Growing a Following: Tips From Michael Stelzner

Do you want to be recognized as a leader in your industry? Wondering how to build an audience that expands your reach and influence?

To explore the topic of growing a following, John Lee Dumas joins me for a special episode of the Social Media Marketing Podcast.

John is the host of Entrepreneurs on Fire, a daily podcast where he interviews entrepreneurs. John also runs the Podcasters’ Paradise community and has published three guides: The Freedom Journal, The Mastery Journal, and The Podcast Journal.

You’ll discover how to create an influential presence in any industry and how to expand your reach quicker by collaborating with others.

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Scroll to the end of the article for links to important resources mentioned in this episode.

Growing an Audience Who Knows and Shares You

As an introduction to Fire Nation, John asked me to share something interesting about myself that most people don’t know. I haven’t told many people that I created my very first business with my younger brother when I was 10 or 11 years old. We would go out in the backyard with a flashlight at night and pull these big night crawlers out of the ground, and the next morning, we would go out on the curb and sell them to fishermen.

That business lasted about a month, but it was my very first business venture, and I was hooked. Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.

I created Social Media Examiner over 10 years ago so we’ve been at this for a while. We’ve seen a lot of people come and go, many of whom I have privately mentored, advised, and coached. One of the big things I’ve noticed is that everybody who becomes known seems to also become more successful.

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When people are ultimately thinking about a person or a company, who pops into their mind? When you’re able to establish a name and a specific niche, you start getting organic leads. People talk about you. They become your evangelists. You don’t have to pay hand-over-fist for ads on Instagram and Facebook.

When someone’s inside a Facebook group and they say, “Hey, I’m looking for somebody to help with this,” and people say, “Oh, you’ve got to go to Person Y,” even if they’ve never worked with Person Y. If you’re Person Y, that’s awesome marketing for you. What ends up happening is that all of these opportunities start falling into your lap. You’re asked to speak on stages. You’re asked to be on podcasts. Your business model grows and you can take it to the next level. That’s the promise that comes from being really well-known.

John points out that we do this at our world conference where we bring in industry experts and we highlight them on stages. We also highlight them on our YouTube channel and podcasts. Many of the people who have come in become known for what they’re doing. And as noted, they become more successful as a result. Every person you can think of who has spoken at Social Media Marketing World has done this.

Mari Smith is out there all the time talking about what’s new in the world of Facebook, and as a result, she’s the one people think of when they’re looking for a Facebook expert. She’s the one businesses partner with and want to hire. Jay Baer keeps writing books and doing podcasts, and he keeps getting keynote gigs and opportunities to moderate big stages. And he gets opportunities to build his consulting pipeline without having to pay anybody for the privilege.

Another great example is what John has done with Entrepreneurs on Fire. John was relatively unknown 7 years ago. He came out of the military and had a prior career that not a lot of people knew about. Most of his content was focused on what was in the minds of other people and a lot of that rubbed off on him. As a result of building those relationships and developing that content, he’s been able to launch all sorts of products and services that have accelerated his growth. Now he’s living the dream.

home page of Entrepreneurs on Fire website

There Is Room for You

Right now, a lot of people are thinking about starting a podcast. Instead of just going to YouTube and searching some videos, their friends are telling them about John’s completely free podcasting course, The intake form for John’s paid podcasting community, Podcasters’ Paradise, asks people how they first heard about the program.

Most of them say that a friend told them about the free course or a friend told them to Google John. That word of mouth is the primary way that John is getting more leads, more audience, and more revenue through enrollees in Podcasters’ Paradise.

No matter how crowded your space is, there’s always room for you to become known.

The food industry is probably one of the biggest in the world. There’s a YouTube channel called Cooking with Dog. It’s just a woman cooking with her dog—that’s her unique angle—and she’s got 1.49 million subscribers. There’s a blog called Love and Lemons, and all they do is talk about food with lemons. There’s a podcast called A Taste of the Past where they talk about old-fashioned, traditional foods.

composite of screenshots of Cooking with Dog YouTube channel, Love and Lemons blog, and A Taste of the Past podcast

Those are just a few examples to show you that you can find your own unique angle, no matter how crowded your niche is. So let’s get to how you can do that.

Determine Your Why

One of the most important questions to ask yourself before you get started is, “What is your why?” Why do you want to be well-known? Do you want to be well-known because you want to be famous? Fame doesn’t pay the bills. You’ve got to have a bigger reason for wanting to become well-known.

