Creating something to be excited and passionate about has become our first and foremost task at Citation Labs. We make sure we’re “on a mission” with every new project. That’s because over the past four years we’ve learned that exciting, passionate outreach brings us brand mentions and new audiences like nothing we’ve done before.
1) What a “Mission” Feels Like
You probably have a sense of what we’re talking about here already…
A mission charges you up. A mission gets you looking wild-eyed towards a glowing future. A mission enables those with expertise to contribute to the disenfranchised in a meaningful way. A mission creates something new in your space – and it often requires support, buy in and participation from others.
Most importantly though, your mission creates a genuine purpose, a justification for an email’s sudden existence in someone’s inbox.
2) Example Mission: Open Doors for Teens With No Work Experience
One of our mission concepts started recently with a CL employee’s step-daughter. She is 17 and was seeking work in fast food service. She had no prior work experience. After searching we found that pre-job training for teens did not exist.
So, we created training materials and curriculum on courtesy, morality, job hunting, handling setbacks, work-life balance and more. Think of it as a sort of “pre-job readiness certification” so that under the supervision of a teacher, teens could get practical training and a distinguishing feature for their resume, something to help them stand apart.
The curriculum exists on the client’s site and will be free, forever. If it proves popular we can create online training so that teachers won’t have to be involved at all.
Our certification brought passion and excitement to a boring, non-descript website that had been designed to suck up Adsense dollars. Now the site adds value to the internet.
3) Key Distinction: Content vs. Mission
It’s important to remember that our pre-job curriculum in this example is NOT the mission – but it was the catalyst round which everyone could SEE the mission, perhaps for the first time.
The mission for this project is to create advantage for teens who would otherwise be passed over. The mission is to provide free, practical, high-utility training for inexperienced teenage job seekers. Training that currently does not exist. Training that provides a firm foundation for job experience to build upon. Training that will open doors and change lives for the better, forever.
Now that feels good, doesn’t it? Think about how it will feel to send a mission-based email that will really help change someone’s life for the better. Now compare that to the feeling you get when you send a mere link request.
4) Finding Your Mission
We love closing gaps that come from real people trying to accomplish real tasks. We start with an inkling or a concern and conduct outreach to learn where the real opportunities might be.
For example we recently wondered how changes in US marijuana laws could be impacting teens’ views on its safety for their usage. We had a big piece of teen-facing content planned but learned that we were barking up the wrong, er, tree. When we spoke with some police we learned that a larger issue was how SAFE society believes driving under the influence of marijuana actually is. Based on our findings we created content that explains the dangers of high driving and compare it to that of drunk driving. And now our mission is to save lives by educating drivers on the dangers of driving high – and we KNOW that this topic is missing and/or uncompelling in its current format.
In some cases of course we don’t conduct preliminary research, we just build and then seek feedback from prospective allies and collaborators. For a local client we researched and then put together a local senior-events calendar, and created a sign up for seniors to get emails about local events. In outreach we asked if they knew of more events. Our mission here was to improve the lives of local seniors by letting them know of events in their area.
5) A Mission Viability Checklist
So as we generate missions there’s always an iterative process, a balancing between what’s missing in a space, what the client does for money and what will actually win us collaborative allies. And sometimes you have to stretch the concept a bit to encompass larger bodies of allies…
Here are two checklists we use for discussing the viability of a mission-based project. They represent the areas of external and internal concern you must address:
>> External Viability Check:
a) does this mission help change or save lives (even to some small degree)?
b) are there ENOUGH people who care enough to promote the concept?
c) will they actually be compelled to contribute in some way?
d) has this been done?
e) if so, was it executed well?
f) who mentions/links to/champions the existing or related projects?
g) does the concept serve a disadvantaged or disenfranchised group in some way?
h) are there organizations that serve this disenfranchised group?
i) does the concept have logical “collaboration-seeking” angles that will justify your outreach efforts?
>> Internal Viability Check:
a) how can we massage the concept into the client’s brand?
b) how can the concept be supported by other marketing channels (email lists, social media, etc)
c) are there internal experts who can contribute in some way?
d) can you find a minimally viable portion of your concept so you can justify further investment?
e) can we win enough internal support to test our minimally viable portion?
Once we arrive at our tangible mission we can start to brainstorm potential willing allies for this project, and what they might be willing to contribute.
6) Finding Allies and Collaborators for Your Mission
Once you have clearly defined your mission you can start prospecting for your allies and collaborators. And sure, you could use our link prospector for that :) Allies are folks like bloggers, librarians, webmasters at non profits, local news stations etc… Collaborators are experts who could genuinely provide you with feedback, or even give you a bit of guidance along the way.
Do note that here you won’t be using SEO keywords to prospect for allies – you’ll use terms that define the allies themselves, and terms that define the problems these allies care about. So for our jobs project we’d be looking for career counselors, high school guidance counselors and organizations that help disadvantaged teens find a productive and healthy way forward in their lives.
7) Becoming a Collaborative, Connective Hub via Outreach
So now when you’re reaching out to a webmaster or blogger you’re not just looking for a link. You’re on a mission – which you convey in your subject line and first sentence of the email – and you have several clearly defined ways they can contribute to this cause should they find it worthy of their time.
Think about it like this – you’re the middle man between them and the lives that they can help to change or save in the following ways:
a) provide feedback on a project direction or scope
b) connect you with the appropriate expert to speak with internally
c) share your minimally viable project (if you’ve published it) with their audiences
d) contribute expertise on a phone interview (our favorite – you learn so much in actual conversation)
e) contribute data of some sort that you can add to your list, directory, calendar, graph, etc…
As the hub, you have the responsibility to ensure that their contributions shape the direction of your project. And further, it will benefit YOU when you go back to a new collaborator to show them that you’ve taken their suggestions to heart and made a change. That’s when you’ll see more mentions occur on social media, news stories and resource pages.
Now then. Stop building links. Get out there and change lives!
And as always, if you’d like our help creating and executing a mission for your organization please do contact us to arrange a time to speak.
(Thanks to Ken McGaffin for inspiring us to write this piece, and of course for his generous editing help – we have training videos we made with Ken if you’re interested…)