How to Build an Army of Volunteer Contributors for Your Blog

August 18, 2015
by Michael Brenner

Every content marketer faces the challenge at some point of trying to figure out how to publish enough content to make a difference to your audience and your business.

But you only have a tiny budget. And you want to maintain a high level of quality.

So how do you get the volume you need at a price you can afford?

Part of the answer comes down to building a volunteer army of contributors who will give you high-quality content, on the topics important to your business, for absolutely no money.

That’s right. You can get access to tons of articles, infographics and videos. And all you have to do is ask.

Let me explain . . .

How Business2Community Built A Media Company With No Employees

Back in 2010, Brian Rice and Dan Criel, two guys who worked for me at the time, helped me start B2B Marketing Insider as a personal favor. I started publishing my own rants and raves on content marketing, social media and marketing strategy right here.

Separately, Brian started a “sister” site called B2C Marketing Insider (now Business2Community). This was based off some simple SEO search analysis.

And while I started writing my own posts twice a week, Brian eventually started reaching out to friends and family members who were already writing articles on social media and search engine optimization and marketing strategy. They asked them if they wanted to contribute original guest posts.

The authors were all thrilled as the traffic and exposure they received were greater than what they could do on their own. This is the power of guest posting that is now a common best practice for bloggers.

After months of publishing content from a small but growing group of authors, they submitted B2C Marketing Insider to Google for inclusion in their “News” service. Google somehow accepted the site as a source of news and the traffic began to take off.

It was soon after this, that the name was changed to Business 2 Community, and Dan and I joined as a co-founders to try and help make this little side business take off. (I left the company over a year ago but continue to advise clients every day on the power of guest blogging.)

That site now has thousands of contributors who submit both original and syndicated content that allows them to publish hundreds of articles every day. The traffic on the site was once well over a couple million pageviews a month!

Business 2 Community built an entire media company using an army of volunteer contributors.

SAP Business Innovation Extends The Model

While still at SAP, I took a similar approach to the company’s Business Innovation site. I was given very little money to build the site and almost nothing to create original content.

I actually wrote the first 24 articles myself summarizing white papers  produced by our campaign team. 6 articles for each of the 4 categories we launched with.

But we wanted to publish 1 article every day for each of the 4 topics. So without any budget, how was I going to find authors and articles who would write for me for free?

The answer: I built an army of volunteer authors based on serving their own self-interest.

Step 1: I identified all the internal employees who were already blogging on the topics I thought our audience was interested in. They had to already be writing high-quality content. Ideally, I also looked for those who had a built-in social audience. I found 12 great bloggers.

Step 2: I approached them and pitched the dream I was chasing of building a world-class content marketing hub. I tapped into their emotions and their own dreams of reaching new and bigger audiences. I asked them simply for permission to allow me to syndicate their existing blogs through an RSS feed. All 12 agreed and gave me permission to syndicate their content.

Step 3: Using the WordPress FeedWordpress Plug-in, I added their existing RSS feeds and all their posts started coming in as new, full-length article drafts I could post on our site.

Step 4: To make sure we were helping both our audience and the authors, we did a few things:

  • we generally waited a few days to post their articles so they could get all the benefit of their original posting.
  • We shared every story on our social channels.
  • We thanked our authors on twitter.
  • We shared tips and tricks and created a sense of community with our authors

We believed strongly in creating a sense of community with both our readers and our authors that went beyond just the traffic and exposure we were giving them.

Step 5: Using the amazing results from the traffic, engagement and conversion we started seeing, I requested and received budget for original content creation and later, licensed content from NewsCred and a budget for paid distribution.

We also started reaching out to external bloggers and thought leaders. At some point, we hit a tipping point and bloggers started coming to us and asking to become contributors for both original and syndicated content. We had reached what I love to call “escape velocity” where growth becomes a virtuous cycle of publishing, sharing and engaging with more readers and contributors.

Step 6: Extending the community. My amazing former team sends out a weekly author newsletter that lists the “top 10″ posts of the week, recognizes an “author of the week” and provides writing tips and examples of great content from others.

I am sharing these stories and tips and steps to building your own volunteer army of content contributors so that you can see the same kind of success that these sites, and now many more are seeing.

Author Curation

I call this approach “Author Curation.” This combines some forms of social listening, influencer marketing, strategic content curation and content strategy.

All you need to do is align the interests of your audience, with the topics you want to focus on, and the content written by influential authors, and you can make this work.

And then follow the steps I outlined above. Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on TwitterLinkedInFacebook and Google+ or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

This article originally appeared on the B2B Marketing Insider blog.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Frank Kehren

About Michael Brenner

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Michael Brenner is the Head of Strategy for the leading content marketing platform, NewsCred. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding. Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael), LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.