I wanted to be well-known because I wanted to make a difference in the world. I knew that if I could give away the content in my blog, on my podcast, and on our YouTube channel—things that others were basically keeping pent up inside of them and, as consultants were charging people for—I could draw an audience.

I also knew that I would only need a tiny little fragment of that huge audience to be very successful and that every person who shared that content would increase the footprint of the business. I also knew that 99% of the world that I touched would never become a customer—and I was completely OK with that because I had a bigger purpose.

Figure out what your why is. It’s OK if your why is to make money or to buy that dream house. Just have a why. But fame alone isn’t good enough.

Research the Competition

Once you know what your why is, it’s important to do a competitive analysis.

When John started his podcast, his biggest question was, “What do I love about the podcasts that I listen to?” Even more importantly, he asked himself, “What do I feel is missing from the shows that I’m listening to on a consistent basis?”

Start looking at people who might be competitors—but don’t think of them as the evil empire that you’re out to destroy. Instead, look at them as marketplace justification. They’re proof that there’s somebody out there talking, writing, and creating videos about this. Figure out what it is about them that you like and don’t like, and how you can learn from them.

You can also research people in other spaces who are not competitors and find someone whose work you really love. For me, it was a guy named Andrew Goodman, who was really big in the SEO space. I just loved everything about his business model. I wanted to take that and apply it to the social media marketing space.

Identify Your Unique Differentiator

After you research your competition, try to figure out what your unique point of differentiation is. John’s unique point of differentiation is daily podcasts. Everyone else was doing it weekly or maybe twice a week. John decided to do it daily because he knew there was an audience that was in their car or on a train every single day, and he wanted to be in front of them. He knew that he didn’t need a huge audience if he was in front of them every day.

In my case, my unique differentiation is that I ask questions on my podcast that others are thinking. If my guest says something like an acronym that my audience doesn’t know, I’m going to stop them in their tracks and ask them to explain it before they go too far down that trail.

My audience tells me that I ask the exact questions that are on their minds. So one of my unique differentiators is that I try to put myself in the position of my listener, to make sure that they get something by listening to me.

What’s your unique differentiator? Maybe you’re funny. Maybe you’re analytical. Maybe you have a unique view of your industry that nobody else has. Maybe you come from a different world: maybe you’re an attorney who’s become a chef and you can draw some parallels between the world of law and the world of cooking. Maybe there are laws of food that we haven’t even thought about. So try to figure out what your unique differentiation is.

Test Your Message

The last thing is to start testing your message. This is really important. At the core of everything we’re talking about today is the fact that to be known requires the creation of something. You need to talk on a stage or a podcast, create video, or write.

In the beginning, when you’re creating that message, you have to think of everything as a great experiment. And just like a cooking experiment, it might not be well received the very first time. So start testing your message by creating the message. Then analyze the message to try to ascertain what works and what doesn’t.

A lot of things have changed since John began Entrepreneurs on Fire. At first, he was focused on the fact that he didn’t yet have skills as a podcaster, interviewer, or host. He didn’t really know how to guide or dig deeper. So he stuck to a very structured message for 5+ years. He did around 2,000 daily episodes with essentially the same six questions. But John continued to test his message, and a year and a half ago, he made a big break.

He decided to switch from a podcast to more of an audio master class: to have the top experts in their specific industry come on and give an actual course on a specific topic. That way, he could go really deep and talk with them in a much more fluid, intense manner. That change came from continuing to test, getting feedback from his audience, and continuing to say, “Now that my strengths have grown in these areas, how can I utilize them in a better format?”

By pivoting and calling it a master class, John sends a signal to everyone who listens that they’re going to learn something. This isn’t just a conversation between two bros; this is something that’s got an intent and it’s been thought about. Hopefully, listeners will walk away richer as a result of it. That alone, just creating a different label for what he’s doing, is smart marketing.

The Podcast Masterclass training from John Lee Dumas

Another important thing is to look over the horizon to see what’s next because something is always coming. John has heard so many people complain, even on Fire Nation, about missing the podcasting train. But while they were complaining about missing the podcasting train, Instagram happened. While they were complaining about missing the Instagram train, TikTok happened.

