(First published in June 2015, last updated in September 2015)
Kyle’s Note: Roundups are a great way to collect interesting ideas from many different people and perspectives. This post gives you a system to follow to reach out to influencers in your niche/industry and work with them to create great content. John Neil used these same techniques to create a 50 person round up on the Helloify blog. Over to John:
Why roundups are awesome
Personally, I’m very curious. I love the idea of unlocking topical knowledge and insights trapped inside other people’s heads. That’s exactly what roundups can do.
A roundup post unlocks knowledge trapped inside other people’s heads! (CLICK TO TWEET)
It’s hard to imagine an online business that wouldn’t benefit from publishing at least one roundup post. This article will show you exactly how to get it done, using my own roundup post as a case study.
Plus, roundups make sense from a marketing perspective:
- They position your product within a tribe and invite widespread support for your marketing efforts.
- The process of creating a roundup is predictable and repeatable. Follow a process and you get the right product every time. That means you can do roundups on multiple topics without being stale.
- I should also mention that if you tend to get lost in your own thoughts (I’ve been guilty of this), the roundup format forces you to create relevant and interesting content.
What is a roundup?
You may be wondering…what exactly is a roundup?
Check out our roundup series at Helloify for an example.
It contains 50 responses in total, focused on customer happiness tips directly from founders. We built it by going and rounding up responses to a topical question from 50 people who’re running online businesses.
To give credit where it’s due, I should say that our roundup was inspired by 1 we saw at Founder’s Grid (as of May 2015 their site is having issues, but here’s a link anyway).
Why share the framework?
If roundups work so well, why not keep the secret sauce to ourselves?
- WPCurve readers value transparent and actionable guides and reward them with traffic and shares, that gives us an incentive to tell you our secrets.
- Content marketing is not zero sum. Your post doesn’t subtract from mine.
The idea of non-zero sum thinking warrants elaboration.
Let’s say this guide leads you to do a roundup. Your post won’t ‘steal’ traffic from our pages, that’s not how content works. Far more likely that you link to this guide and of course that will actually send traffic our way.
There’s pie for everyone. That is why I’m happy to present my exact framework for roundups below. This guide is the result of my documenting the entire process I used to put together Helloify’s roundup, and it also incorporates wisdom I’ve gained by writing several other roundups, for WPCurve and a few clients.
The psychology of a roundup
I recommend you read through this section before you start writing. The proper mindset is essential. If you skip straight to the process, I bet you won’t get optimal results.
Pick a good topic
The idea is to give people an opportunity to show their best selves. People want to share their insights about certain topics, while avoiding others. For best results, ask people to share their lessons learned and stories.
Get an early win and then capitalize on momentum. My first respondent was Eric Siu, who is respected in the online marketing niche. Getting the first response from him felt like an important hurdle, so I quickly messaged other people I knew to get involved. I made sure to reference Eric’s participation. My friends helped get me to 10 entries. Once it became clear the concept was structurally sound, I began to reach out to people I didn’t already know via cold email and tweets.
Sending good emails and tweets is crucial
Most of us have room to improve in the email and tweet game. Too often, messages contain errors that lead to low conversion rates. I’m not talking about typos (I make them all the time) – I mean tactical errors in the content and delivery.
To ensure your success, this article includes multiple scripts you can use, plus links to more advanced material from Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferriss if you are committed to improving.
You’re offering value
Realize that you are offering something of value for your respondents – a free backlink. They get SEO juice, you get your content.
A word on rejection
It’s rare to get a true rejection, though I did once. More commonly, people you contact just won’t reply. Some will diplomatically decline. In both cases, just keep moving.
Overview of the process
Below are the exact steps I took to create my post. I’ve provided links to templates when possible.
First, you should settle on the fundamentals.
- What topic do you want cover?
- What data will you collect?
- Who should participate?
- What is your target length?
Collect the right data for your topic
Choosing a topic is just the first step. You need to ask a question which returns useful content.
Let’s say your blog focuses on social media innovations. Now what would happen if you asked people to talk about a social media innovation, without further direction? The resulting post would have no unifying theme, it would just be an uncategorized jumble of thoughts.
Don’t be vague, go narrow.
