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Where Should You Publish Your Best Content? – @mitchjoel
The Agents of Change

AOCP-Pinterest-Mitch-JoelYou cannot truly learn anything until you have to teach it to somebody else. And with so many platforms out there – blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, etc – how do you find the most effective way to reach and advertise to your audience?

But more important than knowing where your audience hangs out, you need to find out how your personal voice can lend a different perspective and spin on some of the same information that is and has already been presented and published on the same topic.

Mitch Joel is a content marketing gangster and the guy that Google turns to when they want to explain innovation and marketing to some of the top brands in the world.

Rich: When Google wants to explain innovation and marketing to top brands in the world, they bring in Mitch Joel to the Googleplex in Mountainview, California. Marketing Magazine dubbed him the “Rockstar of Digital Marketing” and called him, “One of North America’s leading digital visionaries.”

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum – a global digital marketing agency operating in 20 countries with over 2500 employees (although he prefers the title, Media Hacker). He has been named one of the top 100 online marketers in the world, and was awarded the highly prestigious Canada’s Top 40 Under 40.

Joel is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Strategy, The Globe & Mail and many other media outlets. He is a columnist for the Harvard Business Review, Inc. Magazine, The Huffington Post and other magazines and newspapers.

His first book, Six Pixels of Separation – named after his successful blog and podcast – is a business and marketing bestseller. His second book, CTRL ALT Delete, (also published by Grand Central Publishing) was named one of the best business books of 2013 by Amazon. His next book, Algorithm, will look at how the future of business will blend data and creativity. Mitch is also the host of Groove – The No Treble Podcast, where he is slowly trying to build the largest oral history of electric bass players in the world. Mitch, welcome to the show.

Mitch: How are you?

Rich: I’m doing good. So I was looking through some of your blog posts in preparing for this and you use the phrase, “Content is the new advertising”, what do you mean by that?

Mitch: It’s actually something that I talked about a long, long time ago believe it or not. If I go back to 2003-ish when I actually started blogging and building what is now become Six Pixels Of Separation, I was really looking at it from the perspective of I had this very, very small business. It was a digital marketing agency that I was trying to build. My background was in writing and publishing and I very much felt like getting an article into the trade pubs – AdWeek, Ad Age, whatever it might be – they were like, “Who is this guy?”

And even though I had done 15+ years in the music and entertainment industry and interviewed almost every celebrity there and had cache there, I was a relative unknown in the marketing world. Especially from the industry side of things.

As I started publishing and saw the blog take on a life of its own and then eventually shortly thereafter I was doing the podcast every single week, it became really clear to me that this was something new. And I say that in 2015 heading into 2026, being fully aware of the fact that it seems like everyone does that. But if you go back in time, nobody was doing that. People were paying to access audiences.

For me it became really, really clear that content was going to be the new media, whether it’s now at 140 characters or in a Snapchat that disappears once somebody sees it, that your ability to use and have and create and access audiences is going to change primarily not how you spend and how creative your work is, but rather the type of content and value that you’re creating.

Rich: Alright, so content is the new advertising in terms of your ability to be able to reach your audience. But it feels like these days everybody is creating content. I know you mentioned when you first started it was rare, but now there’s so much competition it feels like everybody’s blogging, half the country is podcasting and then you’ve got Twitter, Snapchat, all these different platforms.

And then these platforms are introducing things like ads on Instagram, ads on Snapchat, books on how to do native ads so they feel more like content. Do you think they could make the argument that  advertising is the new content?

Mitch: No. In fact I was sorta going to go back and correct you and say I don’t really ever said “content is the new advertising”, if I did I’d probably go back and rewrite a blog post now saying I was wrong. I think they are two very different things.

People think advertising is dead because of social media, or messaging and it’s just not true. Advertising not that long ago was a $400 billion business, currently it’s over $900 billion. So it’s actually grown if not doubled the ability for a brand to pay to have access to an audience has not only increased, but the myriad of places they can do this with the different types of content has increased as well. Every platform looks at ways to monetize their business model and allow them to rely on ad supported initiatives to do this.

There is an inclination to believe that if you’re doing something with a Buzzfeed or a place that you could not just pay to have an ad but work with them in a paid format to develop and deliver some type of sponsorship or content that is unique to the platform. Some people all that native advertising.

