Content Marketing Expert Jeff Bullas Shares His Secrets

Christel van der Boom / May 11, 2017

Jeff Bullas doesn’t just blog about content marketing, he has built his own business from the ground up through the use of content marketing. Since 2008 he has been sharing insights and best practices on his blog, which has made him into one of the top influencers of CMOs. You can read his stories on Flipboard as well, where he curates 12 magazines about everything from influencer marketing to digital entrepreneurship. His company, now a virtual team of five, offers online training and works with clients on their influencer and content marketing strategies. We had the opportunity to sit down with him and pick his brain.

On your site you say you are entrepreneur, blogger, author, marketer and speaker. Which role do you identify with most?
These days I’m more an entrepreneur. What was a passion project escaped the lab and I had to figure out how to monetize. When I saw social media for the first time, I saw you can reach the world with your content without having to pay gatekeepers for it to be read or shared. Social media democratized publishing and marketing. That was a wow-moment for me in 2008 and that’s why I started the blog. I am on a digital entrepreneur’s journey now, but I still love writing. So I write a blog post per week and am working on my next book.

What’s the book about?
We’re looking at helping people share their knowledge with the world in a way that positions them as an influencer. I help people become information product creators that they can then turn into a business. We don’t use the term blogger so much; we use the term digital entrepreneur. We want people to design a business that works for their life and not the other way around. That’s our mission.

What’s the most viral story you’ve created?
The one that went most viral was a blog post I wrote three or four years ago called “Why you should forget Facebook.” And I shared it on my blog and it got a lot of traffic. But then I shared it on LinkedIn a few days later and it went viral. It was the top-ranked article for a week. It had 300,000 views and 1,000 comments. It was interesting to read through them because the piece seemed to especially resonate with people on LinkedIn.

So, why should we forget Facebook?
This was around 2014-ish, when Facebook started reducing its organic reach and started making it basically compulsory for brands to pay for attention if they want to reach an audience. So the organic reach of Facebook has wound back from 50% to 14% down to 3 or 4%. So the headline was backed up by the story that you cannot rely on Facebook for organic traffic anymore because now it’s all about all pay to play. Some of the businesses that had built their business on Facebook saw 90% of their traffic disappear almost overnight. Now all social networks are going that way. The news feed—the timeline—has been changed from chronological to being filtered by algorithms.

Is there a formula that makes content go viral?
You need to write great headlines, and you have to test them on a variety of platforms. For example, that Facebook post didn’t go viral on my blog but it went viral on LinkedIn. I’ve had stories on Medium or even Flipboard that have gotten a lot of traction. It’s key to test content on different platforms and see what works. Success stories or posts about personal development and leadership resonate well on Flipboard and Medium, for instance.

How does Flipboard play a role in your own marketing?
It is top of the funnel for me in terms of getting my blog posts out to the Flipboard audience. In 2013, I created a personal magazine on Flipboard and we’ve religiously flipped each article every day; we’re approaching 1,000 articles. Some days it will drive up to 24% of my traffic if we get a post that really resonates with the audience.

Typically, we’re seeing 6% of our traffic per month coming from Flipboard. So Flipboard provides another audience for me that comes to my site. And there they can read more, sign up for my newsletter, or sign up for a training course.

Would you say content marketing is an art or a science?
It’s an art AND a science. It used to be very much more on the art side, but with increasing competition and noise on the web the reality is that you really have to push your content out and you need to be able to scale it. So marketing automation, which is the science piece, is becoming essential. You also need to capture data to measure what works and what doesn’t so you have the information to make decisions and keep evolving.

How do you measure the success of influencer marketing campaigns you do for clients?
Different clients want different measurements. B2C is mostly brand awareness and share of voice; in B2B it comes down to more lead generation, registrations and sign-ups to SaaS platforms. It depends on the client but as they’re getting savvier, they tend to look at the sales funnel and want leads. We have some control over that success. And then consequently it’s up to the client to convert those leads into sales.

How do you see influencer marketing?
With the rise of ad blockers on one hand and on the other people—especially Millennials and Gen Z—not believing ads, you have to cut through the clutter by working with people, brands and influencers your audience trusts. The strategy has to be credible and trustworthy and that’s part of the tension of being paid as an influencer campaigner. It can work really well for both parties if done right.

How do you get influencers to participate?
There has to be an exchange of value. People say influencers should not be paid because they lose a lot of credibility that way. But you have to understand that influencers aren’t there just to line your pockets. They trade their time. The reality is that Tiger Woods is paid millions of dollars per year by Nike as a mass media influencer. And why shouldn’t he be paid? I see digital marketing influence the same way. There is no difference. Leveraging the status you’ve earned, either in sports or online, can be done in an ethical way.

What does every CMO need to know about content marketing?
It’s two words: content and marketing. What I mean by that is that you need to create content, and then you’ve got to market it. But there is a missing word to succeed at this: it needs to produce results. Many people are over the shiny-new-toy-syndrome of social media and are starting to ask how they can use it to actually grow their business and get ROI out of social.

So content marketing isn’t so much marketing with content but the marketing of content?
It is indeed. You can’t create content and expect the world to show up; you need to get it out there for people to discover it. With one billion websites and counting, you are going to get lost in the noise, so you need to work out ways to get your content in front of people who are going to share it. Once they’ve taken that action, you build credibility and trust. I call it the three pillars to content marketing success: attract traffic, create content that seduces the client and then you want that client to make a small commitment. If you do the first two and miss the last piece, the rest is just noise because you’re driving vanity metrics, such as traffic shares and comments. At the end of the day, you need people to make a commitment and that is buying your product.

Is content marketing something for every brand?
It’s not the Holy Grail, but for 90% of businesses in the information age it’s something you shouldn’t ignore—from plastic surgeons to stores to SaaS vendors. It’s just different types of content. Not creating content is almost an unforgivable sin on the social web, because it allows people, the crowd, to share your content for free. The worst it can do is create brand awareness only. The Trust Barometer, great annual research by Edelman, shows if you’re only seen once or twice your trust level is about 5%. If you’re seen 3-5 times, your trust level goes up to 55%. So being ubiquitous with your content on a range of platforms is absolutely essential to trust building, which then leads to sales.

What’s a common misconception about content marketing?
A misconception is that it should be treated as an expense but it actually is a digital asset because you are building content that will keep giving you attention as it becomes ranked by Google, as it gets shared, as it gets rediscovered. A lot of people see it as a sprint and give up after six or 12 months. But it’s continuous marketing. “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” I think a lot of people give up on their blog or content creation because they don’t see results and want instant gratification. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

~Christel van der Boom is reading Digital Marketing