Gregory Ciotti is a blogger behind Sparring Mind, an online marketing blog which focuses on combining psychology with content marketing.
He also runs an electronic music blog called Sophistefunk and works as a content strategist for a few companies.
1. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello! My name is Gregory Ciotti and I’m a blogger, content strategist for a few companies, freelance writer, and a dude who is pretty obsessed with psychology.
I won’t pimp out my numerous personal projects too much, but if you want to know one personal thing about me, it’s that I am a music addict, and I run an electronic music blog called Sophistefunk as well as a separate dubstep blog to satiate my need to jam out to electronic music!
2. What is your experience with online marketing?
My experience with online marketing started with working for a local agency that did the Wawa “Hoagie Fest” online campaign (East Coast people know about that ;)).
From there, I started creating blogs in all sorts of different niches. I’ve found that although most people know my name from Sparring Mind, I’ve had a much bigger reach and success in my “non-marketing” projects, which is why I encourage people to pursue things outside of marketing when starting their first blog.
3. Why did you decide to start Sparring Mind when there are so many online marketing blogs out there already?
Good followup to the last question: I started yet another marketing blog in this crowded space because I still felt like there were a lot of questions that people had that were not getting addressed.
I also wanted to run a site that was “pressure free”, and I try to create content and have a site layout that is inviting and doesn’t feel like it’s forcing “BUY BUY BUY!” down your throat as your browse.
As an example, I did a post on blog design on a budget that was really well received.
I created this post because I remembered how much of a problem I had as a newer blogger in setting up a decent site design (I’m still no expert!).
The thing was, 99% of blog design posts out there are for web developers or just say “set up a theme”, which isn’t helpful at all to the “moderately knowledgeable” person who just wants a decent looking blog.
Outside of my focus on psychology, I try to write posts in this fashion, answering questions that I know people have because I remember being stumped by them myself in my early blogging days.
4. How did you come up with a unique angle (psychology + online marketing) with which you can approach this widely discussed topic?
This one was easy: I’m hugely into social psychology, in fact I double majored in psychology as an undergrad, and even considered going on to get my PhD in the field.
Basically, it’s a huge passion of mine and the social aspects were always the most interesting to me.
I first got into social psychology with the book The Social Animal which I believe to be one of the finest social psychology books ever written.
This lead to me majoring in psychology, later turned into a double major of psychology & economics.
Remember though, this was just my undergrad: some of my best learning simply came from outside of the classroom, like educating myself with books and my own “research” (aka, reading a bunch of psych studies!)
I’ve had one person call me the “little brother of Social Triggers“, which you might know is Derek Halpern’s blog on psychology + online sales.
I created this psychology + content marketing angle before I knew about his site, but I mention it because I LOVE how psychology is being discussed more often in marketing for one simple reason: understanding human behavior crosses all niches/topics, and I feel like it’s essential for marketers everywhere, not just people blogging online.
As a sidenote, some of my other favorite blogs that dabble in psychology include Neuroscience Marketing, PsyBlog, Dan Ariely’s blog, Freakonomics, Mindhacks,Understand Your Brain, and The Fronal Cortex.
5. How do you come up with original ideas for your articles? What’s your secret for not running out of them?
My (not so) big secret for blog topics is: books + curation.
I understand that not every blog topic can benefit from using books but a HUGE majority can.
My music blogs are an example of the exception, but if you take a look at my informational blogs like Sparring Mind, I utilize books as my main source, with an obvious focus on books that deal with social psychology, brain & behavior, and marketing/advertising books.
As for curation, that one is pretty well known: browse blogs in your niche for inspiration on what to post next, but do it differently or way better to stand out.
6. How do you make sure that your articles are really high quality? Do you have any tips for people who write on online marketing and want to improve the quality of their content?
The biggest writing tips I can give come as follows:
- Focus on a “pain point”, what’s really bothering people in your niche? How can you solve it? Generic ‘tips’ will not create viral content.
- Get people emotional. Push some buttons, and always insert some of your personality into each article: people came to your site to read your thoughts, not a Wikipedia article.
- Outline! The best articles always start from the best outlines. It’s tough to create viral content when the post doesn’t “flow” as it should in terms of how content is broken up.
The other thing I can say is that know your blog’s angle: are you a “daily post” kind of blogger? If not, post MONSTER articles that cover a specific topic A-Z, huge resource posts like that always get shared, and are your best bet to breaking into your niche’s “inner circle”, as well as a way to get press and recognition for making a wonderful contribution to the blogosphere.
7. How did you manage to get so many of your guest posts published on the top blogs in your niche?
I keep a “guest post ideas” journal which I write in daily.
Then, every morning, I would try to write (or at least outline) a single guest post in it’s entirety.
I went for the “blitzkrieg” method of guest posting at first, trying to get on every related blog I could imagine.
Later, if you find a few blogs that work really well (give you more traffic + subscribers than others), you should focus on becoming a regular contributor to them.
I also owe my success to the many awesome people who supported my content from the early stages of my blog: these early readers can do a lot for getting your name out there, and soon you will have people asking you to guest post for them.
8. ..by the way, how effective guest posting was for you in terms of generating traffic and making your name known?
It was really effective, but it only really works if you go “all out” in terms of writing a bunch of them at once.
That’s where most people go wrong: they write 1 for Problogger and expect the world, that’s not how it works!
The best part about guest posting though is brand recognition over raw traffic.
Big names start seeing your content, and if it’s up to par, they’ll share it naturally.
I’ve found that guest posting has had a larger long term benefit in that regard over the cut-and-dry subscriber numbers I’ve received from it.
That being said, guest posts on blogs that don’t often accept guest posts (such as my post on Pat Flynn’s blog) can throw some big numbers your way, you just gotta keep at it.
9. How do you network with other bloggers in your niche (as well as ones outside it)? Would you say that networking is crucial for success in blogosphere?
I utilize the greatest “social network” of all: email!
Seriously, new post promotion has been one of the biggest reasons my latest blogs have done so well, including Sparring Mind.
Networking is also huge, as I mentioned in the guest posting section.
To network properly, utilize tactics like interviews, “follow up” emails (ie, ‘Hey, I saw you just posted about _____, well here’s my article that has a different take, just wanted to hear your thoughts!’), and ice-breaker emails to medium-sized bloggers in your niche.
Tom Ewer has a mini-quote that I love telling people: “Network with people around you instead of always trying to connect with people above you.”
Meaning: Connect with bloggers at your current level. That means newer to medium sized blogs first. You don’t have to guest post for them (in fact, that’s a waste of time), just get to know the author and connect in their earliest stages.
I started writing for the Buffer blog before anyone else, and now the Buffer project and the blog itself have grown exponentially, so it’s always good to get in early.
As you build clout, start reaching out to bigger and bigger players in your niche, because the farther your network reaches, the bigger chance for success that you’ll have.
10. What are your future plans for Sparring Mind?
Wish I had some super-secret formula for you, but really the only plan is to keep rollin’.
11. Last, but not least, what would be your advice for someone who would like to start a blog on online marketing?
Hmm… I would say, unless you can bring some unique angle to it, I wouldn’t bother.
That being said, a unique angle can be pretty easy to come up with.
I tend to enjoy marketing blogs more when they have some focus, such as an emphasis on video or utilizing paid traffic.
That being said, it’s not a bad thing to have your own little marketing space on the web to document what you’ve been trying on your other sites and posting about what works: despite their abundant presence, I still have a soft spot for “my journey” blogs that document people’s rise to being more successful.
Thanks for the interview, and thank you (you good lookin’ reader you) for making it to the bottom!