Michael Stelzner launched Social Media Examiner in October 2009. Within two weeks of its launch, Social Media Examiner joined the ranks of Technorati’s Top 100 Small Business Blogs and remains in the Top 10. 170,000+ email subscribers receive Social Media Examiner updates 6 days a week. In his book Launch, Michael reveals a formula that made him a millionaire in the Great Recession. He calls it the Elevation Principle: Great content, plus other people, minus marketing messages, equals growth.
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- “The elevation principle is the process of meeting the core desires of prospects and customers by helping them solve their basic problems at no cost.” – a Michael Stelzner original
3 Killer Topics Discussed
1. How can you attract leads, prospects, and opportunity without actively selling?
2. How can you gain access to inﬂuential people in your industry?
3. Is there an easy way to connect with and gain the trust of prospects and customers?
- Find out the meaning behind this Michael Stelzner original…. “When you get other people involved with your content, you not only provide value to your audience, you also forge relationships that can result in long-term beneﬁts to your business.”
- His answer to my favorite question is AWESOME!
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- Launch by Michael Stelzner
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John Dumas: Hire Fire Nation and thank you for joining me for another episode of EntrepreneurOnFire.com, your daily dose of inspiration. If you enjoy this free podcast, please show your support by leaving a rating and review here at iTunes. I will make sure to give you a shout out on an upcoming showing to thank you!
John Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. Fire Nation, we are switching things up a little today. My guest has simply too much to share to follow a format of any kind. So we’re just going to wing it and see what happens. So without further ado, let me introduce my guest, Michael Stelzner. Michael, are you prepared to ignite?
Michael Stelzner: Absolutely, captain.
John Dumas: Michael Stelzner launched Social Media Examiner in October of 2009. Within two weeks of its launch, Social Media Examiner joined the ranks of Technorati’s Top 100 Small Business Blogs and remains in the top 10. 80,000+ email subscribers receive Social Media Examiner updates six days a week. The site receives more than 700,000 pages each month. In his new book, “Launch,” Michael reveals the formula that made him a millionaire in the Great Recession. He calls it the “elevation principle.” Great content plus other people minus marketing message equals growth.
Michael, I’ve given a little overview. Why don’t you tell us a little more about who you are and what you do?
Michael Stelzner: First of all, John, thank you so much for having me on your show, and I hope to inspire today. So first, just to update some of those cool stats that you mentioned, we are coming up on our three year anniversary at Social Media Examiner in middle of October.
John Dumas: Congrats.
Michael Stelzner: Which is kind of exciting. We are at more than 170,000 now email subscribers that get our email in their inbox six days a week. So it’s crazy. It’s been a crazy adventure.
John Dumas: Wow!
Michael Stelzner: When I started the business back in ’09, there were thousands of other bloggers blogging about social media. So I could’ve, as an entrepreneur, decided at that juncture, do I want to compete against thousands of others? Am I going to let that stop me, or should I instead go forth?
Now, I would venture to guess most people listening to us right now would say, “Well, if there are thousands of others, forget it.” Instead, I used that as marketplace justification. I said to myself, “If there are thousands of bloggers out there that are blogging about social media and social media marketing, that means there’s an audience. I used that as my springboard to go forth with the goal of being the largest and the biggest, and I can say today that we are the largest social media marketing blog in the world.
John Dumas: Who were some of your competitors when you launched back in 2009?
Michael Stelzner: Well, there’s a bazillion of them [Laughs].
John Dumas: Yes.
Michael Stelzner: A lot of them aren’t even around anymore, to be very honest with you, but every conceivable small solopreneur or self-employed individual who had a blog and was proclaiming themselves as a social media expert. Back then, it was a lot of PR people that were trying to rebrand themselves as social media marketers.
We kind of saw Mashable back then as a competitor, but Mashable changed their business model a little after we started and kind of instead of focusing on social media marketing, began focusing more on consumer-related social media stuff. Today, they are kind of like the newspaper and we’re like the magazine. Mashable is clearly much larger than us, but they don’t really focus on the things that we focus on. They publish like 30 articles a day. We publish one. We do it really well, and our stuff goes crazy viral.
