Blogs  / May 17, 2013

How to use “breadcrumbs” to tell a better story

by Rebekah Iliff

Here in Silicon Valley it’s easy to get caught up in the tech-hype-vortex-bubble. This 4 sided beast includes everything from ad nauseum discussions about pedigree and educational background to a belief system which often rewards high potential above high performance.

Throw in a media environment which reinforces these messages, and what we are left with is a somewhat obsessive compulsive tendency to fixate on publications that offer us a stamp of approval but do little in terms of reaching our core audience, or customer for that matter.

In other words…

Is TechCrunch really the right outlet to announce your launch? Or would you be better off seeding the story to five influential bloggers on various niche outlets to get the buzz going about your brand?

The truth is, as an emerging startup, sometimes tech or business press won’t be interested in your story until you have <insert random number> of customers, <insert random $ number> in sales, or <insert sexy name> as your co-founder.

Blech. Blah. And often frustrating.

The other truth? As ego-fulfilling and investor-placating as those outlets may be, they may not be your best bet in terms of getting in front of actual paying, engaged customers. Furthermore, conversations – real conversations – don’t necessarily happen on outlets whose existence is to break news and report on fast moving trends.

As a former reporter for VentureBeat, Chikodi Chima knows a thing or two about this client-PR-media conundrum, and he has some interesting insights into a concept he calls “breadcrumbs.”

Read on. And start telling better stories to those who matter most.

Using Breadcrumbs to Tell Better Stories

By: Chikodi Chima, Founder of Moonshot

We live in an attention economy where getting a slice of someone’s attention is a precious resource. The right media exposure can flood you with new customers, help your startup close an investment round, or nab a cofounder coveted invites to speak at conferences.

But with so much riding on a good story, everyone who isn’t Apple, Google or Facebook competes for scraps of top-tier media attention. And while an above-the-fold writeup that hits Techmeme can do wonders, chasing “vanity media” can be a huge drain on resources. At VentureBeat I wrote three stories per week that came from pitches. Furthermore, early adopters and gadget junkies may read every shred of news in the tech press, but how many of them become customers? Not enough.

Stop sweating the tech press and use breadcrumbs to get your message directly to the people who need it most.

What are breadcrumbs? 

Our online activities spin off data at an alarming rate. All that time we spend consuming and sharing social paint a very accurate picture of who we are. These are breadcrumbs. Small as they may be, these morsels are valuable clues about what matters to us, and where we like to spend our time. Taken in aggregate these crumbs are a whole lot more appetizing.

Where to look for breadcrumbs

Start looking, and you’ll realize that breadcrumbs are everywhere. There are dozens or hundreds of communities for every conceivable problem, hobby or interest. Tumblr alone claims 106.5 million blogs, which contribute to an ecosystem of affinity. You’ll find your breadcrumbs on:

  • Twitter (tweets and hashtags)
  • Blog posts
  • Online community forums
  • Pinterest boards
  • Reddit

As you can see, the list is quite exhaustive. Find them, and they will lead you to the loaf.

How to look for breadcrumbs

Understand the keywords and phrases that matter to your brand. Think broadly. Use semantics.

Breadcrumbs can be specific products or service lines (lead nurturing), pending legislation (CISPA) or a location (Cupertino).

Use breadcrumbs to improve your content

Now that you know what people are talking about, incorporate it into blog posts and your other public-facing content. If people are tweeting and blogging valuable breadcrumbs, they’re searching for them, too. Synchronize your content with breadcrumbs and Google search activity that’s already out there to make more people will find their way to you organically.

Free, targeted traffic is the best kind there is.

How to tell great stories with breadcrumbs

And with so many free and low-cost social media tools available, you have infinite potential to turn breadcrumbs into killer content. You can create:

  • Google+ Hangouts with industry thought leaders
  • YouTube tutorials
  • Blog posts
  • Data visualization and infographics
  • Webinars
  • In-person meetups

Again, there’s no limit to the directions you can take. Get creative. Get noticed.

A final word about breadcrumbs

Using breadcrumbs is a fast and efficient way to build an audience, but remember; it’s not about you!

Businesses exist for one reason–to solve problems. People share their problems online readily, but they rarely expect a solution. Use breadcrumbs to make your brand a valuable resource to people in need. Don’t become another problem. Don’t spam.

Be smart about breadcrumbs and you’ll be able to tell your story to customers whenever you want.

And here’s an added bonus: while journalists may be stretched thin–I know I was–we definitely notice a startup that has major traction with niche sites. Prove yourself with the little guys first, and you’ll start to get all the mainstream love you can handle. Just let breadcrumbs guide your way, the way they helped Hansel and Gretel find their out of the dark woods.

Chikodi ChimaAbout Chikodi Chima

Chikodi Chima is a former staff reporter for VentureBeat, where he covered venture capital investing, mobile apps and entrepreneurship. Prior to VentureBeat, he was the co-founding editor of AltTransport, a daily blog publication about renewable energy and transportation. At AltTransport, Chikodi created and deployed an audience targetting strategy that grew readership to more than 80,000 unique monthly viewers in its first four months. He’s founder and mission controller at Moonshot, a boutique PR consultancy that helps startups tell powerful stories that turn prospects into customers. His blog is PRTipsForStartups.

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Connect with Chikodi on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/chikodi

Follow Chikodi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Chikodi