So it’s just more the function of how you can create ads and the types of creative you can do has expanded and gone into different areas. But I don’t think that’s exclusive to what you can do with content. Content is the type of thing you can create text, audio, visual, short form, long form, whatever you want. You can publish that within your walled garden, on your own site, on your own blog. You can create – which I think is extremely valuable in this day and age – a content distribution strategy.

So as you said, I don’t just blog at Six Pixels Of Separation and my podcast and pray that people come to me everyday or every week. What I actually do is I publish in places like THe Harvard Business Review, The Huffington Post, or I write books or I speak in public or a publish Facebook notes or meet on LinkedIn and I’m using those areas to access and create awareness with other types of audiences that may not be so inclined to come to my blog or to my podcast with the frequency with which I publish.

I can also add a layer of advertising on to that. If I’m writing on Facebook Notes I can boost that by paying for it to reach more of an audience. If I am doing something in a medium that I think is really valuable I can invite Google Adwords on my medium to draw attention to it. But It’s going to be cheap and economical and very strategic to build that audience.

So I actually think that they are very separate things, and my concern currently – if you were asking what my real concern is about content advertising today – is that the two shouldn’t cross too much. What I mean by that is a lot of the stuff that I see from brands on Instagram and Twitter and even on Facebook, it feels more like an ad than it feels like valuable content. So to me that’s where my more discerning nose is being more poked up in the air with an air of exclusivity to it or a holier than thou attitude.

Rich: So is your concern around the idea that there seems to be a blurring between advertisements and editorial, or is it more like when brands are creating content it feels more like ads than it should?

Mitch: Well it’s a little bit of everything. My concern is that it’s cheap and easy, well Instagram it’s free, let’s just show people a picture and tell the people how much it is. Or hey, Twitter it’s free, it’s 140 characters, let’s just pump out the old sale of 15% off over on Twitter because we have it and it’s free. Versus saying ok, Twitter, who is on Twitter, what does our audience look like? How many people do they connect to? What are they looking for in terms of their newsfeed and how valuable, what can we do to add value to that, and then by and large all that other messaging out in the world so that the people who are genuinely attracted and interested in us based off the platform, the specificity of it and the contextuality of it are being relevant to? And then if it’s really good, why not pay to promote it because more and more people who like that stuff may come to it.

Our problem is we live in a world where people abused Facebook – as an example – so badly, “‘Like’ this if you this if you like Sunday” with a picture of the sun and a big retailer and it was free and it didn’t matter. Then too many people liked them and they got recognized and so Facebook said, “Whoa, if we keep doing this and filling people’s feeds with this stuff, they’re going to get turned off from Facebook.” So what Facebook did is they start charging people to access the people that have already liked them. It’ contentious because you said, “Hey, I earned the ‘like’, and if people don’t like it they can ‘unlike’ it.” But on the other side I get what Facebook is doing, they’re saying make it valuable enough that people really want it, and if not, we’re going to make you pay for it and you’re going to pay for it. if people like it they’re going to stick around, if not they’ll ‘unlike’ you. I think that that’s crazy unfair at the same time. So it’s not like I’m on one side or the other. Thinking it’s free, cheap and easy to do this isn’t the reason to do it. You should be trying to add value and not just be there because you can be.

Rich: That makes a lot of sense. Now you’ve been blogging for a long time, as you mentioned. And I too, I love to blog – although I’ve fallen a little bit behind recently in my blog posts – and I’m certainly not blogging as much as you are. What have you seen change over the years in terms of the blog platform, what people are trying to accomplish with blogging and your own personal goals?

Mitch: Well I’ve seen it changed in it’s entirely. You have to go back and realize that when blogging became as popular as it became there wasn’t really many other options. It wasn’t like we had Instagram or a lot of mobile activity happening, we didn’t create videos on the fly or images or even audio. Podcasting is only really coming into it’s own now I think, it’s still kind of growing and complex for most people to do.

Text was easy, it’s technology. So we start with text, we go to images, we go to audio, we go to video. So when blogging started, people were doing it just because of the thrill, they had a ‘publish’ button in front of them. I believe over time what happened is not just that fact that we’ve got WordPress which makes it easier, or the fact that you can now post on Facebook. What’s happened is the people who really don’t like to write and were doing it just because that was all there was have moved on.