John Dumas: I like the clean one article a day. That’s why I’m very much so a subscriber. I have the same mentality with EntrepreneurOnFire – one podcast a day. I try to give that same consistency.
In your book, Launch, I love the quote “people want valuable insight, access to great people and recognition before they want products and services.” How does Social Media Examiner follow that ethos?
Michael Stelzner: Well, that’s a wonderful question, John. If you think about it, when you are out there on the web and you’re looking around for information about something that you want to learn more about. Then you go to a website and your first response is a popup box that tries to sell you something or ads all around the content that essentially say, “Hey, buy this or do this,” or Google AdWords ads all over the place. What that does is it sends a message to you and it sends a message to me that, hey, this site is really all about making revenue for the does is it sends a message to you and it sends a message to me that, hey, this site is really all about making revenue for the individual or for the company. That pretty much makes that content irrelevant.
So at Social Media Examiner, we try to have what we call commercial-free content. What I mean by that is 95% of what we publish has absolutely zero advertising going on. What that ultimately means is we’re clean. When someone comes to Social Media Examiner, they automatically see great content that has no ads, and they say to themselves, “Wow! This content rocks! You know what? I like this so much. I’m going to share this on Facebook. I’m going to retweet this. I’m going to put it up on Google+. I’m going to pin it on Pinterest.”
Then the end result is the content becomes your virtual advertiser. It constantly draws traffic to your site because it is so good. You really make your money and you make your sales by getting people to subscribe to that content because once they get on the email list, they’ve given you permission to be fed at your trough every day. That is when you can begin to monetize.
John Dumas: So at Social Media Examiner, you do publish one piece of great content every day. Is that how you started?
Michael Stelzner: Well, when we first started, it was pretty much a lot less than that. It was three articles a week. We learned over time that each day that we could add a new article, we could drive more traffic to our site and we could attract different kinds of audiences. But in the beginning we had very limited resources so I was writing one article a week. So that left two more articles a week that we needed other people to contribute to, and that was about eight people.
So we reached out to eight people that we trusted and that we knew, and we asked, “Hey, would you be willing to write a monthly column for us?” Those people included people like Mari Smith, who’s the Queen of Facebook, Denise Wakeman from The Blog Squad, Chris Garrett, who’s the coauthor of ProBlogger, and a number of other people. In the beginning, it was pretty easy. It was a simple pill to swallow at one article a month. But as time went on, we began scaling up and asking more people to write more articles. Now we have more than 100 writers for Social Media Examiner. About 30 of them are regular contributors. Some people contribute monthly, some contribute bimonthly, but we absolutely did not start out with just one article a week.
Do keep in mind, John, that the typical shelf life of an article is about three days. What I mean by that is once you publish your great content, 90% of the people that will read it will have consumed it in the first three days. So what does that mean? That means that you can get away with publishing two or three a week. But if you can publish one every day, then you have an overlapping effect where these articles are all kind of working independently and yet overlapping, bringing constant traffic to your site.
John Dumas: Now you previously mentioned that Mashable does up to 30 articles a day, and other sites like that. Have you are Social Media Examiner decided that one article a day is your ceiling, or would you potentially go above that?
Michael Stelzner: We will never go above that. We will always remain at one article a day. You have to realize what the business model is of these other sites like Mashable. Their model is to make advertising revenue. Therefore, their model is to drive as much conceivable traffic every single day to their website. So if they can publish 30 articles a day, then they’ve got 30 articles working kind of independently to try to bring more traffic to the site, and they’re making all their money based on passive display advertising. That kind of model is about sending people away from your website. Do you understand what I mean by that? It’s about drawing them in with content to send them somewhere else so that you can make some money.