John doesn’t feel everyone should necessarily be getting on these trains. But something is always coming next. Keep your eyes toward the horizon and see how your why can fit into that next thing that’s coming. Get in on the earlier side of things and completely dominate that niche.

Social Media Examiner Testing YouTube

In the past, we had an episodic documentary called The Journey. We brought cameras into the office and sewed together a storyline over many, many episodes. After I hired a director of marketing, I decided that I wasn’t the central character of this show anymore and we couldn’t continue on.

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We decided to go all-in on YouTube in the fall of 2019. The goal here was to fly people in from all over the world to film article-quality video tutorials on almost anything you could possibly imagine. Along the way, I decided that I also wanted to get back on camera. I felt like I had a message to share with my audience about the thing we’ve been talking about today, which is how to become known.

As I alluded to earlier, I’ve coached and mentored a lot of people and most of my business model has been about getting knowledge out of other people’s brains, not necessarily my own.

We’ve been batch-filming these videos. Between scripting and filming, it takes me about 2 hours to create each one. We then send the footage to a Hollywood producer to generate these super-slick but also inspirational and tactical videos. It’s just been a blast. We’re showing the audience a different side of me and they’re loving it.

It’s also been really exciting for me to test out something new. I’m watching for certain kinds of feedback; if that feedback is really strong, then maybe there’ll be some more coming from me down the road.

Create, Maintain, and Analyze

To really know what’s working, I have a three-step process I refer to as create, maintain, and analyze.

Imagine it like a clock. You spend a little bit of time creating, you spend a lot of time maintaining, and you spend a little time analyzing. So many people just create things and maybe they maintain it. Or maybe they maintain it really well, but they don’t know whether it’s working. What we’re talking about right now is how to know if it’s working. There are some subjective metrics to look for in the very beginning, and these are the metrics that are very important.

First of all, when you create something, you want private messages. You want comments from people saying, “That was freaking amazing,” or, “This is exactly what I needed. You read my mind. This is so, so valuable.” Or you want them to share it on Facebook and say, “This is something you don’t want to miss.” When you start hearing those kinds of comments, that’s a good sign.

Maybe 10% of your audience—if you’re lucky—will ever send that signal. There’s another 90% out there who will never tell you how good this stuff is but you’re watching for those subjective signals from others. When you get those signals, you know you’re on the right track. When you don’t get those signals, then you know something’s off track.

When people in John’s podcasting community get upset that their podcasts only have 10 reviews after a few short months, he reminds them that they’ve got to extrapolate those numbers. Those 10 reviews aren’t just 10 listeners: there are 100 or even 1,000 people listening for every one person who actually goes on to leave a review.

When you get some kind of feedback, that means there are a lot more people hiding in the wings who are consuming that content. They’re still thinking about it and getting value from it. When people are communicating with you, you’ve got to hold onto that.

Try to figure out where those people come from, what they really like about it, what they don’t like about it, and most importantly, what they’re struggling with. Then you can keep creating value for them in a meaningful way—and maybe even create products, services, and communities for them.

Spotify, Apple, and YouTube all provide retention graphs. Look at those retention graphs to see whether people are skipping over sections of your podcast or video. Watch for the percentage completion rate. Some shows are going to be higher than others. Separate out the highs and the lows; look at the differences between them. Was it the substance? In other words, was it the way it was done and what was said? Was it the topic?

A lot of times, certain topics are going to outperform. Look at those signals and say, “Okay, it seems like my audience is really hot on these kinds of topics.” In my case, it’s all Instagram. I can do almost anything on Instagram and it will perform. So that’s a good signal. That shows me there’s a big appetite for that kind of content. But if I do something on Pinterest, I don’t get the same kind of response. It’s that kind of metric that you want to look for.

YouTube provides some of the best metrics if you want to get really granular. It’s absolutely amazing the way YouTube works. If you imagine a funnel, YouTube will take your video and show it to a sampling of your subscribers and a sampling of your non-subscribers. They’ll track the click-through rate on the thumbnail and title of that video. They’ll also track the retention time or how long they’re watching the video.

YouTube wants people to stay on the platform. If your video contributes to longer on-platform time, then in the end, they’ll allow you to change that thumbnail so you can see whether that click-through rate goes up or down.

If you have a really good retention rate on your video—meaning people are getting through most of it—then it’s a matter of deciding how to get that click-through rate to go up. Simply changing your thumbnail and getting that click-through rate to go from 3%–5% can almost double the number of video views.