When this post went live, Periscope App was relatively new but has a lot of users and interesting activity happening – this makes it a great topic for an audience who’s interested in social media. But you can’t just say “tell me about Periscope” to a list of people on the internet, because that’s an unclear directive.
To go narrow, I’d pick a specific group that has a lot of knowledge about Periscope. I figure Periscope influencers would fit the description, and furthermore they’d be happy to participate because they want more attention for their projects.
Having narrowed your topic to Periscope, remember that you need to ask an interesting question. Brainstorm a few ideas. Any of one these would be fine:
- Tell me one thing that’s surprised about the experience of streaming on Periscope.
- Tell me the strangest fan interaction you’ve had to date (marriage proposal, unwanted lunch invitation, emoji spam, etc).
- Time until Obama does a personal livestream – over/under 1 year?
- Do you prefer to use Periscope vs its close competitor Meerkat? Why?
The reason all of these questions work is because they give your roundup peeps a chance to say something interesting.
Who will participate?
Now that you know what data to collect, decide where you’ll go fishing for responses. How to do this is part art, part science.
For the Helloify post, I wanted to hear directly from entrepreneurs who’d implemented customer happiness strategies.
To put out a really good post, I knew I needed to reach beyond just my friend circle.
I wondered, what’s the best way to reach beyond people I already know?
One obvious way of scaling my data collection would be to rely on referrals. To do that, I’d ask my friends to answer the question then immediately forward it to their friends. The appeal of this method was that it’d be not much work on my part.
There’s a fundamental problem with relying on viral spread of your data collection, though. It’s lack of control. Lack of control leads to 2 more specific problems:
- Problem 1: The echo chamber effect: friends pass the form to friends, and we end up with the same responses over and over again from people with very similar backgrounds.
- Problem 2: I end up with less short on content because fewer people share the form than I’d expected.
How to get the right mix
I’m happy to tell you that I eventually got the right mixture of content in the final Helloify post. We covered a lot of territory, ranging from online marketing influencers, to founders of Y Combinator companies, to lifestyle business entrepreneurs.
I ensured a great mix by taking full control over who I was reaching out to.
Here’s where I found interesting people:
- Looking at speaker bios from relevant conferences,
- Viewing lists of entrepreneurs, like YClist.com
- Leveraging Twitter’s social graph
All of these are covered in step 3 of the process below.
Process – the 7 steps to writing a roundup
These posts can be time consuming. To construct a roundup post while maintaining your sanity requires that you methodically cut down on repetitive tasks.
You want to reduce how much time it takes to do everything:
- Explaining what a roundup is to your prospects
- Specifying how and why your prospect should participate
- Collecting their response
- Organizing all the responses
I solved all these problems by putting together a MacGyver system including online forms, data collection sheets and explanatory documents (with social proof and pictures!). All of this was possible using free online tools.
Step 1) Make a Google doc explaining what you are doing
The goal is for your prospect to guide themselves all the way down your data collection funnel. Save yourself hours in the long run by spending 30 minutes right now to create a Google doc which explains these basic details:
- Your background – why they should trust you
- The topic of your roundup
- Social proof – who’s already participated
- What they’ll get in exchange for helping you out – a backlink from your site
- The explicit instructions they need to follow to get featured
Here’s the exact Doc I used for the Helloify roundup. I recommend you just copy it and change where necessary to fit your roundup campaign.
Remember to emphasize that participation should only take 1 minute!
N.B: As I got more responses, I updated the ‘social proof’ with my most impressive respondents.
Step 2) Link to a Google form which collects your data
(Google forms are a free online tool. If you’re not familiar with how to use them, read this.)
Link from your explainer doc into a Google form, which will capture all the data you need to write the post.
The form we’ve created links to an Excel-style sheet (also by Google) which automatically stores the data it collects in cells. This saves you a bunch of time over organizing the data manually.
Ours had 6 fields and looks like this:
Because I know you were born a tech genius, this should be simple to replicate 😉
Once again, here is the actual form I used.
Step 3) Compile a list of prospects for your roundup
Now that you’ve setup the Google Doc and the Google Form, make a list of all the people you will send them to. Make a sheet with 4 columns – name, email address, Twitter, and site. This info will help you contact them. I recommend identifying 50-150 people to pitch as you start out.
