In the last week, I’ve been hearing things like “So, what DOES Google like in terms of links?” and “Everyone is telling me to build links naturally, but no one is showing me how!”
Enter the brand evangelist. He or she is no different than the rest of us. They wake up every morning, go to work, and eat three square meals a day. They go online and read the industry blogs that you read, follow the industry leaders on Twitter that you follow, and in general, they do a lot of the things that you do.
But there’s one thing that separates them from the rest: They like your brand. No, actually, they really like your brand.
They’re a rare breed for some, but that doesn’t matter. You don’t need many of them to be successful. And unfortunately, a lot of them sometimes get tossed aside and become second thoughts, when in reality, they’re your pathway to an endless supply of big, juicy links.
For those who don’t know what I mean when I say “brand evangelist”, they’re people who not only like your brand, but they tell others about it. In a world where there are over 180 million blogs, those kind words usually turn into links. Lots of them.
Before we go into much detail about identifying your brand evangelists, nurturing them, or creating new ones, lets first talk about why you want them.
If you’ve ever built links and grinded out entire outreach campaigns in the trenches, you know that quality, white hat links are not easy to come by. So when a natural link comes along (a link you did not actively pursue), your heart flutters knowing you just got a great link with zero effort. And these, my friends, are the most scalable links out there.
Entire online communities are built on natural links from brand evangelists. I HATE to use this example, because so many do, but since it’s a relevant site that we all know, take (sigh…) SEOmoz. They have an arsenal of brand evangelists. Heck, I’m one. Just like at how many times I linked to a post on their site in my link building resources post. It’s almost unreal. And the thing is I’m not the only one who does this.
Look at SEOgadget. Richard Baxter is a phenomenal SEO, and he doesn’t need any help convincing prospective clients to pursue his services (no matter how much he thinks ;)), but he uses the SEOmoz badge in the top right on every single one of his pages anyways. OK, it might be there as a trust signal, but cmon, he wouldn’t have placed it if he didn’t think SEOmoz was awesome.
So think about it. Getting a group of people, no matter how small, who absolutely love your brand can seriously pay off. They don’t even have to be authorities like Richard, because you know why? They’re not just going to link to you once. They’re going to link to you again, and again, and again.
They’re going to link to you in their next post on that subject. And when that guest post goes up a few weeks from now, they’ll probably link to something of yours. And if they see a struggling member in one of their favorite forums having issues with a problem that your content can solve, you bet your bottom dollar they’ll drop a reference.
It’s almost like having a group of link building machines working day & night, flying right under Google’s radar, because you know why? This is what Google wants. They want this type of linking, so embrace it.
Alright, enough prophetic talk on why brand evangelists are the best things since sliced bread. Let’s discuss what you really want to know: how to get them.
I said it! Making a brand evangelist out of a reader doesn’t have anything to do with this “great content” mantra that we hear way too many times. Sure, you need to have some decent content, it can’t be total crap (if your own mother won’t share it, then you’re in trouble), but as long as you’d reference it yourself, you’re good to go.
So here’s how to transform them from reader to brand evangelist: pursue the hell out of them once they show interest. Even just a hint. Really, it doesn’t take much. If they leave a comment on your blog, there’s your in. If they tweet multiple posts of yours, then Bingo, you’re golden.
It’s what you do after that action that makes all the difference.
Since we all love long lists of actionable tips, here are some things to do after that initial interest is shown:
A) Find out where they hang out, and make sure you become known. If they have a blog, start leaving comments on all of their posts. Put that RSS in your Reader and make them think you’re a ninja when you’re commenting just minutes after their posts went live.
B) Actively promote them. Yep, do to them what you want done to you. Crazy how this idea of reciprocation works, right? If you think they’re the bomb, they’ll think you’re the bomb. Send a few links their way in an upcoming post. Share their posts, and make sure you tag them in the shares so they take notice (i.e. on Twitter say “by @example” or on Google+ tag them with the + symbol).
C) Do something awesome & unexpected. If the first two weren’t already that, then do something cool & outside of the box that they don’t see coming. Appsumo sent me a box of cookies for writing up a quick review post in October. I’ve sent out free t-shirts to a couple of my readers (which, now thinking about it, I need to do a lot more of). Heck, send them a handwritten thank you note. I guarantee that $3 letter is going to be worth 10 times its weight in future links.
D) Interact with them personally. Whether it’s emailing them thanks and continuing that conversation in your inbox for a couple of weeks or picking up that archaic device we call a phone, it means a lot when you know that you have someone’s full attention.
At this point, they now really like you. Congratulations! You’ve only won half the battle. The other half is making them want to promote you. And in order to do this, you need to provide them with something great to promote.
You can’t expect someone to share a post like this (don’t laugh, it was one of my first posts. Actually, laugh). But, if they really liked you, they’d go out of their way to share something like this. And that’s exactly what they’d begin to do.
But again, it doesn’t have to be amazing. Lets look at the previous example of SEOmoz. I’m going to say it – a lot of their content isn’t amazing. It’s pretty good. But the important reason is that I know about it, and I know about it because I’ve grown to like them & shown interest. I’ve grown used to them & their brand, and as a result, I cite them a lot in my posts. As for other SEO blogs that might be just as good, I’m just not familiar with their content. And that’s become I’m nothing close to a brand evangelist for them; for SEOmoz, on the other hand, I pretty much am (if I got the chance to interview their CEO, you damn well know I’m going to like them a lot more).
Understand though that some brand evangelists are in fact worthless. I know, it goes against what I said at the top, but think about it. If they have absolutely no presence online, then they have no potential of giving you any of the benefits that a decent brand evangelist would provide – you know, links in blogrolls, posts, forum discussions, and social mentions.
So before you throw hours of your time and possibly money at someone showing interest in your brand, see if they’re worth it. It goes back to the whole concept of ROI. Do they have a platform to give me any of the benefits I want out of a brand evangelist? Do they have any influence on social media or any specialized communities? If not, then think about moving on.
But don’t discard people so easily. A lot of my blog’s brand evangelists aren’t big name bloggers like Aaron Wall or Wil Reynolds. They’re guys like Cleo Kirkland, Peter Attia, Kane Jamison, and Gaz Copeland. And you know what? I owe them my life (well maybe not my life, but you get the idea). They’re responsible for so much of my success that I can’t begin to think what life would be like without their help.
LAST POINT: Not every benefit of the brand evangelist is direct. A lot of times their small mentions of you or your brand can lead to bigger & better mentions & links down the road. They plant seeds all the time that you don’t know about, and a lot of times they can’t be measured. But know that once you’re blessed enough to have them on your side, you’ll be able to see those small things. Whether they’re upvoting a post of yours on a social site, following up a forum post with a link to you with something like “that’s an awesome link, glad you posted it”, or anything else, they all matter. A lot.
So hopefully by now you know that a brand evangelist is a great example of all the talk surrounding things like “build natural links” or “build relationships”. If you’re truly lucky, you’ll eventually have a couple brand evangelists in your community, because in a lot of cases, they’ll do a better job of spreading your brand’s message than you could ever possibly do.