Over the past year, I’ve worked on approximately 20 different infographics for a single client. One of the most frustrating things about the process has been the unevenness of the response. Even if we do everything seemingly right, an infographic might not take off.
After a string of disappointing infographics, I decided to go back over every step and figure out what we had missed. After fixing the way we work with our design firm (hint: for best results, compile your own research and craft your infographic’s storyline before handing it off), we revamped our outreach process.
Infographics are a unique type of content. Unlike a blog post or other content you might ask a blogger to link to, infographics are meant to be embedded, to live on the blogger’s site. While it can be a win for both creator and blogger, asking a blogger to run your infographic is akin to asking them to run a blog post you wrote in advance without consulting them.
But the bottom line is that standards are going to be different. It’s one thing to ask a blogger to link to a tool or article — he need only agree that the content is useful to his readers — but if you ask him to embed your infographic, you’re asking him to take a different level of responsibility for the content.
Is it correct? Is it well designed? Is it well-written? Is it interesting, surprising, or funny? Is it confusing? Why will my audience care? Was it created by someone legit?
Once all this sunk in, we started debugging our outreach process. We realized that our pitches needed an upgrade.
Here are some best practices we uncovered along the way, especially after consulting two of the best experts on the topic, Chris Bennett with 97th Floor and Justin Briggs from Distilled, both of whom spoke about infographics at Distilled's Link Love 2011 conference.
The following checklist is based on my experience and their advice, and designed to improve your outreach messages.
- Personalize. You have to use the blogger’s name in your salutation (“Hi Mark,” will suffice). If you’re sending more than 10 percent of your outreach messages with “Hi,” something is wrong.
- Answer the “why” question well. Personally explain why the infographic would be of interest to the blog’s audience. Have they covered something similar in the past that got an unusually high number of comments, links or shares? Point that out. Bloggers will appreciate if you take the time to understand what content works on their site. Having done the research to know that they got 10 comments (when the usually only get one or two) on a post of the similar topic will go a long way to distinguishing your email from the spray and pray PR flakes who usually contact them.
- Short, direct subject line. Bennett advises, “Short but sweet and nothing that looks or smells spammy.” The best subject line is the one that gets your message opened. Don’t sell with your subject line — that’s what spammers do and spam gets deleted. According to Brigg, a simple subject line with the infographic’s title followed by “[infographic]” achieved a 50% open rate. Even a vague subject “post idea” is more likely to be opened than, “EXCLUSIVE infographic, 20 AMAZING facts about Valentine’s Day!”
- Use a conversational tone. The best copywriting is conversational. Perfect punctuation and grammar can actually come off as overly formal, and make it hard to connect with your reader. As Briggs recently pointed out, “websites don’t give links, people give links.”
- Sell your content without sounding salesy. While it’s important to highlight what facts might surprise readers or point out what makes it unique, you have to be careful about laying it on too thick. A straightforward, even humble elevator pitch without any puffery is best.
- Offer an exclusive. By giving “early access” to an infographic to multiple blogs simultaneously (i.e., giving bloggers the ability to run the infographic before it is published on your blog), you can create more sense of urgency and the ability for them to break the story. It’s also more considerate to give a blogger advance warning since they might not have bandwidth to post your infographic immediately, and might ignore it if they sense it will be overexposed. This is especially true of big blogs. Briggs says, “I've been turned [down] by someone at Mashable because I didn't pitch it to them early enough, and it had already gained traction elsewhere.”
- Check your email signature. This is basic, but your email signature shouldn’t describe your title as Link Builder, SEO, or really anything marketing-related. “Editorial Coordinator” would work. And remember, these days many people use Xobni, Gist, or Rapportive alongside their inbox to view the social profiles of their correspondents, so be sure your online presence is consistent.
- Don’t attach the embed code. Bennett points out that this technique helps avoid, “…too many links with the exact same anchor text. We like the natural results.”
- Use social proof. If you can cite the number of tweets or links you produced for a previous blog on related topic or you can tout that your infographic’s editor has a byline in notable publications, this information can help legitimize you. Saying, “our editor did a story about this that was featured on MSN Money,” provides an important credential. But mention this as humbly as you can.
What Doesn’t Work?
- Mass mailing bloggers the same email and only changing the first name in the template.
- Writing slick marketing copy that uses “calls to action” as your email, and otherwise insults a blogger by suggesting they can be manipulated like a consumer. Throw out everything you know about copywriting for email. If fact, do everything the opposite a mass mailer would do (e.g., send your message from a real individual’s email address, don’t repeat your link, don’t pack your intro with benefits, etc.)
- Failing to consider the subtext of the conversation. The internal dialogue of effective outreach says, “Hi, I’m an intelligent person who understands the industry and your blog. I’m a real member of this content niche, not some fly-by-night SEO hack.” And there are a million ways this comes across. For example, if a blog’s URL is thefutureofsocialmedia.com but the title is something fanciful like “Social Media In Space,” it wouldn’t be appropriate to refer to the site by its URL in your pitch. Why? Because we’ve all seen that before, and usually it comes from a spammy SEO automation tool. If you fail to do this (let’s just assume because recording each blog’s title is too time consuming, so you skipped it), so instead your pitch says, “I think readers of thefutureofsocialmedia.com would be interested to learn…” you just failed that part of the conversation.
Writing good infographic outreach messages becomes a lot easier once you take into account the needs of bloggers. You have to show why your content matters to their audience, why it is worthy of appearing on their blog, and provide the necessary clues so they can validate you.
You need to demonstrate that you speak their language – that you’re a real person, not a marketing automaton. When you provide what they need, you can rest assured your outreach process won’t hamper the success of otherwise deserving content.
Image Credit: Ivan Cash