Where to look for prospects
It’s preferable to build a list of emails. As I alluded to above, I broke down prospecting into these 3 categories:
- Searching through vertical-specific websites (like this one),
- Directories of companies and people (like this one),
- “X people you should know lists,” (like this one).
- … and Twitter, covered in the next section
When you run across someone interesting, record their contact details in your list of prospects. Often your only lead will be a first and last name. If no contact is listed, you will need to guess and check their email.
Guessing and checking emails is a skill you need to pick up. If you learn how to do it, you should be able to contact almost anyone. Read up on how to do it here. Once you learn the magic of guessing and checking, lack of a known email address is just a speed bump, not a road block.
Conference webpages, directories and X people you should know lists, will yield us a lot of prospects to reach out to. But for me, it wasn’t enough, I ended up I running into a block.
I needed to find more people to get involved, and it became clear that Twitter’s social graph would be useful.
Here’s how I leveraged Twitter’s social graph
Twitter has has a social graph that you don’t need tech skills to understand. Every Twitter user has followers, they also follow people, and this is where we do work.
Look at who your first few prospects are following and who follows them for new leads. Using Twitter won’t lead to an echo chamber effect because most users’ social graph is composed of loose ties. This is part of the magic of Twitter, and I’ve noticed similar behaviors in most Twitter users.
For example, I personally I follow a wide range of people including founders, venture capitalists, authors, social critics, politicians, musicians, engineers and thinkfluencers. Hard to get an echo chamber with such a mixed group.
Let’s see how this works in practice. At one point, I decided that I’d like to reach out to people that my friend Taylor Pearson follows on Twitter. I looked at his graph because he happened to be 1 of my first prospects and I believe he has a nose for interesting content.
Guess what? I was rewarded. While browsing Taylor’s list, I found another entrepreneur, Ben, who seemed like he would have a great insight into customer happiness, so I added him to my prospect list.
Step 4) Contact your prospects
If you skipped section 3, go back and read it closely. There is a bolded section which tells you how to guess anyone’s email. Being able to guess emails is imperative in this process.
This is where you’ll be glad you put so much work into making a prospect list, because now all you need to do is work your way down the list and contact each person.
Important: Your first 1-5 contacts in any medium should be done individually to ‘debug’ the process. You don’t want to send out a typo or other mistake to your entire list. After you’ve gotten some initial success, really hit the gas pedal and start batching.
Once you’ve hit your stride, make a goal to send all emails in 1 sitting and all Tweets in another sitting.
By batching your emails and tweets, you gain efficiency. When I was sending out the bulk of the emails, I rarely stopped to look at replies via email or Twitter. They’re usually zero content replies, irrelevant for the purposes of your completing the roundup.
I waited until I was done to loop through my inbox and see what people had written back. Replies back were usually something non pressing like “Okay, I just submitted, and it actually took 1 minute… thanks!”
3-5 days after your initial campaigns, go back and see who hasn’t converted, and follow up 1 time. Just say “Hey, wanted to make sure this wasn’t buried in your inbox. Would love your participation,” and leave it there.
Snippet tools save you time typing
I recommend Streak and TextExpander to save a lot of time in your typing. They both have free versions as of May 2015.
If you are a Gmail user, use Streak. Streak is interesting to us because it lets you create email templates and text snippets, and lives right in your email client where you need it. Again, this saves you time time in typing out repetitive messages. The coolest part is that it can also fill in a pre-scripted subject line for you – saving 2 clicks.
If you’re not using Gmail, use TextExpander. TextExpander detects when you type an obscure sequence of letters (say, ‘rdupml’, which is my shorthand for for “roundup email”) and the program autofills in text for you. This saves time and ensures quality control.
How to use snippet tools in email
Here’s an overview of snippets using an actual message I sent to convince Rand Fishkin to participate in my roundup.
In this example, the only unscripted part of this email was “Hi Rand,” and “Moz,” both of those I manually typed in. Doing that customization took me all of 15 seconds – Streak filled in the rest, including email subject, the body and the link to our handy Google doc.
Bonus: In the above email, I put 4 tactics to work to increase my response rate. If you can’t identify those off the top of your head, you should read the section below called “Nerding out on how to email.”
