Rand Fishkin will be giving a keynote at Engage which will take place March 7–8 in Portland Oregon. For more information or to purchase tickets, please click here.
1) Please give us your background and let us know what you do for a living.
I started Moz, originally as a consulting business with my mother, Gillian, back in 2003. After years of debt-ridden struggle, we managed to turn things around, largely thanks to the popular SEO blog I eventually got good at writing. In 2007, Moz shifted to software, discovered the joy of recurring revenue, and, at the end of that year, raised a round of venture capital. For the next 7 years, I was Moz’s CEO, growing the software business to $30mm. I stepped down in 2014 during a bad bout of depression and promoted my longtime COO to lead the company. In 2018, I left Moz, started a new company — SparkToro — and published a book about the lessons learned called Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World
These days, I’m SparkToro’s CEO, working with my cofounder Casey to build a product that helps make Audience Intelligence data much easier for anyone to access.
2) Is “Influencer Marketing” viable for a large swath of businesses? If yes, what’s a smart way to go about it?
Hmm… It depends on what’s meant by “influencer marketing.” The 2019 definition seems to be “pay a bunch of half-naked people on Instagram to pose with my product.” I think that’s viable for very few businesses, and I suspect the market for it will plateau soon. However, if we’re using the old definition (from, say, 2012 or 2013), i.e. “find the publications and people my audience pays attention to and do organic and paid marketing of all kinds in those places to reach them,” then I believe that has been and will always be a core principle and strategy of all good marketing.
The best way to go about that latter definition is to get great intelligence (through surveys, crawled data, audience research + segmentation, etc) about what your audience pays attention to and where, then craft a tactical roadmap of where and to invest in those channels and sources to best reach them. Over time, you’ll have to do a lot of iteration, learning, and improvement, but as you have success, you can build a remarkable marketing flywheel.
3) How can a professional person become more “Influential” in the digital sphere?
If that’s an important goal, my favorite way is to be helpful to others, and consistently work on expanding the quantity of people you can help. Developing expertise and experience is obviously the start of that, and from there, helping individuals in your network, then publishing work on larger and larger platforms, expanding your ability to help, and repeating the helping process is a wonderful and powerful way to become “influential” in a sphere. It’s a lot more difficult than hoping for and attempting to have a “viral hit,” but it’s also dramatically more likely to work.
4) Twitter has become much less useful for me due to the spam and the inability to cross-post. Are you seeing a decline in the overall value of the medium?
No. I think Twitter is actually seeing more overall engagement in the last 2-3 years than in the decade prior. Granted, much of that centers around social and political issues, but Twitter’s ability to addict and engage a few hundred million folks, many of which are the most influential and visible in their spheres, makes it a powerful tool. For anyone who’s struggling with spam or irrelevance or other annoyances, my best advice is to change which accounts you follow. Twitter’s experience is entirely based around who+what you do or don’t follow, and as such, it can be a ray of sunshine or a pit of darkness depending on what you’ve selected.
5) What’s the best way for a business to do small-scale influencer outreach?
Networking — personal and professional — is still, IMO, the best way to reach a publication or individual you’re hoping will see and amplify you or your work. It is absolutely an art and a science, and requires a great deal of empathy, patience, and diligent effort, but it pays dividends for your entire life. Find the people you know who are one or two degrees away from your outreach targets, find threads of relevant, helpful connection, ask for an introduction, make your case, and then do it again and again until you get good at the practice. Don’t limit yourself to a single medium, either. Email often works best, but LinkedIn or Twitter or even Instagram messages or blog comments or Reddit posts can do the trick in various fields.