At Social Media Examiner, and with most businesses, I don’t think you want to work real hard to send people away for a few pennies. In reality, what you want to do is have a super loyal active following that wants to come feed at your trough every day. If you overfeed them, they’re going to burn out.
So that’s why we just simply do one really spectacular article a day that is at the standard of a real magazine. We actually have five editors that edit every single one of our articles before it goes live. So it’s an enormous amount of work, but the quality shows. That’s part of the reason why we have such a massive following.
John Dumas: Thank you for distinguishing that. That really is extremely valuable information. Another quote that I pulled out from your book Launch is “the Internet as the great paralyzer.” Now I love that quote, but I would like to get your meaning behind that.
Michael Stelzner: It’s kind of what I alluded to at the very beginning of this segment. The Internet is incredible because you can find information immediately, but the Internet can also paralyze businesspeople from making the move that they need to to be successful because they say, “Oh my gosh, look at all these competition! I’m not only competing with competition here in the United States, but at lower cost, people all over the world.” Now, anybody can compete because of the Internet. It’s the great equalizer, but it’s the great paralyzer at the same time. So we in our mind as entrepreneurs need to say to ourselves, “Okay. Hold tight for a second. Don’t freak out because there are hundreds of competitors.” Instead, ask yourself, “What are they doing that I could be doing better?” Then use that as, like I said, marketplace justification to push you forward and to be successful.
John Dumas: Very valuable. So the listeners at EntrepreneurOnFire are very passionate entrepreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs. They’re driving to their corporate jobs on a daily basis. They’re listening to this as they drive, during their daily jog. They’re maybe one step away from breaking out and really becoming this entrepreneur that we see today. What’s something that you can say to them, drawing in Social Media Examiner, that you think could be powerful?
Michael Stelzner: Well, first of all, find sources of inspiration. Then say to yourself, “Okay. This company did it. What in the world that they’ve done it? What’s so special about them? Why can’t I be the same?” I’d like to suggest to you that every single person that is successful today was in your position right now. They were driving in their car, they were jogging, they were at the gym, not necessarily happy with their current circumstance and wanted to make a change. Every single entrepreneur. This includes some of the big ones like Steve Jobs. Everyone you could imagine had a dream and needed to figure out how to make it happen.
The thing is, if you can find people, even if you don’t know who they are, but you can find people and you can study what they’re doing and you can begin to learn what they’re doing, you can be one step closer to success because it’s such a great, incredible time you live in right now. You have this opportunity to be able to publicly follow anyone you want on these social networks, and you can just become a student of people, become a student of successful people. Then just watch what they’re doing very carefully, and then ask yourself, “Does any of that apply to me?” This is how you can be successful, and you should definitely look outside your industry.
I got a lot of my inspiration from a guy named Andrew Goodman, and he wrote a book on pay-per-click advertising of all things. My business was hurting way back in the early 2000’s because the tech market was crashing. I needed to learn how to do pay-per-click advertising because Google was kind of the hot thing back in the early 2000’s.
So I bought this e-book from this guy named Andrew Goodman. What was cool was how Andrew was blogging at the time and how Andrew was sending out these really rich emails to everybody who bought his e-book, kind of developing a sense of community. That became a bit of a source of inspiration for me, even though I’ve got no connection to search engine pay-per-click advertising. So just look, study, find role models, and then begin to formulate a plan.
John Dumas: Great advice. Thank you for that. Also, in reading your book Launch, I came across “The Big Three.” Now there are these three things that you lined out. I’ve written them down here if you want me to reference them but…
Michael Stelzner: Yes. Please do.
John Dumas: I really enjoyed each one because they are so different. They really speak to an entrepreneur at different levels. Number one was how can you attract leads, prospects and opportunity without actively selling? Number two was how can you gain access to influential people in your industry? Then the third is, is there an easy way to connect with and gain the trust of prospects and customers?