This is where mathematically, you can start doing some really fascinating calculations. We have a video that is at 17,000 views and it’s getting about 500 views a day. If we tweak it a little bit more, we anticipate that this video will be one of the big winners on our channel. We believe it will have more than 100,000 views within a year.

It’s also contributed to new subscriber growth on the channel more than any other video. So we’re putting that one right up front on our YouTube channel so that when people go there, they will see that video first. It increases the likelihood they will become a subscriber. That’s where you can get ninja crazy with your metrics.

One thing John loved about The Journey was the “loops” that we opened up in each video. When the video started, we’d open up a loop that made viewers want to stay until the end. I’d say, “By the way, don’t go anywhere because before this video ends, X, Y, or Z is going to happen.”

Think of it as a teaser when you watch television. Sometimes shows will tease you with a few clips early on of what’s going to happen later in the episode. You want to stick around to see those things because they haven’t happened yet. Reality TV shows especially do that all the time. The idea is to give someone a reason to stick around.

Most people are going to make a judgment call on your video in the first few seconds; that’s called the hook. The idea is to hook them in. After the hook comes what’s called your bumper: “Here’s what this show is about.” You want to keep that tight; in our case, it’s 3 seconds. Then you want to get into the content. Once you get into the content, say a little bit more about what they’re about to learn. Then offer the hook, “And if you stick around, there’s a bonus tip at the end.”

Another thing we’ve done is put a progress bar on some of our longer videos. Imagine a green line moving from the top to the bottom, with icons all the way along the right side of the video. As they’re watching the video, it’s like a progress report. That green line is coming down to the next icon, filling it in, and going down to the next icon. That’s just a little psychological trigger that we’re using to get people to keep watching because it shows how much progress they’ve made.

screenshot of YouTube video with progress bar

John recaps my whole process with “Hook, bumper, content, that bonus tip, and of course, a progress bar thrown in there as well.” We do have great success when it comes to collaborating with others and have done so for more than 10 years. But John wants to know how those people who are just starting out—or maybe getting a little initial momentum—can collaborate with others to accelerate their personal growth.

Collaborating With Others to Accelerate Growth

There’s a simple formula for growth from my second book, Launch. Great content, plus other people, minus marketing messages, equals growth.

We’ve talked about great content. The “plus other people” is the secret sauce. You can only go so far on your own but you can go really far when you work with others. This has been John’s secret recipe to growing his podcast but it’s not a secret anymore.

When you collaborate with others to co-create content in any form—like John and I are doing right now—the benefit of getting others involved is a huge accelerant to your content. It’s what people do on YouTube, it’s what you do any time you interview someone and write an article that features them. The key to doing that well is just to think creatively.

When I started Social Media Examiner, I hired a guy with a camera to come with me to a conference called Blog World. I interviewed 10 or 15 people on camera, asking questions, creating these little 10-minute videos. Afterward, I emailed them a copy of the video. They were blown away because nobody was doing that; nobody else was out there making them look good on camera.

That’s the kind of stuff that you can do and that’s what we do right now. I mentioned that we’re flying in people from all over the world to film videos for our YouTube channel. We’re the ones promoting this and helping to grow viewerships. The benefit of their participation is they’re getting in front of our audience; it’s a win-win. So the goal is really to find the right people, figure out how you can make it a win-win, and things can really blow up for you.

A podcast is the easy road. Just get Skype and start doing some podcast interviews. If you want to do live, you can do live as well. You can easily use tools to do live video, like Ecamm or Crowdcast. You can do a live show where you bring on guests like we do every week and talk about the news. Those guests are your remote experts; correspondents adding their opinions. If you’re a writer, you could write about something going on in the industry. Then you could reach out to a few individuals to ask them for their thoughts and sew that into the article.

For John and me, the big takeaway from our combined podcasts today is this: If you want to be more well-known, the absolute key is to create content. And that content can be stuff you do from a stage. It can be something you do in front of a camera. It can be something you do in front of a microphone. It can be something you do in front of a keyboard. The idea is to ask yourself what kind of content you can create.

Try to create the best conceivable content you can. Ideally, it needs to be a little unique for the niche that you’re in. Then people will start recognizing you. They’ll start calling your name. They’ll start giving you opportunities. And with that, you can accomplish almost anything.

Key Takeaways From This Episode:

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