As of January 2014, the Content Marketing Institute site averages over 150,000 unique visitors per month, almost 500,000 page views, and over 80,000 e-mail newsletter subscribers (both daily and weekly). In each category, this is more than double our performance from 2013.

CMI’s daily blog content deserves the lion’s share of credit for these results. For the past year, CMI published one blog post per day, seven days a week, every day of the year. That’s 365 total pieces of content. Three hundred of those pieces of content have come directly from bloggers and writers who do not work for CMI (who we call our “community of influencers”).

Getting Started

In May 2010, my partners and I had the crazy idea of launching CMI. With minimal resources and budget, we looked at all available options to creating content. After looking at the competitive landscape and audience need (our audience is marketing managers and directors in mostly enterprise organizations), we believed there was an opportunity for daily instructional posts about the practice of content marketing.

We started with a budget of $6,000 per month to cover five posts per week (we didn’t start weekend posting until 2012). Those funds were needed to cover raw content costs, editing costs, proofreading, uploading into our WordPress content management system, and any images for individual posts. It goes without saying, but this was not much to work with.

The only feasible way we thought we could make this work was to reach out to outside contributors, without paying them, in exchange for promoting them on our site. Thus, the influencer list was born.

The Influencer List

Luckily, we had a head start with a defined influencer list. We define an influencer as a blogger, competitor, association or media organization that was creating content of interest to our target audience, and a place where our target customer was actually hanging out on a regular basis. We rated our influencer list quarterly in something called the “Top 42 Content Marketing Blogs.” (the image below is a sample of one of our influencer lists)

Initially, this list was made up of influencers we found by tracking keywords (like “content marketing”) in Google Alerts, authors in industry trade publications, those that were talking about the topic on Twitter, and other bloggers that we just found interesting. Although the main list included 42 people, there was a secondary database of over 300 people that we tracked in one way or another. Initially, this took us about a week to put together, and it was continually updated over time.

Getting the Attention of Influencers

Influencers are important people. They generally have real jobs and are extremely active on social networks, spending their time sharing content and blogging. Getting on their radar is not easy. So, to get their attention, we gave away content gifts. We did this in a few different ways.


Originally coined by Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping, Social Media 4-1-1 is a sharing method that enables a company to get greater visibility with social influencers. Here’s how it works.

For every six pieces of content shared via social media (such as Twitter):

  • Four are pieces of content from your influencer target that are also relevant to your audience. This means that 67 percent of the time you are sharing content that is not yours, and calling attention to content from your influencer group.
  • One piece can be your original, educational piece of content.
  • One piece can be your sales piece, such as a coupon, product notice, or press release.

While the numbers don’t have to be exact, it’s the philosophy that makes this work. When you share the content of influencers, they notice. And you should share without asking for anything in return so that when you do need something someday the influencers are more likely to say yes.


As we at CMI tracked our influencer list, we decided we could get better visibility with influencers by actually ranking them and sharing the rankings with the masses. This was an incredible success.

We hired an outside research expert to put together a methodology of how to rank the top bloggers, looking at areas such as consistency, style, helpfulness, originality and their rankings in search engines. Then each quarter, CMI would publicize the list, showcase the top 10, send out a press release, and try to make a big deal out of it. Needless to say, the top 10 and the honored top 42 loved the list. Not only did most of this influencer group share the list with their audiences, approximately half of the top 42 influencers placed our widget (with personal rank of that particular influencer) on their home page, linking back to our site. So not only were we building long-term relationships with these influencers, we were getting credible links and traffic as well.

In addition to the top bloggers list, CMI started to put together large educational e-books showcasing the influencers’ work. For example, in 2009 and again in 2011 and 2013, we launched the Content Marketing Playbook. The original playbook included over 50 case studies about content marketing, with many coming directly from our influencers. We made sure to note in the playbook which examples came from which influencers.

When we released the playbook and let the influencers know about the e-book, those we highlighted in the playbook eagerly shared the content with their audiences.

Back to the Blog

Because we at CMI didn’t have the resources to pay for raw, educational content about content marketing, we knew exactly where we needed to turn: to our influencers. When we announced the original CMI blog, the first group to whom we reached out was our database of social influencers. Dozens of these influencers were more than happy to help us out, as we had promoted them for years without ever asking for anything in return.

Yes, most of them were already pretty decent writers, but we wanted their content to really shine. Why? We believed that if we presented them as true rock stars on our site, with amazingly helpful content, the influencers would be more likely to share the content with their audience. This step was critical, because at the time we had very little reach and following online; we needed to leverage the influencers’ networks in order for us to build our own.

Influencer Program Results

CMI started to see positive traffic patterns almost immediately simply because of the amount of social sharing from the network. That, in turn, led to more social sharing and some amazing SEO results. (We soon dominated the search rankings for anything around the topic of content marketing.) From our search ranking and increased social sharing, we convert that traffic into our email subscribers, which generates the majority of our revenue. The CMI blog platform has enabled us to launch multiple events, a magazine, two webinars per month, and every other revenue-generating activity we have.

While you may or may not launch a blog that has outside contribution like ours, committing to maintaining a social influencer list is a critical component to your social sharing program.

One outside benefit I wasn’t expecting? A number of people on our social influencer list are now good friends of mine. How’s that for social media magic?


Note: I almost never talk about my organization in a LinkedIn post, but this is a case study on how we grew the company by developing relationships with influencers. Doing this was key to our growth. Please steal any or all of these ideas and make them your own (the image above is with influencer Marcus Sheridan, on the left).

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