you in return, it shows that you’re a giving person, which means other people will do it for you too. This is another reason you need to retweet those up-and-comers too — the people who have a lower score and less popularity than you.

This is not about gaming the system. This is about being a good social media citizen. If you tweet and write interesting stuff, maintain a strong network, make valuable contributions, and don’t feed the jackasses, your Klout score will naturally rise.

But if you engage in bad behavior like trying to artificially gain followers, tricking people into retweeting your stuff, or contributing nothing whatsoever of value (looking at you, random motivational quote generators!), then your Klout score will sink like a stone.

Five Secrets I Used to Trick Klout. Sort Of.

It’s really been grinding Douglas Karr’s gears that my Klout score is higher than his, even if it’s only by a couple points or so.

He mentioned his anguish during a recent talk at a Northwest Indiana tweetup, and then again on his Marketing Tech radio show, so I know it’s getting to him. Still, Doug has set the bar plenty high, so to even come close to him on something is a pretty big deal, let alone beat him. (And since it’s the only thing I’m going to beat him in — ever —  I want to hold on to this for as long as I can.)

It’s possible to game the Klout system, but it takes a long-term strategy. Sure, you can try to work it in short bursts, but the system will weed out people who don’t stay dedicated, mostly because they use cheap techniques that take too much energy and effort for an extended period of time. So I came up with my own system that will work, by tricking Klout into thinking I’m actually a model Twitter citizen. Here’s how I did it.

1) Be choosy about who I follow.

One of the things Klout pays attention to is the follower/following ratio, how influential my audience is, and whether they take action on my tweets. Having a big network doesn’t do me any good if I’m following junk accounts, abandoned accounts, or spammers.

I use Manage Flitter to unfollow people who don’t follow me and haven’t tweeted in the last three months. This way, I clean out all the deadwood on my network. Why run up my following count on people who won’t use the system more than once every 90 days? They don’t provide value, so they’re out.

I also carefully consider whether to follow someone. I’ll follow people if they provide good value, if they are real people and not brands, and if they don’t tweet crap, constant news headlines, or motivational quotes. I avoid the spam accounts, bot accounts, and the accounts that follow 2,000 people but have never written a single tweet. By following people who know how to use Twitter properly, my network is made up of people I’m happy to read and retweet.

2) Be choosy about who follows me.

I am actually a little choosy about people who follow me. I will “block & report for spam” any porn accounts, anyone who uses Twitter to promote their MLM or money-making system, or is going to do nothing but sell crap. By eliminating these people, my network is more engaged and more likely to read my tweets and react to them. I don’t need to artificially boost my follower account by letting in these spammers and fakers, and I would certainly never join one of those “find followers fast” networks that promise to boost my numbers.

3) Tweet good stuff.

If you want people to pay attention to your stuff and retweet it, make sure you say something useful. I will never tweet out motivational quotes, daily “good morning tweeps” messages, or news headlines after news headline. Instead, I send out things that will be useful, interesting or funny to my Twitter network. Since my network is made up primarily of social media folks, writers, and people with a sense of humor, I make sure at least half of my tweets will be appealing to one or more of those groups. The other half are real conversations and responses to other Twitterers.

4) Retweet good stuff.

I set up a few columns on my TweetDeck to monitor people I want to pay careful attention to. I have columns for people in my state, other social media pros, humor writers and comics, and PR and marketing pros. Whenever someone in those groups tweets something useful, interesting, or funny, I retweet it. I also respond to their conversations with thoughtful responses, and answer questions.

This introduces these new voices to my own network. And since I have earned my network’s trust by only tweeting out good stuff, they’ll read and respond to those retweets as well. This helps expand their networks by connecting these people to each other, which can enhance my own reach as well.

5) Write good blog posts.

Of course, the best way to get people to retweet my stuff is to write good blog posts in the first place. People don’t retweet my vacation photos. They don’t retweet posts where I talk about what I do, what my plans are for my company, or what kind of magazine I would be. I have to write useful information, like exploding grammar myths, how social media is not an entry level position, or an SEO strategy using microsites and specialty domain names. By writing useful posts like these, and promoting them on Twitter, people are more willing to retweet them to their own networks.

So that’s my strategy for gaming my Klout score. By spending an hour writing a single blog post, searching for valuable information to tweet and retweet, and by sending it all out to a drum-tight network that I insure is made up only of valuable and interesting people, I’m able to trick Klout’s algorithm into boosting my overall score without having to work very hard to. . . ah, dammit.