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How-to Launch a New Blog From Scratch With Michael Stelzner
With thousands of blogs publishing daily, it’s difficult to break through the Internet noise and make yours pop. With a book titled, “Launch” and multiple successful blogs – one being Social Media Examiner, which has 7.5 million readers – Mike Stelzner knows exactly what it takes to be a blog break-out star.
Last July, Mike found himself wanting to create a blog to help inspire him and other parents to create more adventures with their kids. He decided it was time to put away the technology and get back to spending good old-fashioned quality time together. His passion project became My Kids’ Adventures.
We wanted to share with you how to successfully take your passions and create a blog from scratch. So what exactly does it take to create a successful blog? We asked Mike how-to launch a blog from scratch and he answered in this month’s Expert Series.
BWF: What made you decide to create a publication around a topic so different from Social Media Examiner?
I was working so hard during the day…and by the time I got home I didn’t have any creative juice left for my kids.
I started My Kids’ Adventures for my three children. The youngest is 6 and the oldest is 12 years old. Last year it came to my attention that I was working so hard during the day and by the time I got home, I didn’t have any creative juice left for my kids. I started to research websites that could help me come up with some adventures we could share. I couldn’t find any specifically targeted at kids their age range. There are a ton of sites for toddlers and teens, but there was nothing in between.
So I decided that’s what I would do. And it became my passion project. I researched and found an opportunity to create something that I knew a lot of parents would probably be interested in. There are billions of parents out there with kids around the same age as mine. I was sure they were just as exhausted at the end of their day and probably often lacked the energy to do really fun creative things with their kids. My thought was, let’s create a website that allows me and people like me to have fun with their children, without having to try to come up with original ideas all on their own. I got a bunch of creative people together and we created the blog. It’s totally focused on empowering parents to have fun in a non-digital way with their kids.
BWF: What process did you go through and who was involved in developing a content strategy for My Kids’ Adventures?
I did a test…I asked people to volunteer…They came to me in the masses, telling me how much my video resonated with them, and how there was a real need for my blog.
Step 1: I did a test. I created a video over a 10 day time period, which you can find on the blog. I already had the logo created and at the end of a conference I was Keynote speaking at, I played this little two-minute clip and gauged the audience’s reaction. I knew if people had a strong reaction, I was on the right path. And, if they didn’t, then I would can it. They came to me in the masses, telling me how much my video resonated with them, and how there was a real need for my blog.
Step 2: I asked people to volunteer to help write and create great content. Creative quality content is what builds audiences. We had about 70 people apply to be a part of this. My team at Social Media Examiner split-up the names and we reached out to forty or fifty of these people. We interviewed every single one of them. Our questions were:
- What in the video resonated with you?
- What special skill can you help us with?
- Are you willing to help us get the word out?
- Are you willing write for us?
- And, Do you know someone who we ought to be talking to?
They all helped us understand whom in the marketplace we ought to be talking to and what they might be able to do to help us. Then we created a behind-the-scenes list, which we called The Founder’s Club.
We got 1,000 people on that list prior to the launch of My Kids’ Adventures. We leveraged the power of Social Media Examiner, showed the video and asked people to join the Founder’s list. Each week I would release a little video that would talk about how I was going about launching My Kids’ Adventures. It got a lot of people excited. The day we launched we already had 1,000 people on our email list, which really helped us pop.
— Fandom Marketing (@FandomMarketing) February 4, 2014
BWF: How do you build a blog audience from scratch?
If you have 1,000 fans before you even start, you can do anything!
Well, the 1,000 people in the Founder’s Club were a huge boost. If you have 1,000 fans before you even start, you can do anything! When we actually launched, we emailed all 1,000 people on the list asking them to help us get the word out. We launched with three high-quality posts. One of them, still to this day, remains one of our most popular. It’s called How to Create a Backyard Treasure Hunt, Minecraft Style.
Then we reached out to a lot of our friends and asked them if they wouldn’t mind sharing our content. We pre-wrote tweets and gave them graphics to use. We made it easy for people to evangelize for us, which brought us another big boost. Since our launch last July we’ve had over 150,000 visitors to the site.
BWF: How do you narrow down which topics you will cover?
We first and foremost learned what was popular and what wasn’t, as we went live.
It has to have an adventure to it. We have an editorial guide and we don’t do posts on how to make kids avoid being bullied, or how to give kids better self-esteem. My Kids’ Adventures isn’t about that. It’s got to have an adventure angle to differentiate from everyone else in this space. There are thousands of bloggers out there, but there are very few that are coming from the adventure angle. It has to have an adventure theme and that typically means a fun activity you can do inside, in the backyard, in the neighborhood, or in the great outdoors.