Michael Stelzner: Okay. So these three questions are big questions that any business really should want to answer. The challenge that we face today is that we as people and as potential prospects and customers are overwhelmed with information. You’ve got your smartphone on your side and you’re getting texted and you’ve got people on Skype trying to reach out to you [Unintelligible – [00:14:09]. You’ve got Facebook, you’ve got Twitter, you’ve got email, you’ve got your regular telephone. You’ve got all these different “communication channels” that are full of marketing messages, frankly, and they are forcing us as consumers to kind of withdraw and shut down because we just can’t take it. Our brains can only handle so much communication. So if you’re struggling with this, then guess what? So are the people that you want to try to attract.
Then trust is another issue. We are not trusting businesses, and part of this has to do with the way marketers treat consumers. They treat them like fish. We even use analogies like “bait pieces” to try to attract people into the boat against their will and all these psychological principles, which is a bunch of basically interesting, but not treating people as people mentality kind of things.
So when you combine the fact that people are withdrawn and people have this general disposition to distrust you, you as an entrepreneur are in a very tough situation because how do you break through? How do you actually get in front of an audience? The solution to it is actually so unbelievably simple, and it’s about people. It’s about focusing on the needs of people.
Just like John is trying to do with this show. He is trying to provide some of the core needs that you have. People, when you give people what they want, they will love you. They will share what you’re doing. They will help you be successful. At the core, people want one of three things. They want access to great information, they want access to great people, and they want recognition. If you can focus on all three of those things ideally, you will be incredibly successful.
John Dumas: Social Media Examiner has been incredibly successful. So can we step back and look at number one with how it specifically applies to Social Media Examiner and how you were able to use this to grow your influence at Social Media Examiner.
Michael Stelzner: The first question was about getting those leads, right? So at Social Media Examiner, we have really valuable content that we put out every day that draws in new people on a daily basis. We get about 500 people every day that sign up for our email newsletter list. So how that works is people love this great content and they say, “I want more,” and they’re given an incentive to sign up for our free newsletter so they don’t miss it. So that’s how we do it. We basically use boxes at the bottom of the article on the sidebars to encourage people to sign up to get our daily newsletters.
John Dumas: So this is something that I found is much easier than somebody would think that’s been on the sidelines to this point, but I would still love to hear your answer to this. That is how can you gain access to influential people in your industry?
Michael Stelzner: Follow John.
John Dumas: [Laughs]
Michael Stelzner: [Laughs]
John Dumas: I love that answer!
Michael Stelzner: Experts are people too, and remember what I said experts want. I mean of those three things that people want, recognition is what experts want. So what does that mean? That means experts really love it when they get an opportunity to be lifted up and to be recognized for the hard work that they’re doing. For example, lots of experts have stories that they would love to share. Many experts have worked very hard to come out with books that just came out. I can assure that when those books are coming out, those experts are approachable, and they might be willing to do an interview. Just like I’m doing with John right now, even though I don’t have a book coming out.
So that’s how you begin building relationships with people, which is to give a gift to them. John is essentially giving me a gift right now by giving me an opportunity to be in front of his audience. The more you can begin building those kind of relationships without asking for anything in return – because remember what a gift really is. A gift is something given without any expectation of a reply or a response. It’s like if your father gives you a gift for your birthday and then says, “What do you have for me?” You kind of laugh. Like what do you mean? It’s my birthday. It’s a gift.
Well so many of us as marketers think that if we get that interview with that big person, then at the end of that interview we can ask that person to do something for us. That’s the wrong mentality because that just takes everything that just happened and doesn’t make it into a gift anymore. It makes it into a lure. A false motive. Instead, you should just give gifts to these experts by reviewing their stuff, reviewing their books. If you can get them on an interview, great.
That’s how you begin the process, and the best way to do that is to get to a physical conference. Physical conferences allow you to c0nnect with people in a human way that you could never do online.
John Dumas: I will pose number three as a question. Is there an easy way to connect with and gain the trust of prospects and customers?
Michael Stelzner: I think there is an easy way, and I think the answer is content because you as an individual can only go so far. You can only answer so many emails. You can only do so many things for people before you’ve stretched yourself to the limit of time, and there is only a limited amount of time as we all know in the day.
