Blogging Lessons Learned From Interviews (Plus A Great Benefit)
[Welcome new readers! If you’re coming here from the USAA Magazine article or the Yahoo Finance video, you may want to learn more about “The Military Guide” and your financial independence at the “Start Here!” page. That link opens a new tab in your browser, so you can keep reading this post without losing your place.]
All right, all right, all right. Over 40 e-mails and Facebook messages on the subject. Yes, I was interviewed by USAA Magazine. They’re a bunch of pros, it was fun, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Yeah, I was on the front page of a Yahoo video too, and I’d do that again in a heartbeat. Here’s what I learned from the experiences, and if you’re a personal-finance blogger who wants to do this too then I’m happy to make an introduction.
I’d like to say that these events were part of my carefully-planned & globally-coordinated media campaign to spread the word about the book. Yeah, I’d look a lot smarter if I could say that.
I’m writing this post for bloggers. When I started my book and the blog, I didn’t know how to “reach out” and “network” with the media. I didn’t know how quickly to respond or when something was working. I didn’t know when to change tactics or when to just be patient & persistent. I’ll explain how this sausage got made, and you can share your own tips & tricks in the comments.
I’ll suggest specific tactics at the end of this post, but the most important one is: persistence. Like most bloggers, I just keep flinging the popular promotional techniques and hoping that something sticks to the wall. Sometimes it works great, other times… chirping crickets. The effects might be short-lived, too, so you should have other tactics ready for the publicity surge. How many of you remember my epic FORTUNE magazine interview? Yeah, didn’t think so. Even FORTUNE has forgotten about it.
I’ll also describe the sequence of events that led to the interviews. Once I’ve explained what can happen, I’ll suggest how you can set yourself up for your own media successes. Take heart– the bar is not that high!
First, here’s a few hard ugly truths:
- Who you are: readers (and the media who feed the readers) want to read about interesting people. I’m a balding ponytailed middle-aged surfer & retired Navy submariner living in Hawaii. That sentence has enough unusual keywords to attract media eyeballs. It has nothing to do with years of persistent frugal living or the boring math of saving for financial independence or the hours of writing that go into a book. We humans have to read entertaining stories about people who have reached a goal, and then maybe we’ll learn about reaching our own goals.
- Your audience: my geezer middle-aged demographic is hot (for now). The media has discovered that some of us younger Boomers still have money to spend for advice & services. Even better, we’ll pay for these things over and over again because we didn’t pay attention the first time and we’re trying to catch up.
- Patience & persistence: it took over three years of blogging to attain overnight success with USAA and Yahoo. It took over six months between the time a freelancer suggested an interview and the day the article went to press. After the Yahoo interview, I was sure that I’d never hear from them again.
There’s a huge survivor bias built into media exposure. When you see an article in the magazine or on a website, you never see all the failed attempts. (You never see all the discouraged bloggers, either!) You don’t see the article I submitted to the financial section of Huffington Post. You didn’t see the e-mails and Skype auditions that I did for a retirement documentary. You didn’t see the coffees & lunches that I attended to discuss how the book can help a business attract more customers. You didn’t see the two FinCons that I attended to start building a network. Regrettably, you didn’t see me gripping & grinning in the lobby of the military exchanges behind a big stack of my books with a “Meet The Author!” sign. You probably missed the dozens of quotes & comments that I submitted on Facebook groups and other blogs to make the contacts that led to the interviews. My hit rate on interviews is about 10% these days, but it used to be one out of a hundred. 10% is actually a very good hit rate, mainly because I have the free time & energy to say “Yes!” to opportunities that might be outside my comfort zone.
The USAA interview
I’d like to tell you that I got the article because I’ve attended two USAA blogger conferences and written a dozen posts on their community website. Perhaps that made it easier for freelance writer Andrea Downing Peck to sell her pitch to USAA Magazine. I fear the fact is that I’m a 33-year USAA member (refer back to the above demographic bullet #2) who happened to be riding the coattails of a successful writer. In this case, “who you know” may apply to the freelancer, not to me.
Andrea is a pro (we’ve already done a second interview) and the USAA Magazine staff is thorough: two fact-checkers with plenty of clarifications.The editor even hired a local professional photographer to take pictures at my home, in a cane field along the highway, and at the beach. The photographer’s stylist(!) swapped e-mails about wardrobe, special makeup for a cranial condition known as “forehead glare”, and waxing down curly ponytails. We spent over four hours taking photos. They even brought their own surfboard prop (instead of using mine) because it was a good color & size for the photo. How much does it cost to have a pro (and his crew) spend hours at your house taking your photo? I have no idea but I happily paid $350 for his “outtake” shots. Those images are now part of my blogger social-media tools as well as in our family photo albums.
The article was published through USAA’s website (and mobile apps) while it was mailed out in hardcopy. (This publicity is a slow rising swell, not a sudden surge.) The content is a great summary of the topics and techniques in the book. Best of all, they mentioned the title of the book and I’ve made it easy to find the book on Amazon.com. In the few weeks since the magazine was published, I’ve had a steady rise in pageviews and social media– along with a nice boost in book sales. These are the readers who like what they read, buy the book (or borrow it from a library), ask questions on the blog, and tell their friends.