So for me it’s twofold. One, we have an environment now where the people are still blogging – and I count myself among those – and people who love to write, love to create a certain type of voice and content that I think is extremely valuable in the grander scope of what publishing has to offer.

Two is, I think blogging has almost sort of been taken away in this sort of destination idea I said earlier. So this idea that everyday I have to get people to Six Pixels. My theology now in terms of how it’s changed, instead of it being the hub – and Facebook and Twitter being the spoke – but it’s almost inverted. The hub is wherever the people are and the blog has been somewhat relegated as being a receptacle for content. Content is almost like a living, three dimensional repository of where my thinking has been out in the rest of the world. ANd that’s fine. I’m actually really comfortable with that. I’m surprised that it went in that direction, sort of, but I’m comfortable with that fact that it’s no longer all about how many unique users I have at the Six Pixels podcast or how many users comment. It’s more about where does it lie and is it lying in a good space.

I’ve been experimenting a lot lately with Facebook Notes and I’m seeing a huge level of engagement, shares, likes, pass alongs, comments that I just wasn’t experiencing on a blog because the cost, the half life of content has really changed dramatically.

Rich: Do you wonder if that’s maybe the type of content you’re publishing – or that anybody is publishing – it seems that there’s always going to be blogs that are very event-based, the content keeps on changing?  If there’s a leadership blog where the content is going to be evergreen, could that change the model for a business then?

Mitch: Yeah. Clearly. The “why”, why you’re doing it, why you’re creating the content, why someone connects with it, why it works is fundamental to what you’re going to then do with it and it’s not one of those do as I say and not as I do.  It’s not one of those what I’m saying is a sort of catch all for all. It just happens to be my perspective in general on publishing, my perspective in general on longer form content and my perspective on if you are blogging on the realm of either nonfiction or creative nonfiction versus I’m blogging with a corporate intent.

Six Pixels Corporation, I believe, had the popularity it had for two reasons. One is that I think it spoke at a higher level. People have told me it’s like the marketer’s marketing in the thought leadership type of space, which I think is great.  And two, I think because of the longform content of it. I’m not stupid, I know that we live in a 140 character, skim it, check it, like it long before you even read it. I don’t want to do that. I’m a writer so I know that my content is. It gets saved, it gets read all the time, it doesn’t have that sort of pop culture thing that my friends say (Seth) Godin has, and I think he does so brilliantly, but I can’t be him. I have to be me. So knowing that, knowing your voice, knowing the type of content you’re publishing and the consistency of it and you’re comfortable with it is huge.

I literally just had breakfast with somebody who is very large in this sort of audience building and creates amazing products in terms of learning and online education. That conversation was really unique to me because it made me realize that I can do all these tactics – like email capture –  and and all those sorts of things, but it’s not really my intent. I haven’t checked – and again this is a “do as I say, not as I do” thing – I haven’t checked the Google Analytics on my blog or podcast in over 10 years maybe. I’ve never been driven by what keywords drive traffic. The idea is to create from thought leadership, evergreen content.

In the scheme of things, if someone said, “We need a digital marketing agency to service us, we should call that Mitch guy at Mirum”, I’m fine with that. And the truth is, it’s very selfish, too. I write because I love to write. I create a podcast like this one – even though I’m doing them with other people like this, we’re jammin – I do it because I have a passion for it. I’m learning, and that’s what I want to do. When I come to work and it’s not about getting a task completed every day, it’s about what did I learn. So they’re very guilty pleasures for me and they’re not driven by direct response. And again, that’s my strategy, it shouldn’t be yours.

Rich: Well I hear that, and I hear the passion in your voice, and I looked through the blog post and I saw the type of blog posts you have and you didn’t have a lot of, “Five Things You Need To Have To Get More Followers On LinkedIn” blog posts. I also have an SEO background and I have to say I cringed inside when I looked at your SEO titles, because they weren’t SEO titles, they were the kind of stuff that would appear in magazines, so it is a different kind of blogging, it is more of that thought leadership type of blogging. The fact that you haven’t checked your analytics in ten year, oh man, that makes me a little bit crazy.

