Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
6 mins read

How publishers can build their own “amplification lists” for enormous competitive advantage

Content Marketing Superpower: Small, Invite-Only, Amplifier Groups

Every month or so, I get an email via BCC. It’s short and to the point, containing a blog post or research paper from the marketing field. More than half the time I click the link, I end up sharing their content on Twitter and LinkedIn. ~10% of the time, I end up linking to it in a post on this site. And I’m probably one of fifty or sixty recipients of this email. For the sender, the ROI is absolutely incredible.

It’s someone I met years ago at a conference. I’ve run into them a few more times at events around the world. We’ve shared beers and food, usually in small groups. They’re charismatic, humble, kind, and generous. And a few months after our first meeting, they asked if I’d be willing to get an email every month or two about the content they publish.

I said yes. Easy to opt-out from, of course, but ever since, I’ve really appreciated these emails.

When I first received them, there was an ask each time: “please share with your social networks,” or “we’d appreciate a tweet.” Now, the emails don’t even have to say it; the implication’s clear.

Why Does This Work So Well?

The BCC invite list is effective because it leans on principles of persuasion and influence:

  • Relationship-Building – the emails weren’t sent until I already had an offline, pre-existing relationship, which (wisely for the sender) predisposes me to reading and engaging with the content.
  • Trust – because I’ve received these emails for a while, had good experiences with them in the past, and have never had a manipulative or negative experience with the organization, trust has been established and I’m more likely to engage and amplify.
  • Consistency – Not only am I likely to open to the emails, GMail is more likely to deliver them to my inbox directly, rather than promotions or spam, a hard-won victory that results from consistently high engagement with a regular cadence.
  • Relevance – The content of these emails and the articles they share are up my alley and the alleys of my followers. If they weren’t, I almost certainly wouldn’t be engaged or sharing.

But, these tactics aren’t alone. The BCC email also works because of the unspoken rewards I (and, presumably, the other recipients) receive from following through.

Tweet Activity Analytics for @randfish (you can see your own account’s here)

I can’t speak for everyone with a social account, but for a significant percent of us, the dopamine hit from having a Tweet, LinkedIn post, Facebook share, or Instagram pic receive substantive traction, attention, comments, likes, RTs, etc. is huge. I’m always working to optimize and improve my social reach, because those channels are massive drivers of attention and influence. Sharing stuff that my network appreciates and engages with is the primary way I do that, so anyone who sends me content that earns high engagement is going to get my loyalty and attention.

How to Build Your Own Amplification List

The process to replicate this success isn’t complicated. But it is challenging. And because very few content creators can do it well, it’s uniquely valuable.

STEP 1: Craft content that helps amplifiers earn engagement when they share

In this scenario, you are not creating content for your customers or potential customers (though they may have some overlap). You’re creating it specifically for influential people and publications that reach your target audience.

From SparkToro’s post on Reaching the Right Audience With Your Content

These amplification-likely individuals need to look at what you’ve published and think to themselves:

“Oh dang! If I share that, I’ll get a bunch of likes, comments, retweets, and new followers.”

Research and data tend to work really well here. Experiments, studies, graphs, charts, visuals, comics, illustrations, short videos, bold opinions, shocking news or information—these content formats tend to work vastly better than the standard, keyword-targeted blog post or informational article.

STEP 2: Identify a list of potential amplifiers that reach your target audience

The most effective amplifiers probably depend on your brand, your content focus, your niche, and your goals. That said, it’s almost always going to be easier to earn the attention/engagement of sources with smaller and mid-size followings (think thousands or 10s of thousands of followers, not 100s of thousands or millions). Since you’re building a BCC email distribution list, your goal is more people who say “yes” to joining and sharing vs. a few high-profile journalists, bloggers, or social media accounts.

Building this list could start with some Google searches, scouring Twitter, trawling LinkedIn, browsing Instagram, etc. Or you can use tools like SparkToroSimilarWebUpfluenceBuzzstreamMuckRack, etc.

SparkToro can surface people with a strong reach to a particular audience, e.g. technical recruiters

Ideally, that list should start with 30-50 names. Anything less and you’re probably not targeting a big enough niche with your content. I like Hunter.io for finding email addresses, but a LinkedIn message, Twitter or Instagram DM can also be effective for starting a conversation.

STEP 3: Build Relationships Personally

This step is where most folks will stop. They won’t even try. “It’s too difficult to get the attention of people with influential accounts/sites in my sphere,” they’ll say. The rest of us should be grateful! Because if this process were as easy as buying Facebook or Google ads, everyone would do it, we’d all be inundated, and it would be impossible to stand out.

In all my 19 years in the web marketing world, I’ve been asked to join a list like this exactly three times. I said yes twice.

Most people you email will not be familiar with this request. Most will also, probably, be skeptical and turn you down. Here’s how I’d recommend making the percent who say “yes!” as high as possible:

  • Show, don’t tell. Show them how something you’ve produced earned huge amplification by someone who shared it. If you have multiple examples, that’s even better. If THEY themselves have shared something of yours in the past, that’s king.
  • Keep it brief, and keep it focused on them, not you. It’s not about the amazing thing you’re creating and sharing. It’s about the amazing responses, engagement, and new followers they’ll get by sharing it first.
  • Don’t be insincere. Don’t lead with something that’s not about what you’re doing. Don’t try to butter them up when you don’t really pay attention to what they do. But, if you *DO* actually follow their work, and you’ve got real conversations to have on those fronts, it can be effective.
  • Don’t lead with other names on your list. Make them feel exclusive, and like they’re the most important person you’re reaching out to — each time you hit send, the person you’re messaging should be!

I could write entire blog posts expanding on each of these, but much of the advice is obvious: be kind, show value, give more than you ask, communicate with authenticity and tact, and don’t be dissuaded by low response rates. Even just 5-10 folks on a BCC distribution list can mean the difference between vast reach and near invisibility.

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From Ross Simmonds‘ Distribution Challenge


This strategy is not easy. Only a few of the best, most thoughtful, empathetic, creative content marketers will be able to do it. And from that scarcity comes enormous competitive advantage.

Rand Fishkin
Founder, SparkToro

This article was originally published on SparkToro as “Content Marketing Superpower: Small, Invite-Only, Amplifier Groups” and is re-published with kind permission.

About SparkToro:  SparkToro is a new software company from Moz founder, Rand Fishkin. Its mission is to make it easier to discover the websites, blogs, podcasts, social accounts, and publications that reach your audience.  @randfish | @SparkToro

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