But when you produce incredible content, yes, it’s true that that content will have a shelf life, but content is something that can be used over and over again. Content can become something that’s highly scalable. So now all of a sudden, you can give a free gift in your content.
For example, let’s just say you’re an expert in podcast and you produced a piece of content that’s like 101 steps to starting a podcast or 16 tips to successfully interviewing podcast show people. Then you lay out everything and you don’t withhold anything. That’s going to be perceived to be a gift to the right audience. They will love that content and that will attract them naturally to you. That’s the way – I think I might have gone off and lost the original question there, John [Laughs]
John Dumas: [Laughs]
Michael Stelzner: Am I still on track? What was the original question again?
John Dumas: You are, because the original question was an easy way to connect with and gain the trust of prospects and customers.
Michael Stelzner: Yes. So where I’m going with this is with this great content, you’re drawing people in. They’re loving what you’re doing. They’re beginning to build affinity towards you. They’re beginning to trust you because you’re not trying to sell them anything. That’s the beginning of the process, and the end result is stuff like this.
I got an email from a guy up in Canada that said, “Hey, Mike, the next time you have one of your events going on, I would be happy to drive with a bouquet of flowers to anyone in the nation of Canada and deliver a ticket to your event to their front door. If it’s a man, I’ll go with a Starbucks coffee. I will dedicate an entire day of my life to you. That’s how much I want to say thank you for the great content that you’re producing.”
I have no clue who this guy was, but I get this kind of emails all the time from people saying, “You have changed and transformed my life because of what you’re producing.”
John Dumas: That is so powerful. As a continuation to that, I want to get into the elevation principle just a little more because it really has become my new favorite principle. You made the quote “the elevation principle is the process of meeting the core desires of prospects and customers by helping them solve their basic problems at no cost.” The “at no cost” to me is a great way to finish that quote. Can you expound on that?
Michael Stelzner: Yes. Simply said, in formulaic format, it’s great content plus other people minus marketing messages equal growth. The great content is the stuff that we’ve been talking about during this interview. It’s the how to articles, it’s the success stories, it’s the expert interviews. The other people component is about delivering what other people want, but it’s also about delivering other people to your audience. It’s not just about, for example, Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner. It’s about lots of experts and it’s about them producing content for us, but it’s also about me interviewing them. For example, on my podcast called Social Media Marketing.
Then the minus marketing messages, I kind of think of marketing messages like friction on the airplane when you’re landing. You know how like when you’re up in the air and maybe you’re going 500 miles an hour, and then as you come in for a landing, those little flaps come up on the airplane and of a sudden you start slowing down a lot so you can land. Well those flaps going up are what happens to your growth when you begin marketing. What I mean by that is the more marketing messages that you imbed in your content, the less fast your rocket ship will go, so to speak. There is a time and there is a place to market, but if you can try to have as much of your content be marketing message-free, then more people will propel you. You will grow much faster. You will build a much more loyal following.
John Dumas: That was great. Let me give a quick plug for your Social Media Examiner podcast. It’s phenomenal. I just listened to the Mari Smith episode and really enjoyed it. I also love the analogy you gave with the plane coming in. That just really made things very visually clear in my mind. So thank you for that.
Michael Stelzner: Sure. Thank you.
John Dumas: So Michael, we have about five minutes left of the show here, and I really just want to open the floor to you for the next five minutes before I get into the finishing questions.
Michael Stelzner: Well, I just want to encourage people that are listening to consider the power of a blog. So many businesses today are putting up websites and just hoping that people show up on the websites. Maybe they’re investing in some advertising, maybe they’ve got a Facebook page, and particularly, maybe they’re really heavily invested in the social media networks. Considering that we are Social Media Examiner and we know a lot about social media, I just want to suggest a couple of things to you. First and foremost is do not put all your eggs into the social media basket. What I mean by that is don’t rely on Facebook, even though it’s the largest social network in the world, to house everything about your new business. Don’t rely on your Twitter followers because all those things could literally disappear overnight. These social networks are going to change. They’re not under your control. But one thing that is is your destination, which really should be contained in a blog.