For Twitter, snippet tools are less useful
I have not discovered a way to save a lot of time sending tweets. Luckily, tweeting is short by design. I would like to show you a screenshot of an actual tweet I sent, but for some reason pictures of tweets are less photogenic than a pictures of my email. Just follow this link to see what I did.
I would recommend you take notes on the messages I used above and implement similar wording for yourself.
Step 5) Cleaning up
(Please note that this step happens in the excel-style doc which is attached to your survey form!)
After data collection is over, start cleaning up your Google sheet. Cleaning is an apt metaphor for the work you’ll have to do here, because when you pitch over 100 people there is a huge variance in what returns.
Here are the broad categories of content I saw in my responses:
- Gems: Rand Fishkin’s response to my roundup post certainly qualifies as a gem. I love it because it includes a specific tip, evidence via screenshot of a tweet, plus it has a bit of story arc.
- Garbage: 1 of my respondents entered a shallow “customer happiness tip” which was only 7 words with no capitalization. I left it out of the final post.
- Needs editing: I worked with 1 of my respondents to rephrase their story, which contained great insight but was confusing at first glance.
- Way too long: Since you are reaching out to the big personalities in your niche, you’ll receive a few responses whose length approaches short story territory. These are salvageable, but you need to put on your editor’s hat and pare them down.
Transferring data into your draft
Once the responses are all clean, you’ll transfer the responses from your Excel-style sheet to yet another Google product (Google Docs) which houses your draft.
For an example of what my Google Doc looked like prior to web formatting, view here.
This staging doc must at least include:
- Roundup response
- Respondent’s name
- Respondent’s picture
- The site we’ll backlink to
- Respondent’s Twitter profile (or alternate link to headshot picture)
I personally copied and pasted all the data from my spreadsheet into the Google Doc, but you may decide to delegate this out. It was time consuming.
Step 6) Translate your Google Doc into the web format of your site and post
On this step, your mileage may vary because everyone’s blog setup is different. Just make sure to input it correctly into WordPress and ensure that all multimedia and links are working before you hit post!
Step 7) Promote the roundup by emailing/tweeting your respondents, asking them to share
Now witness the power of roundups. People you featured share the post and you get traffic from their audience. Your new visitors will immediately scan to see what their favorite influencer said, but they’ll also stay on the page to see who else participated, and hopefully to checkout your product or service.
To maximize that sweet traffic from other people’s audiences, it’s imperative to let your people know the post is live, and remind them to share it out! It’d take forever to do type out the same message to all fifty people, so you use your text snippet tool again to save time.
Above is the exact script I used the reminder email to my roundup peeps. At the bottom of the pic, you’ll notice my Streak snippet named haprd (short for happiness roundup) – if I type that sequence of letters, Streak automatically fills in the subject and body of the email with everything I need, except for my addressee’s name.
Once you’ve sent out all these messages, you’re done!
Appendix A: Getting nerdy about messaging
So for the masochists among you… do you want to know the best way to send email in any context?
How to be good at email has actually been covered in depth by people whose business it is to think about these things.
I recommend checking out content from Tim Ferriss, who likes to ‘deconstruct’ all of life’s challenges, and Ramit Sethi, who uses knowledge from behavioral psychology to inform day-to-day business interactions:
- Ramit Sethi’s word for word email scripts, and explanations of why they work
- Tim Ferriss on email etiquette and mechanics.
For those who won’t slog through those texts (you should!), here is the tl;dr summary:
- Tip from Ramit: Since you’re asking for your recipient to do something for you, highlight what you can provide to them (backlink, a chance to share), not what you’re looking to get from them (content).
- Tip from Tim: It’s a good idea to show your prospect that you respect their time by keeping your message short and having a clear ask.
- Tip from Tim: Give addressees an easy out at the end of your email, something like “I know you’re probably swamped, no worries if you can’t help out.” This will paradoxically increase your chance of getting a response.
Appendix B: What I didn’t do – opportunities for roundup innovation
There is plenty of room for innovation in the roundup domain. Some of these ideas may yield unique and compelling content:
- Branch out from using just Twitter and email to draw responses. There are other social graphs, notably Facebook and LinkedIn. If you figure out a good way to work these to find prospects for your roundup post, I’d love to hear about it!
- Instead of collecting text responses, ask your respondents for an Audio/Video message. This should help your readers get to know your roundup contributors on a deeper level.