Mitch: Again, why are we doing this? So if the answer was that in my background I have launched one of the first meta search engines on the internet before Google existed, and I understand SEO and SEM but with a depth and also with an experience level that most people could never even bring to this space. We were really doing a meta around pay per click before it existed as a true business entity.

And again, I know what I would have to do to make it say that, but I don’t feel that that would make me unique. So I was smiling when you said you don’t have those Buzzfeed-y, advice types of headlines. Again at that breakfast today I was just laughing at this major publication that most of us know the name for and I subscribe to their e-newsletter. Every single newsletter I get, every single one is “Fifteen Ways To Be The Thought Leader You Want To Be”, “The Five Best Things You’ll See AT A Ted Today”, it’s just every one, I get it, people click and they get attracted to it and we’re talking about it right now.

But it’s not substantive, and for me what I want to do is I always wanted to raise the bar of the industry. I feel, I believe to this day after 20+ years of doing this in my heart of hearts that advertising and marketing adds a huge value to our economy, our economic growth, the globalization of our world, and I believe that we hold it to such a low standard I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t believe I’m solving the world’s problems by helping people buy more stuff, I’m humble enough to know that that’s a job that I do.

But I do think that when people buy things – products, services, B2B, B2C – they want to feel somewhat attached to it, they want to feel validated by that purchase, they want to feel like they made the right decision, they want to feel like they’re really informed out there. And I don’t know how you are but I love certain little brands whether it’s moleskine notebooks or Apple computers and it’s sort of a “thing” to become the sort of hacker with that and sort of know this stuff, know what’s cool about it and know what’s coming. It is what makes life interesting. I think a lot of brands have that in their DNA, they just haven’t explored it and they tumble into this really awkward place of bad advertising and bad marketing.

Rich: Yes. You know, I don’t even have anything to add to that. I hear your passion for this, and I hear that creativity in it and I see the amount of content that you put out there. I do also hear though that one of the reasons that you seem to be shifting to Facebook notes  – and I might argue that someone else might do the LinkedIn Pulse – is because you’re still trying to reach that audience. You’re going to where they go. But you are mentioning things like the number of ‘likes’ and shares and pass alongs and stuff like that, too.  You may not be looking at your own Google Analytics, but you still are aware of the impact this is making.

Mitch: This is great because I was in the music industry and you’d sort of go from these artists like Gene Simmons from KISS who will have KISS coffins and I’m staring looking at my KISS Alive garbage can from 1978 that my parents gave me. I would interview Gene Simmons and we talked and I’d say things to him like, “How do you reconcile your music in rock n roll and that sort of thing that people love with the fact that you’ll put your name on playing cards and condoms and everything in between. And Gene used to have a great line, “I’m pissed at a nickel because it isn’t a dime.” I thought, well that’s a pretty strong philosophy about how you feel about money versus other artists who are like, “I create this because it’s in my soul”, and they have no desire to market or promote it.

I don’t know where I fall on that. I’m probably less in the Gene camp and less in that pure artist camp, but I am in a place where I believe no matter what it is for me, whether it’s a tweet or a long blog post or a book, I want my work validated and I believe our work gets validated by the people who engage and connect with it. With that I also don’t want to rely on that for where my content comes from, if you can understand what I’m saying.

So that’s where the artisan and the business person collide. I’m not trying to sound hoity toity and I get very, very worried when I use words like my blog and the work I create is my “art”, but again I fall back to Wth Godin who would say it is your art and you should be proud of it. And I use that as a sort of crutch to say let me try and figure out what I’m trying to do.

I don’t know how you gather your thoughts or what you do. I carry in my back pocket a little field notes notebook and when something comes up in a conversation I write it down. I’m trying to connect dots, and when I connect them, something comes out. Blog posts, podcasts, someone I should interview, an event I should attend, something I should inquire more into. And that learning – we talked about that earlier – leads to output. And when I output that, yeah, I want to know if these ideas resonate and market. So I’m not shy about the reconciliation of those two, I just don’t harp on analytics and data in my content to drive it. If this were for a business though, I would be very hardcore on that, I would be looking at everything. How do I get more views, how do I get more likes, how do I get more shares. But it’s only a small fraction of the work I’m trying to do.

