Content Crafters is an interview series where we de-construct the tools, tips, and tactics that top bloggers use to get so much work done. you’ll walk away in mere minutes with actionable takeaways you can try out right away. Let’s dive in!
Irina Nica is a Senior Marketing Manager at HubSpot who is in charge of the company’s off-site SEO Strategy, including content promotion, influencer outreach, and link building.
Prior to joining HubSpot, Irina was the Marketing Manager of SEOmonitor.com – an award-winning SEO tool.
She was a proactive member of the company’s board of managers where she contributed to the early development of the product and the company’s global marketing strategy.
She’s a maven when it comes to link building strategy, cold email outreach, building relationships and partnerships with influencers, and content promotion in general. We’ll cover all of that and more in this interview.
How did you get into SEO/link building?
I started out in PR, actually. When I first started in marketing, I used to work with a few Romanian software companies, “chasing” press mentions, securing interviews with local business publications etc. After a few years as a freelancer, I finally decided to work as an-all-round content marketer for a local SEO agency: upswing.ro (back then we were called SEOMonitor).
That’s where things started getting really interesting for me.
At the SEO agency, I was in charge of publishing content on the blog, getting press mentions and generating brand awareness. In the process, I learned how my job ties in with SEO and I found it fascinating and exciting. It probably sounds silly, but I still remember the first time I placed a link in a press release, with “SEO” in mind.
Funny enough, I don’t remember what the story was about, but the idea of how that link means more than referral traffic blew my novice mind 🙂
Step by step, I started getting more involved with the agency’s day-to-day business, working with prospecting clients and fleshing out SEO forecasts for them.
I was hooked and 2 years into my job there I embarked on a new journey: helping the agency launch their proprietary SEO tool – SEOmonitor.com.
That road ultimately led me to HubSpot and my life now in Ireland.
Can you explain your process for working with influencers? How do you find them, how do you work with them, what’s the benefit? How is it all integrated into approach to content and strategy?
I find working with influencers one of the most exciting parts of my job.
On a personal level, it’s great to meet and work with highly driven individuals, who are experts in their field and whose ultimate goals are to help, educate and inspire their audience. To put it simply, my purpose is to contribute to such goals. Whatever projects we’re running together, they have to delight their audience and ours.
To make it work at scale though, I needed to create a clear, easy to replicate process that looks like this:
- First, I set up a clear goal for each project. It can be anything from brand awareness, to sign-ups, leads etc.
- Build a profile, an “influencer persona” that describes the ideal influencer I’d like to work with.
- Then, I go and find influencers that fit my profile. In the process, I also try to find out what defines them, what values they have and if they align with our business.
- After I’ve done my research, I reach out and schedule a “discovery” call with a few of them. The goal of the call is to fill in the gaps of my “influencer persona” with more information such as what are their long-term aspirations, what would excite them to work with me and how I can help them reach their short-term goals.
- I then go and propose a campaign to them. Whether it is a campaign that involves 100s of influencers or just a few names, I try to tailor it according to their goals and priorities. This is crucial for the success of the campaign.
Aside from my work process, another thing I would always recommend is using a CRM (any CRM) to keep track of each contact.
I honestly can’t stress enough how important it is for long-term success to have all your influencer-related data saved in one place. Spreadsheets are great to start with, but will be a blocker when scaling the program. They are great if you’re working with 10-20 influencers, but imagine having 100s of different projects running at the same time. You’ll inevitably forget details and who’s who.
I use HubSpot CRM to keep track of my projects and it’s proven to be essential to building long-term relationships. At any point, I have instant access to:
- Email history
- For each influencer, a short note summarizing their goals and the projects we’re working on
- A history of the projects we worked on together (each “done” project marked as a won deal (or in progress))
- Contract details
- Project plan etc.
Are there any link building tactics that aren’t effective?
Of all the link building tactics I tried, I found broken link building to be the hardest one to scale. It might be a good tactic in the right context, it’s just never worked for me.
I did find it useful to do a “reverse-broken-link-building” campaign to strengthen relationships or re-engage with old partners.
I’d proactively look at our own broken outbound links and contact those websites to ask them to give us an updated version of that page to link to. 8 out of 10 would respond within the next 24 hours and would give us a new page to link to.
For us, there would be the benefit of giving our readers a better experience, with no broken links in the text, and a re-engaged partner who’s happy to hear from us.
What are the primary differences between promoting content internationally vs. US?
That’s a great question and I’ll try to answer it shortly, but consider this caveat: when it comes to the actual implementation of a campaign, going “internationally” should mean focusing on one or more countries at a time.
You can’t market to everyone and every country in the same way because of cultural, social, legal and economic differences.
Take communication style, for example: in the US, readers prefer an informal, creative style, while in Germany people appreciate a more formal type of communication.