- Try automating away the grunt work of roundups with software. A lot of the time I spent creating this post was dedicated to copying Twitter handles and email addresses into and out of various Google forms. Ideally you’d want to a way to completely eliminate step 5. I see no reason why delegation, outsourcing or software couldn’t do this for you.
I hope this framework inspires you to create a roundup post on your site.
I’ll say again – the most attractive characteristic of a roundup for content marketers is their repeatability. After you setup your roundup machine once, you can and should use it over and over again. You can delegate the tedious stuff. And just doing 1 roundup will put you in touch with new perspectives, which should spark new ideas for even more content.
I am someone who constantly seeks out new ideas and conversations, so for that reason I love putting roundups together. I’m open to helping you get started.
Ping me on Twitter if you want me to build 1 for you. I’ll also be in the comments (below) to field questions.
I believe the top 4 reasons you should create a roundup is that they’re Repeatable, versatile + predictable, they can be catalysts, and they invite serendipity.
Benefits of a roundup:
- Repeatable: Businesses can and should conduct more than one roundup.
- Versatile and predictable: The process described here works in many contexts, and makes roundups easy to delegate to an employee or contractor.
- Catalyst: Roundups expose you to new ideas and lower the activation energy for future content.
- Serendipity: Roundups have spillover effects beyond traffic and shares.
(September 2015 Update: Since I published the original post back in June, I’ve gathered a few data points to support the claims above.)
- Repeatable: WPCurve has published 5 roundups, which together drew a total of 6055 views and 512 tweets, according to WPCurve end-of-month reports. The posts: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
- Versatile + Predictable: Personally, I’ve delivered 5 roundups for clients in 4 different industries so far: dental, personal productivity, entrepreneurship, and conversion rate optimization.
- Catalyst: One of my clients, an executive coach, is using roundups as a way to take the pulse of the industry and discover positioning that works for the new economy.
- Serendipity: As a result of contacting influencers for the roundup, my client in the dental industry was invited onto a niche industry podcast where he will be viewed by 1000 subscribers in the dental marketing community.
Now that you’ve read the guide, how can you take action?
I’d recommend using one of two approaches:
- Executing the roundup in-house
- Outsourcing the project.
Keeping the project inhouse
You’re either going to be writing the roundup personally or delegating it to a team member.
After hearing many success stories and a few failure stories, the most difficult parts of the process seem to be:
- Asking a really compelling question (“Collect the right data” section, above)
- Finding a suitable list of prospects (Step 3, above)
- Contacting your prospects effectively (Step 4, above)
For problems #1 and #2, the unifying theme is that you need some level of intuition.
Asking a really great question and finding great prospects requires some domain knowledge and then a bit of art. If they can be made into a science, I haven’t yet discovered how. My best idea is to start by looking at titles/traffic/engagement on sites like Reddit, Business Insider, and Quora.
For problem #3, refer back to Ramit Sethi’s and Tim Ferriss’s guides (mentioned above).
Two important points if you decide to pay someone to write a roundup for you:
- Trust your contractor
- Minimize content debt
You need to trust your contractor, because they’ll be representing your brand externally and using their best judgement about who to contact.
If you’re paying for a roundup, I’ll bet it’s so that you can remain focused on the business.
With some contractors you may encounter content debt, surprise problems you’ll need to take care of after receiving the roundup from your contractor. Common content debt can take these forms: editing, proofreading, cleaning up (Step 5, above), and reminding your respondents to share.
Want to buy a roundup?
Since July 2015, I’ve been creating roundups for clients in a variety of industries using the 7 step process you’re reading. As of September 2015 I have limited availability for client work.
Why I may be the right option for you:
- As the author of this guide I codified and am constantly refining roundup best practice – you’ll benefit from my expertise.
- My service is entirely done-for-you – after our kickoff call you won’t need to lift a finger.
- Having delivered 5 roundups so far, with 3 in progress (as of September 2015) – you’re opting into a proven system.
When you shouldn’t work with me:
- You need to publish your roundup sooner than 30 days from today.
- Your content team has excess capacity and ability to learn how to do a roundup.
- You don’t yet understand what content is likely to resonate with your ideal prospects.
WPCurve readers get a $100 discount on my service. Complete this Google form to claim your roundup.