Rich: So there’s a lot of great stuff that’s in there. One was from our conversation that I’m taking away is that sometimes there may be marketing for marketing’s sake, that the marketing is the art form, and yes it is supposed to serve a purpose. But there is a difference between somebody who’s just trying to get one more like on Facebook or make one more sale versus somebody who really wants to improve the quality of marketing in general. And you definitely sound like you’re falling into that camp.

The other thing is you have the moleskine or whatever it was in your back pocket, for me I like calling my voicemail up – because I can’t remember anything and sometimes I’m driving – so I’ll just call my voicemail up to remind me of something that just went through my head. But it’s about making those connections in different parts of your life that all of a sudden some idea gels or you can explain something better to someone and all of a sudden it resonates with them. So maybe that’s some of what’s going on as well when you’re creating your own content.

Mitch: Yeah. And I think also I do believe Austin Kleon talks about the artist and he’s sort of infamous for bringing that idea which has been around for awhile into a more comprehensible stance. I think it’s less about stealing from another artist, it’s more about I learned from this artist, I learned from this business person, I saw this, and one on one sure does equal 6 for me, what does that look like and why.

How many times do you read something online and you’re like I either agree with to or I don’t or I’m not sure why, and most people just end that thought. I always captured that thought and then the next thing I know there is a blog post, there is an idea for entry in the podcast, there’s a chapter in a book, there’s a new slide for my presentation or that’s a great idea for this client. And I think that that sort of level of creativity is somewhat missing because everybody has this sort of paralyzed feeling of what everyone’s talked about , everyone’s done this already. To me, thinking it through, the fascinating thing for me is either writing about it or talking about it publicly and publishing it.

Rich: Well yeah, you cannot truly learn anything until you have to teach it to somebody else. I find that’s just when everything clarifies in my own head when I have to turn it into a blog post or a presentation or whatever it may be.

Mitch: Yeah. The best line I heard about that was from Susan Orleans who is a creative nonfiction writer. She actually gives a course on Skillshare about creative nonfiction that I always recommend people take, it’s cheap and/or free if you sign up. She had a great line actually during one of my podcasts not long ago where she said, “Researching is learning and writing is teaching.” I never framed it in that simplistic of a way before, you sorta almost honed in on that exact saying and that was a big turning point in my life. I think a lot of times we feel like, well who am I to write this blog post.

Rich: Oh my god, I feel that every day.

Mitch: Imposter syndrome.

Rich: Exactly.

Mitch: And I think where she was going with this is that, yeah, if you can take on that writer’s mindset – especially nonfiction, which is my area of interest for sure – that it’s true that when I’ researching – which may be as simple as reading a bunch of tweets or an article – is that I’m learning. But when I’m writing about it I have to shift the voice to be the teacher. This is what I’ve learned, this is what I think, and that’s why I typically end all of my content with “you?” , because I want people to take that and have that be their spark.

And again after 12+ years of blogging almost every single day, it still hasn’t really happened. People just read it and like, share, follow, but I often wonder what percentage of those people take that content and then solve something with it. That’s really what it’s there for, it’s to solve problems.

Rich: Absolutely. And I think getting back to the imposter’s syndrome, and I certainly struggle with this every single day of my life. But also the idea of why should I bother saying anything when I’m sure it’s been said before or I know it’s been said before.

My dad’s a psychologist and one of the things that I’ve learned from him is that Freud was not the first person to come up with all of those concepts of psychology. He was just the first person to be able to explain it so most of the world understood it. And I think so many of us don’t say anything for fear of being found out as a fraud or fear of nobody caring. But yet so many of us have something in us that if we just explained it to the world they would all have an “a ha” moment.

Mitch: Yeah. I would even take it to another level which is hard for people to understand but I’ll explain the story as it happened to me. I was speaking at an event probably about 2007 and I was speaking with someone who was very well known in the marketing space as being extremely animated, sort of very similar peer class to where I was considered to be. I just couldn’t believe how much more popular their content was than mine and I was thinking of writing a book.

So we were talking and at the time I guess my publishing deal was announced and it was a significant deal with Grand Central – which was the largest book publisher in the world – and they said to me off the cuff possibly from a place of jealousy or possibly them not knowing what they wanted, but they said, “I’ve been offered to write a ton of books and I haven’t done it because when I look at the marketplace I just feel like someone’s already written a book like that.