In the US, free content and free tools are embraced and sought-after, while other countries perceive free things as low-quality and frankly unattractive.
These cultural aspects are very interesting and very important to take into consideration when promoting anything internationally.
For companies like HubSpot, there’s also the brand-awareness factor that impacts international promotion. In the US, HubSpot’s brand alone helps a lot in content promotion. In other new markets, the journey to brand awareness is at a different stage and the content promotion needs to adapt to that.
What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to work with influencers?
Assumptions are probably the most common mistake: marketers often assume they know what influencers want from a partnership, that they would promote certain products or content just because they are asked to etc.
That’s why I always suggest having a “discovery call” with a few influencers, to get to know them, before rolling out a program to 100s of contacts.
Secondly, I think having unclear or unrealistic expectations from what an influencer program can do for the company is another common mistake.
Some marketers miss out on an opportunity and important distribution channel by not working with influencers. Others hope influencers would solve all of their marketing challenges. The best way to avoid this is to do thorough research before engaging in a program. Speaking to fellow marketers who’ve run similar projects can definitely help.
Lastly, another mistake is related to the way marketers define what an “influencer” is for their business. Everyone knows Hollywood celebrities are true influencers, but what about micro-influencers? It’s worth considering what makes them influencers: their social following? their subscribers?
Marketers need to clearly define metrics for calculating the level of influence a blogger or social media content creator has in their niche before working with them.
Do you believe there’s a skill, attitude, personality trait, or part of your background that makes you awesome at content promotion and link building?
I’m not sure there’s a particular skill, but I do know I get a rush of excitement every time I see a project being successful. This excitement makes me resilient and it drives me to find solutions when things aren’t going particularly well. In link building, there’s a lot of that, so any skill that helps you overcome these challenges ultimately help you succeed.
I’m sure it doesn’t count as a skill, but I think it helps in my job that I get bored easily. I like new things and uncharted territories. This kind of personal dynamic happens to be very useful when you’re working in a field that thrives on constant change. If I weren’t getting bored easily, I wouldn’t always want to change my outreach approach and improve it.
If you could wave a magic wand and kill one (current) content marketing trend, what would it be?
I’d probably kill “the funnel”.
It had its glory days, it’s been an amazing marketing “instrument”, but it’s time we move on from it, as a concept. As marketers, we need to understand that people have evolved in the way they buy products and services. Their research process is different and more complex than “a funnel.”
We still need great content. We still need to deliver and make that content available for buyers, at the right stage of their journey.
It’s just that there isn’t a linear, simple way in which people reach a buying decision. For one, almost every big platform out there delivers personalized experiences, so no two journeys are exactly the same. We need to consider that and adapt in order to stay ahead of the game.
Any weird productivity tips for your personal productivity?
Yes: Take time off.
This might sound profoundly shallow for those who are able to take regular vacations. Those who don’t vacation, probably think there’s no time for time off because “there are things to be done.” I know this because I’m one of those people who work as if I’m being chased by a man with a machine gun.
I used to rarely take time off. And even when I did, I still let work slip in, even for a little bit. In some ways, it did pay off, but overall I was quite tired most of the time.
Fortunately, over time, I’ve changed my views on vacationing and it’s been great on my productivity. Now I learned to disconnect in the evenings or during weekends. Every now and then, I take a long weekend trip and that’s enough to help me relax and refresh my perspective.
How do you manage your own time and workflow?
I use a combination of Trello, Google Calendar and Google Docs.
I use Trello for project management and then I turn each project into tasks, organized as time-slots, blocked on my calendar.
I try to keep my calendar up to date so people can add meetings with me when they need to (I use HubSpot Meetings for that), while also saving big slots of uninterrupted time for my work.
Which systems, processes, or frameworks that you’ve built for your work have had the biggest impact or most surprising results?
I think I was most surprised by the campaigns I ran for building links to “boring” pages.
Typically, you’d think product pages are the last pages one would link to — literally the least sexy content. Turns out, it can be done. I spoke about some of these campaigns at INBOUND last year (check out my slides on SideShare)
Where do you allocate most of your time at HubSpot? What’s a surprisingly time consuming endeavor that you can’t outsource or automate? What do you wish you had to do less of at work?
Most of my time is allocated towards communicating internally: scoping out campaigns, reporting on results, fleshing out experiments, measuring and communicating the success or failure of a project.
Maybe equally important and time consuming is what I call “prospecting”: which is researching for opportunities where I’d like to pitch our offers, products or expert know-how.
I’ve managed to automate or simplify a lot of the processes around link building and influencer marketing, but actually finding the right publication to pitch still requires a lot of work on my part. I think it’s because you need to understand your company as well as the market to find “the right fit.”