We first and foremost learned what was popular and what wasn’t, as we went live. It was a trial and error process, because we didn’t know. It was intuitive and more like, what is Mike Stelzner, dad and founder, interested in doing with his kids.
Over time we began to learn posts on things like, how to make slime, were really popular. We didn’t really know what would resonate. We do a lot of weather and holiday related themes. A recent article we did was how to create an arctic adventure tub, which thematically aligned with what’s going on with the weather right now. And around Halloween we did lots of spooky stuff. That’s how we tend to guide our editorial.
BWF: Where do you get content?
We’ve just drawn together creative people who are interested in being a part of the movement.
Everyone that writes for us is a volunteer. It’s almost exactly the same at Social Media Examiner. This is part of the magic sauce of what we’ve done. We’ve drawn together creative people interested in being a part our movement. We aren’t selling anything. There’s no advertising, nothing’s for sale and there is no plan to do that; at least for the first year. And we still aren’t sure what we’re going to do after that. This really is just an exceptional place to get creative adventure ideas to experience with your kids.
BWF: What have been successful tactics in attracting contributors and guest bloggers?
There is something personal to a lot of people in this.
We have a newsletter that goes out to around 3,600 subscribers. Every time we put out a new article, we include a section asking people if they would be interested in writing for us. We also have a “Write for us” section on our navigation bar, which links to a form interested volunteers can fill out. There are a lot of decent writers, who never really thought about writing this kind of stuff. A good example is Steve Spangler, whose a big science guy. He’s credited with the Mentos in Diet Coke experiment. He loved what we were doing and agreed to become a regular contributor.
There is something personal to a lot of people in this. They have kids and they want to do fun stuff with them. It’s the beginning of an anti-digital movement, I think. It’s time for children AND their parents to put away the smartphone.
BWF: What tools are you using to manage content, contributors or editorial?
There are at least five to six editors working on My Kids’ Adventures.
Social Media Examiner is a really big publication and we have an entire editorial team straddling both Social Media Examiner and now My Kids’ Adventures. There are at least five to six editors working on My Kids’ Adventures. There is no way we could do something of this caliber and this quality if we didn’t have Social Media Examiner behind us. As you can imagine, doing something of this quality would cost a small fortune and we aren’t making any money. It’s a passion project right now; it’s what I’m giving back. We’re really trying to bring the fun. The premise is: if you can have fun in adventurous ways with your children, they are going to remember it for the rest of their lives. And it becomes generational.
BWF: How many people are involved in the publishing process and what are their roles?
It’s an extremely elaborate process, which takes twice as long to publish as it does to write.
We have a very sophisticated process. Volunteers first fill out our form then go through a vetting process. We look at the quality of their writing on any topic, to make sure we know they are the caliber we are looking for. And then we negotiate topics with them and tell them which one we like. Some of them end up becoming regular monthly columnists. Once they submit their article we have a very detailed editorial guide that we send to them. Social Media Examiner has print magazine quality standards and we bring all that experience to My Kids’ Adventures.
An associate editor is responsible for the original articles and they give the thumbs up or the thumbs down. After the associate editor likes an article it goes to another editor who does what we call a beautification process, which is making the article easier to read and gives it proper formatting. Then it goes to a copy editor whose job is to check the language syntax, links, and all that stuff. Then the graphics designer gets involved and creates graphics. Then it goes to another editor who preps everything in WordPress, and then it’s off to the SEO editor who checks the search optimization. After all of this, the executive editor – Me – does the final headlines and preparations.
So, as you can see, it’s an extremely elaborate process, which takes twice as long to publish as it does to write. The end result speaks for itself, though. Our content is extremely high quality, very informative and typically around 1,000 words. It’s designed to be fully inclusive, so readers don’t have to go anywhere else to complete the adventures. It’s accessible from a computer, or phone and print ready.
BWF: Do you cross promote My Kids’ Adventures to your Social Media Examiner audience?
Plenty of business owners and marketers are also parents.
The audiences are obviously very different. My Kids’ Adventures are parents and grandparents, which covers a huge swatch of people. Social Media Examiner, on the other hand, is marketers and business owners, which is a much smaller niche. Plenty of business owners and marketers are also parents, so in our newsletter at Social Media Examiner – which reaches 231,000 people everyday – we place a little ad for My Kids’ Adventures, every once in a while. It’s a tad weird, because it doesn’t have anything to do with social media marketing. We realize they are not coming to Social Media Examiner looking for parenting stuff, but some of them happen to be parents, and it’s a great way for us to promote My Kids’ Adventures.
I doubt we would get the same amount of visitors to My Kids’ Adventures if we weren’t able to cross-promote with Social Media Examiner and have it behind us. In my experience, building something to Social Media Examiner’s magnitude requires an amazing amount of resources and dedication. If you have a really big following in a space with a sub-segment that fits your target audience, which is the case here with Social Media Examiner, you can leverage that to help do something new.
I don’t think that’s the only reason it’s been so successful, however. In the beginning we got a burst, but after that My Kids’ Adventures had to have the likes for it had to survive on its own. And it’s definitely surviving. People discover it predominately from people sharing the content.
BWF: What lessons did you learn from launching Social Media Examiner that allowed you to do things differently when launching My Kids’ Adventures?
I’ve learned that each audience is different.
I think I’ll take a different angle on this question. I’ve learned that each audience is different. We thought that Twitter would be a big deal because it is with Social Media Examiner, but it turned out it’s not with My Kids’ Adventures. People don’t tend to tweet the genre of articles we write. Not as much as they share it on Facebook and Pinterest, anyway. We started learning that even though an enormous amount of people were reading our content, many didn’t share it because they use their social media primarily for professional purposes. We realized a lot of people were consuming our content, but fewer people were sharing it. I think it’s because we live in an age where a lot of people don’t feel comfortable sharing off topic subjects, if it’s not job related.
Honestly, the growth with My Kids’ Adventures is a lot slower of a process than I was expecting. But you can’t expect everything to be huge overnight. And that’s been the challenge. It takes time and an overabundance of dedication and effort to build these kinds of things. There is frankly no way anyone could launch something of this magnitude, this caliber, without tons of volunteers. Even us. If we didn’t’ have all these writers volunteering, we couldn’t do this. It’s too cost prohibitive.
We have one full-time employee and one part-time employee working on My Kids’ Adventures, and everyone else works for Social Media Examiner and pitch in on the side. The idea of hiring one full-time employee and one part-time employee for a startup blog, with no revenue model, is insane for a lot of small businesses.
BWF: What advice do you have for others who want to start a blog about something they are passionate about?
You want to make sure there is an audience that’s truly interested in what you’re doing.
Test it first! Make sure there’s an audience interested in what you’re writing about. I used my video as the test. I knew if the video emotionally resonated with people, I had something.
If you are going to start something completely brand new, it’s a great idea to find a blog with a large audience and try writing on their platform. See if there is any interest. There are always a lot of bigger blogs in just about every space. You want to make sure there is an audience that’s truly interested in what you’re doing.
I was doing something that had never been done before, so I had one of my team members do extensive research. We looked at different blogs in parenting categories and found there were close to none focused on activities for kids in the age range I was looking for. There were other blogs with activities sprinkled throughout them, but none where it was the soul focus. It was a risk, because we didn’t know whether there was a marketplace for it. We found out there was and honestly, I think one day millions of people will be reading My Kids’ Adventures.
BWF: Final thoughts?
When doubt creeps in, you creep forward!
Never underestimate the amount of work it takes and always keep your vision in place.
I wrote a great post on Social Media Examiner called, Why We Fail and What You Can Do About It. In that post I discuss all the fear and uncertainty I faced starting My Kids’ Adventures, and how I pushed through it.
The moral of story is,
If you’ve got a passion and your certain there is an audience out there, you WILL face uncertainty and doubt. I often wondered, who am I to do a blog about adventures, when I don’t even have adventures with my own kids. In my mind I was thinking, I’m a fraud! — but in reality, I was lying to myself. I do things with my kids, but I want to do more. That’s why I started this.
It’s easy to fall into the, “I’m not good enough” or “no one will ever read it sinkholes.” These are the kinds of thoughts everyone deals with when they are starting something new. My best advice is to push through the self-doubt. Steven Pressfield wrote a great book titled,” The War of Art”. In his book he says, “Whenever you sense resistance, that’s the sign that you need to move forward”. And, like I always say, when doubt creeps in, you creep forward.
Meet Expert: Michael Stelzner
Michael Stelzner is a busy dad of three girls and the founder of My Kids’ Adventures. He also founded Social Media Examiner, authored the books Launch and Writing White Papers and is the man behind large events such as Social Media Marketing World. He also hosts the Social Media Marketing podcast.
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