Tell a story

In my work with Typewriter I’ve been talking to founders who are looking to write guest posts for major publications.

“We want to write something that will get us into BusinessWeek,” they say. And, me being me, I tell them that’s ridiculous.

First, if you want to write a guest post you should probably write it on your own blog or, barring that, on Medium. If you have a self-serving idea about the future of self-driving fishing boats or why kids should use your nanobot-infused toothpaste, no one will publish your outright marketing efforts. Guest posts are stories, detailed experiences that first educate, then entertain, and then, if you’re lucky, market your idea. They are not a marketing strategy except in a very roundabout, non-direct way. If your entire marketing goal is to show up on Huffington Post then you have some really perverse priorities.

Further, the opportunity to get a guest post published is maddeningly small and the sites where it is easiest — Forbes, for example — guest posts are a running joke. There are so many “Forbes Contributors” out in the world that the site’s masthead should be as big as a small Texas town’s.

In short, you should be building your own content on your own site and marketing it through social media. If you can’t do that or refuse to entertain the idea on principle then let’s talk about what you need to offer in terms of guest posts.

Here are the three kinds of posts to write and submit. Anything else will be ignored.

Write News. As you can imagine, news sites like news. If you write a post that says the sky is blue there is no value there. However, if you explain that the sky is blue because you’ve discovered aliens live near the moon then that’s news. Perhaps the news comes from your internal teams. Maybe they’ve discovered a new hacking exploit or a way to make code faster. Maybe they’ve invented a new way to sell widgets and are willing to discuss it with competitors. This sort of news — helpful and actionable — changes a guest post from a boring bit of self-serving nonsense into a firm piece of information. This distinction is very important and you will win every time you use it.

In fact, one of the best corporate blogs I’ve seen is Kaspersky’s news site. Rather than tell everyone how great anti-virus is, they write about exploits, new hacks, and offer advice to users. It is so far from a marketing site that it has come out the other side as a true provider of content. This sort of writing is very difficult — and expensive — but it is the best way to “content market” if that’s your thing.

Write Things Only You Know. You are smart.You have an opinion about education or self-driving cars or VCs. Share that insight. But make sure it is something only you know. Everyone knows the Top 5 Tips For Amazing Self-Improvement (Floss, sleep a lot, drink water, don’t murder people, eat kale) and the Top 20 Email Tips For Marketers (spam people 20 times). How about the best way to fire a bad employee? The best way to shut down a company? The best way to write a pitch deck for a certain type of investor? Write something personal, something only you know, something that you would want to read.

Write Things Only Can Say. Now this is the hard one. You need to call out your industry and yourself. You need to offer some soul-searching, some admissions of defeat, some descriptions of failures. And, once you’re done, explain the opportunity that arose after those failures. This is the purest story possible, the Cinderella arc.

But don’t lash out. Don’t say that your peers are stupid. Say that you are stupid and that you’ve learned to be better. By telling the world you fucked up you remove barriers to their understanding of you. “This guy knows the troubles I’ve faced, I’d like to do business with him.” This is hard to accept but if you want to get a reaction it’s the best way. Honesty is gold.

The bottom line? Tell some truth now and again. It’s fun to post “We’re doing great and you can, too.” It’s fun to write “I think this popular opinion is great and reinforcing it will make me more money!” But I assure you no one will read it.

Create something worth reading. That’s how this whole “content marketing” thing works. Anything less is a waste of your time.

Need help with your blog post? Try Typewriter. We’ll yell at you

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