And the answer that I gave him was, “Fair, but no one has ever heard your version of it.” And people don’t get that even if your version is less experienced or slightly more candid or more raw or more academic, there maybe something in that conversation that inspires people.

Malcolm Gladwell has written books, The Tipping Point, which is how something becomes popular, how we make impressions really quickly. David and Goliath, sometimes the small guy wins over the big guy. These are not notions that we had never heard before, it’s both in how they researched it and his voice that made those ideas so unique. It’s unbelievable when you think about it, he’s written a book on why people are successful. It’s stuff that we keep seeing, it’s his take on it and how he brings the story together.

I think that we live in a world where anybody can publish anything to the world on these global platforms and my fear is that  – to steal a phrase from the art world – that people will die with their art inside of them. I don’t want to do that. I do find that I’m becoming more cautious as I get older, which scares me. So I try and shake things up and give myself more free will to put stuff out there. I think that’s just a natural evolution as we get older and take on more responsibility and we get worried more about what other people might think of my perception. And I think the challenge – at least for me with content – is to be more fearless.

Rich: That’s good stuff, and actually a good place to end on. I just want to tell everybody that from the stuff that I’ve read that you’ve really honed your art. And that’s really what it comes down to. You’ve put in the work, though. I mean, this isn’t something like you’re just starting brand new, and I think a lot of us get started on things and then don’t see them through. Your ability to write coherently and express yourself has come from you putting in the time in the lab, as they sometimes say.

Mitch: Well I appreciate that. It sometimes is very thankless, so when people say that, I feel very gratified. I was having a conversation with Mark Schaefer – who does a very popular bog as well – and we were talking about blogging and is it dying and that conversation. And He said, “I feel like I sort of want to be the last man standing.” And I was laughing saying I’d be standing there with you.

But it’s somewhat thankless where, you’re right, I publish stuff a lot and most of it doesn’t have traction. That doesn’t dissuade me, it’s just a journey and I think you have to be committed to it. The reason people aren’t committed to it I think is that they just don’t really enjoy it. It’s like, ok, I have to blog, I have to tweet. And the answer is no, you actually don’t. So when people look at me and ask why I blog so much. I want to write, what do you care.

Rich: Right, exactly. And if there’s one thing that’s less thankless than blogging – in my personal opinion – it’s podcasting. At least in my experience, people are even less likely to leave a comment. And yes, I’m talking to you people right now listening to this podcast. It’s just a little bit one more degree of separation from being able to just type a comment right there unless you’re on the show notes.

Mitch: People are like, oh, you don’t look at your stats? And I’m like, what kind of stats? How many downloaded the podcast? What if that downloads automatically, how many actually listen to it, how many people learn. The project I’ve been on with Six Pixels for my podcast for sure has been actually not trying to enter this sort of latest and greatest but really more obscure, senior experience people to create better connections, I want to bring voice to the people who haven’t really had the voice.

I look at my podcast like I pulled somebody aside for an hour and had a conversation I would have loved to have had over coffee, and the little trick is I just hit the ‘publish’ button. But the truth is it was a selfish act of just me wanting to have the conversation with somebody.

Rich: I completely get that, and it’s really funny because of course one of the best things about having your own podcast and also running a digital marketing agency is whenever I don’t know something or a client stumps me with a question, I can just find an expert and spend 20 minutes on the phone with them that they never would have given me otherwise, and suddenly I have the answer and I can point that person to my podcast and be like, here’s how you improve your reputation online, or whatever the case may be.

Mitch: I’m with you.

Rich: Mitch, this has been great. For people who want to read your blog and listen to your podcast or anything else that you’re sharing these days, where should they check you out online?

Mitch: The best place right now is really mitchjoel.com, and Google is still forwarding links as our agency changes from Twist to Mirum. If you go to mitchjoel.com it will redirect you exactly to the right place, or just Google Mitch Joel.

Rich: Awesome. Well thank you Mitch very much. We’ll have all of those links that Mitch shared with us and a full transcript and the show notes. Mitch, thanks again for your time today.

Mitch: It’s been rich, Rich. Thanks.

Show Notes: