Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Case Study: How to Build a Vast Audience by Mastering the Art of the Interview


Srinivas Rao graduated from business school in 2009, straight into one of the worst U.S. job markets we’ve faced since the Great Depression.
But, instead of getting frustrated at the lack of opportunity in corporate America, Srini reinvented himself as a content marketer.
Srini’s interviews on his podcast, BlogcastFM, are legendary.
He’s hosted Chris Guillebeau, Danielle LaPorte, Tim Ferriss, and Seth Godin, and his site has become a sought-after stop for authors during any successful book launch.
His intelligence and knowledge of his subject matter allow him to extract the very best out of every interviewee, and he has built up a rabidly loyal audience who can’t wait to get his next episode.
Let’s take a look at how he did it …

The interviewer gets interviewed — A few questions with Srinivas Rao

What’s your site and what do you write about?
BlogcastFM is an online show where I’ve interviewed more than 300 bloggers, authors, and entrepreneurs. The fundamental question that BlogcastFM answers is, ”How do I (as a small biz owner) leverage media and content to fuel my business?”
We’ve brought in perspectives from every walk of life and the blogosphere. Our guests have included famous bloggers, successful entrepreneurs, and brilliant people you may never have heard of.
Who are your readers and how do you serve them? Was there a pressing problem you were trying to solve?
The people who listen to our show are a really diverse group. We have the online business owners that you would expect. But the surprising ones are actors, actresses, comedians, and one of our listeners is the marketing manager for a Whole Foods store. She uses our interviews to put together her strategic marketing plans.
It all really started as a weekly blog post. One of the lessons in a blogging course I was in was to conduct interviews to drive traffic to my blog. I didn’t know anybody at the time. So I ran it as a weekly series called “Interviews,” and I spoke to up-and-coming bloggers. After about 13 interviews, one of my interviewees sent me an email saying “You should spin these out as a separate site.” At the time there weren’t many interview-based shows online. So it was really a fortunate accident.
What kinds of content are most important to your business? Blog? Email list? Podcast?
The core of what we do is our podcast. We publish two interviews a week. We also just started a Friday segment called BlogcastFM Backstage, where we share our own insights and opinions. We also send out a newsletter. I have a personal blog and also do a bit of guest blogging for other sites.
What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?
The most valuable thing I did when I was getting started was joining Yaro Starak’s blog mastermind course. You could easily get the information for free by scouring the web. But I think when you pay for something it causes a deeper commitment. It didn’t hurt that I had to ask my dad for the money and my track record with these kinds of things had been flakey. So I had some incentives to follow through.
What was your situation before you started blogging? Were you always a business owner, or did you have a more traditional career?
I definitely had a more traditional career. I worked in sales at some startups and some well-known market research companies. Between the first and second year of my MBA program, I was the social media intern for Intuit’s Turbotax group. I discovered lots of blogs, and started dabbling in content creation while I was there.
I got out of business school in April 2009, which was a horrible time to graduate. I wanted a social media job, but realized I had no tangible evidence of my skills. That was what motivated me to start a blog. Eventually that resulted in working at an online travel company, leading their social media efforts. I was building BlogcastFM on the side. My side project fueled my ability to do my day job, so it worked out nicely.
How do you use social networking in your business?
I use it as a connection and discovery tool. I find guests for the show using social media. I get to know our listeners. I look for the human being behind the avatar. Sometimes I think we lose sight of the fact there is a person on the other end of the screen.
What were some of your main tipping points or “a-ha!” moments? How did they come about?
When we started the show, we had this crazy idea that we’d interview famous people, they would tweet our interviews, and every single one would go viral. The problem with that mindset was that we were only thinking about ourselves. We needed to think about our audience.
The fundamental shift for me came when I asked “How can we make this as valuable as possible for our listeners?”
If you read our iTunes reviews, people use words like actionable, insightful, and useful to describe the show. That’s something I’m really proud of.
Another tipping point was a major design overhaul done by my business partner, David Crandall. For a long time, the design of our site didn’t match up with the quality of our content. That redesign really altered our brand perception. People wanted to be on the show.
I’ll say one final thing on this. There is no one interview that will make your career. I’ve had some really big names on the show. But sometimes the people you’ve never heard of end up being the most amazing guests, and they end up bringing new listeners in droves. They cause our audience to fall in love with them. Instead of floods of mass attention, we get the fanatics who show up, listen to one interview, then download every other episode in our archive.
What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?
The biggest mistake is the one that every single person I’ve interviewed has told me they made, which is that we didn’t make our email list a priority in the beginning. One well-known author I interviewed once said if she lost every asset except her list, she could be back up and running within a week. Now building my list (and taking care of my email subscribers) is a big priority.
I wrote lots of guest posts, and I never used custom landing pages for them. I lost thousands of subscribers because of that. An interview I did with your very own Jon Morrow made me change that.
I never had the foresight to hire a personalized coach or mentor — which is a bit different than just doing an online course. It was something I should have done in the early days. While it’s not a magic bullet, it will allow you to see things you may not be able to spot on your own. It will also shorten the learning curve.
Why do you think you became an independent business owner and blogger, when most people just stick with the career they have, even if it’s unsatisfying? What’s different about you?
I see lots of stories of people who leave thriving careers in the corporate world because they aren’t fulfilled. That’s definitely not my story. I never thrived in the corporate world. I wasn’t good at being an employee. I hated sitting at a desk all day, and got bored easily. I was a corporate misfit. So in some ways, I didn’t really have much of a choice. I was forced to end up on this path, and I realized it’s the one I should have been on all along.
In the The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin says many entrepreneurs have to choose themselves, because nobody else did. I could really relate to that, given my previous work experience. I was rarely chosen. I graduated into two recessions (after undergrad and grad school). Because of that, the notion of a “tried and true” path is just not part of my worldview. I think the result is that I have a high tolerance for risk.
I should also mention that I’m an avid surfer. My life is kind of dictated by somebody else’s schedule … mother nature’s. So that makes the idea of a normal job even more difficult.
What does your business look like today?
Since starting BlogcastFM in 2010 I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews.
Previous guests on BlogcastFM include Ramit Sethi, Chris Guillebeau, Robert Greene, Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Tim Ferriss, Danielle Laporte, Mike Stelzner, Cameron Herold and hundreds of others. The show has over 200 5-star reviews in iTunes, and is growing steadily every month.
I’ve self published multiple books:
The second book reached over 47 5-star reviews on Amazon, sold more than 600 copies in March, and was even endorsed by Chris Brogan. That was a nice surprise.
My other work includes producing the Vistage Podcast, and audience development at Search Engine Journal.
What’s next for you? What are your next goals?
I’m working on my next book. A potential title is Confessions of a Corporate Misfit: The Soulprint of an Unconventional Life and Career. Even if a book deal is not in the cards, I have to write that book. It’s something I’ve been wanting to write for a long time.
In terms of BlogcastFM, syndication and content partnerships are something we’re laying the groundwork for. I also plan to start expanding my speaking platform over the next year. One of my longer term goals is get involved with startups as an advisor in the area of content marketing.
What advice would you give to bloggers and content creators who are trying to build an online audience?
You have to learn from people who came before you, but you can’t just copy them. You have to make it your own. You must deliver an unforgettable experience that only you can deliver. Say the thing you can’t not say. Nobody else has your story.
Have a diversity of inputs. Robert Greene gave me this really amazing analogy about biodiversity. The more species you have in an ecosystem, the richer the ecosystem is. Your content consumption strategy should be similar. If all you do is read social media blogs, you’ll become robotic.
The world is getting so noisy, and standing out online is trickier than it’s ever been. Rather than trying to get a massive amount of attention, get a small amount, and turn those people into fanatics. Rinse, wash, repeat, and eventually you’ll have a small army on your hands.

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