I’m a strong proponent of creating content that really resonates with people. It could be a podcast like what John is doing, it could be a group blog like what Social Media Examiner is doing, or it could just be you as an individual showcasing your expertise in educational articles on your website.
At the end of the day, I just want to have you think about all the successful folks that you are looking at today. I would venture to guess a huge percentage of them are successful as a result, first and foremost, of a blog. If you ever want to publish a book, no better way than a blog. If you want to grow a business out of nothing, no better way than a blog. I’m a huge proponent of it. I do believe it is the future.
I’m also a really big proponent of podcasting, by the way. Really, by the time this interview airs, I will have been doing a weekly podcast. I don’t know how many times, but I can tell you that the podcasting opportunity is really quite exciting. There are 350 million people or so that have iOS devices alone, which is like your iPhone and your iPad.
Then when you take all the BlackBerries and all the other smart devices that are out there, and then you add in podcast apps and all these other sources, there is a huge, huge amount of people that do not read but listen, and they learn in a different way. They learn in a way that works that allows them to multitask.
What’s really great about blogs is it’s skimmable, but it’s impossible to read and do something else at the same time. You just can’t. It’s nearly impossible to watch a video and do something else at the same time. But with a podcast and with audio, you can be doing just about anything and be consuming that content at the same time.
This is why I’m such a huge proponent of podcasting. I believe it is at an inflection point, and you’re going to see a lot more podcasts being extremely successful. You’d be surprised how few successful podcasts are out there right now. It’s a great opportunity and it’s ripe, and I think you should go for it.
John Dumas: Wonderful. Thank you for that. Let me just finish with the last question that we always ask during our Lightning Round that’s my favorite, and I’m just really curious because you’re such an actionable guy how you would respond to this.
If you woke up tomorrow morning and you had all the experience and knowledge that you currently have today, but your business had completely disappeared, leaving you with an absolute clean slate, as many of our entrepreneurs find themselves right now, what would you do in the next seven days?
Michael Stelzner: I would start an entirely new business for parents with young kids, and I would be going for my next dream, which is to become a children’s novelist. I would essentially replicate exactly what I’ve done, but from an entirely different industry.
This isn’t my first show, and it won’t be my last. I’ve done what you’re hearing about at Social Media Examiner once before in an entirely different world, which was the white paper world and I was the king of that world. Now, I’m in the social media world, and tomorrow I’ll be in a different world.
So I’ll look at this as an opportunity. I’ll look at this as a chance to do what I really want to do. My hope is that you’ll look at your situation right now as an opportunity and a chance to do what you really want to do.
John Dumas: Man, thank you for that very passionate answer because that is what you’re doing. You would be following your passions and that is so powerful these days.
So let’s finish here with a plug for yourself, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Michael Stelzner: I just want to encourage you to check out a brand new conference we’ve got coming up in April in San Diego. It’s called Social Media Marketing World. It is the premiere conference in the world for social media marketers. We’ve got all the top folks in the world that are going to be presenting there. If you have the desire and passion to really want to master social media marketing, I would check it out. It’s going to be April 7th, 8th and 9th at the San Diego Marriott Marquis right on the waterfront. We’ve got a nighttime cruise that’s included and just lots of killer stuff. You can learn more about it at socialmediaworld13.com. That’s socialmediaworld13.com.
Also, if you get a chance, go to iTunes. Social Media Marketing is my podcast. I’d love to have you as a listener in addition to John’s listener.
John Dumas: Great! We will link all these up in the show notes so people will have an easy way to link to everything that you’ve just said.
Michael, thank you for your time. We really appreciate it. From Fire Nation, we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Michael Stelzner: Thank you, John. It’s been a true pleasure.