The Yahoo! Finance interview
I’d like to tell you that I got the Yahoo! interview because I’m a compelling speaker with an interesting story (see demographic bullet #1). The reality is that a blogger reached out to our FinCon Facebook group in search of someone else who’d saved their salary to become a millionaire. Although that other person didn’t respond, I volunteered my story of saving my salary. A rock-star blogger (who I’ve read but never met before) arranged the introduction to Yahoo. I swapped e-mails with the Yahoo producer, who might simply have re-worked their storyboard to save the effort that they’d already put into the it. The video interview itself went badly because the producer was out sick and the rest of the team had tech issues. (We spent nearly 15 minutes just getting the lighting right on my end.) For over an hour I was only able to hear the backup interviewer asking her questions over Skype audio (with multiple repeats) while I was staring at my iPad camera and talking to a “Yahoo! Studios” logo. It was not inspiring.
After we slogged through the interview I got a “K thanks bye!” and heard nothing for a month. No fact checks, no editors, no rough-cut previews or discussions about coordinating social media promotions. Finally, one evening the producer e-mailed that the Yahoo! Finance Daily Ticker video would go live the next morning, but because of my miserable recording experience I held back on promoting it. When it went live, my hour of Q&A had been edited down to 3.5 minutes— shared with another millionaire who I’d never known was part of the story (he’d even been interviewed separately). My name was misspelled on the video and on the transcript.
I politely e-mailed the producer about the spelling, and happily she immediately fixed it everywhere. Then she asked for extra head shots so that she could pitch the video to the Yahoo homepage editor. I was really glad I’d bought the rest of the USAA interview photos!
Here’s an idea to try on your next interview. When a one-hour Q&A is edited down to 100 seconds, details are left out. Yahoo’s page received nearly 1800 comments, and the most common one was “Sure, easy with no kids!” I’ve posted to Internet forums for years, so I responded. Yahoo’s commenters are a notoriously tough crowd, so I only added more detail with my own comments. On every tenth “No kids!” comment, I politely replied that we’d raised our daughter. When the interview dropped off Yahoo’s homepage and the comments ground to a halt, I posted a longer comment explaining some of the omitted details and pointing readers to this blog. That tactic paid off very well in my reader e-mails and other feedback, so I’m going to do that again on future interviews.
What are the blogger benefits of this publicity splash?
- Four days of record-breaking traffic
- 8x more unique visitors with higher pageviews per visitor
- 10% more Twitter followers
- Book sales up 8x that week (more money to military-friendly charities!)
- 10% more Facebook “Likes” for the book’s page
- 5% more blog subscribers
- A 20% boost in reader daily traffic, perhaps a “new normal”
- Amazon author rank rose from 220,000 to 31,000.
The great benefit that I mention in the post title? The article and the video attracted a new crowd of my target readers: U.S. military servicemembers, veterans, and their families. I’ve had a ton of e-mails, “Contact me” messages, and other social media queries. They’re buying the books, and they’re telling their friends about them. In “just” four days, we’ve generated hundreds of dollars of AdSense revenue and book royalties for military-friendly charities. Better yet, these new readers are going to stick around to read more– and they’re going to invite their friends.
What you can try
- Above all else, keep writing posts (and recording podcasts, and videos) for your audience.
- Be interesting. Occasionally blog about your background, your accomplishments, your unusual hobbies, and maybe your family. Make it easy for people to learn more about you and introduce you.
- Have an elevator pitch about your blog or your book. Have a separate “top three” paragraph about your topic or your techniques. Have a couple of interesting short stories about your subject or your mistakes.
- Learn how to talk well on video. Listen to blogger podcasts, watch video, join Toastmasters. If you’re in the military, volunteer for instructor duty.
- Join a blogger social media group. (For me it’s FinCons and the FinCon Facebook group.) Don’t self-promote or sell– just contribute and help out other posters. Be a giver.
- Be ready for a big new audience, because you won’t have much warning before the spotlight goes on you. Have a “Welcome new readers!” post or a “Start here!” page on your blog. It’s the first thing readers should see after they click the link in your mainstream media article.
- Be patient: this can take at least two years of building a foundation.
- Try to say “Yes!” to a pitch, even if it’s not about you. (I helped the producer move forward.)
- When the interview goes live, make the time to respond to e-mails and social media. They’ll find you.
- Consider answering questions in the comments. Be professional, be polite, be brief. Have a thick skin and only respond to the people who genuinely have questions.
If you’ve been through one of these experiences, what else did you do that made a difference?
The USAA Magazine article: The New Frugality
The Yahoo! Finance interview: How These Average Joes Retired Millionaires
FinCon13 and FinCon14
Should you self-publish or use a publisher?
Beginner’s guide to part-time blogging for money
“So Nords, why are you still blogging?”
Book review: “Give And Take”
Lessons learned on book signings