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Hi! I’m MIchele Linn. I’ve been in the content marketing space for the past decade (and in marketing for more years than I’d like to count!).  I’ve written hundreds of articles, spoken at industry events and had countless conversations about content marketing. And, I’ve seen a lot of things change -- for both better and worse -- throughout the years.

I’m currently the co-founder and head of strategy at Mantis Research. We work with marketers to create, publish and amplify original research (think: benchmark guides; state of the industry reports; research findings on niche topics).

Before starting Mantis, I worked with Joe Pulizzi and team at Content Marketing Institute (CMI). (Fun fact: I was the first person Joe hired when launching CMI in 2010.) I started as managing editor and jack-of- all trades, but as the company grew, I led the editorial team and helped build the platform to 180,000 subscribers. I also had the privilege to meet and learn from hundreds of fellow content marketers.

If I’m not thinking about research, marketing about building a business, I’m may be focused on how I’m working. What can I do to be more productive -- and create more meaningful work?  I think it’s a struggle for a lot of marketers today in this always-on, easy-to-get-distracted environment.

When I’m not working, I’m likely hanging out with my family in Michigan, walking, traveling or trying to be truly present everyday.

If you are interested in learning more about original research, check out these articles or connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter:

While content marketing (and how it’s changing), original research, personal productivity, managing work and family are some of my favorite topics, I’m an open book. Ask me anything!

  • MG

    Michelle Garrett

    10 days ago #

    What are some mistakes you see too often when people publish their own research?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I love this question there are so many things you can to do to improve your research.

      Here are a few common mistakes you should aim to avoid, ranging from easy-to-fix to should-have-planned-better:

      - Include your logo and link to your research in all images/dataviz. Your tables and charts are so shareable -- make sure people can easily link back to the source.

      - [A big bet peeve] Your job as a research is to TEST YOUR HYPOTHESIS. Do NOT craft questions to validate your point of view. This gives marketers a bad name.

      - Have a point of view when reporting findings and instead showing one data point after another. What do you want someone to do with this information? How does your research help someone.

      - You need a large enough sample size when conducting survey-based research. This issue is especially prevalent when people compare various segments (e.g. effective vs ineffective marketers). If sample sizes in the individual segment are too small, the results are not significant.

      - Correlation does not equal causation!

      - TEST your survey!! If you don’t, you may find questions are un-usable at the end.

      2 Share
  • AE

    Alexandra Erman

    10 days ago #

    What are some examples of research from brands that have worked well, and why?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      There are so many different research projects I like for different reasons. Here are a just a few:

      State of Agile Marketing: I love this example from Andrea Fryrear. She has a relatively new company with a specific objective (Agile Marketing training). She’s very educational in her approach, and she decided to publish the first State of Agile Marketing earlier this year. It’s her first go at a report for her new business, and she has seen backlinks, consistent subscribers and sales. A GREAT example of research that works right here, right now for very small businesses.

      Rent Cafe: I can’t remember how I came across Rentcafe, but I have been continually impressed with their research and the coverage it gets.

      CoSchedule’s State of Marketing Strategy: Love how they show what they predicted vs what the results show. This is an excellent storytelling device + it shows they have rigor.

      CMI/MarketingProfs annual research on content marketing: This one is near and dear to my heart as it’s the first research project I worked on. It taught me first-hand how to do research -- and it proved the power of research. Lisa Murton Beets has led the charge for years and does a tremendous job!

      1 Share
  • DG

    Deana Goldasich

    10 days ago #

    What inspired you most to launch Mantis Research?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I knew I wanted to build something after CMI, but I didn’t know what. And, I knew I wanted to get specific and niche (if you have read Joe Pulizzi’s book, Content Inc., he calls this the Content Tilt.) But, I didn’t know what I wanted to do . . .

      Then I had a a serendipitous conversation with my friend and former colleague, Clare McDermott. Clare was transitioning her freelance business to focus on original research, so we decided to join forces. We are both big believers in research -- and we come at it from a complementary yet different perspectives. (For instance, Clare is more quant-y, and I love thinking through the atomization process.)

      Long story short, we wanted to not only help marketers with their own projects, but we also wanted to be an educational resource for those who want to execute all or some parts of the process. This is a space we hadn’t seen others covering with laser focus, so we hope we are filling a gap.

  • DG

    Deana Goldasich

    10 days ago #

    What are some of the most essential parts of gathering original research? Any common mistakes or assumptions?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      All research projects have four steps:

      1) Strategy and planning: Why are you conducting this research? How do you want the research to help your business? What ideas to you want to prove / disprove? What type of research is best for your objectives (survey-based, interview-based or the analysis of existing data?)

      2) Data collection: This is everything you need to get and analyze the data. In survey-based research, this includes survey design (what questions to ask and how to ask them); survey programming + TESTING (this is in caps for a reason -- it’s often missed!); survey execution and analyzing the data you get back.

      3) Research journalism: This is a term we use, but it’s essentially creating the findings for your research. The best findings include valid, accurate data + a compelling story (have a point of view!)

      4) Amplification: Your research is a treasure trove of stories, data and more. Not only do you want to get the word out, but you also want to think about all of the related content you can create from your research report.

      1 Share
    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      As I mentioned to Michelle Garrett, there are several common mistakes you can try to avoid. Here's one more:

      Don't underestimate survey design. The questions you ask + how you ask them will make or break your survey.

      1 Share
  • BS

    Brock Stechman

    9 days ago #

    Why should companies consider publishing their own research report as part of their overall content marketing strategy?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I could go on (and on) about why companies should publish their own research, but I recently realized it bubbles down to this: research works because you are answering (and testing) unanswered questions is a way that leads a meaningful conversations and interactions. You aren’t repeating what others are saying or simply following.

      When you lead the conversation, people link to you (including media and influencers), you get more traffic, you can build an audience, you can get new leads, and you get invited to share these original ideas (speaking at industry conferences; podcast interviews; guest posts, etc.)

      And, if you do a larger study with a bit of planning, you can make that piece of original research an ‘editorial cornerstone.’ Think one report with lots of related stories and assets that point to it throughout the year. (And even more links, traffics, audience, etc.)

      2 Share
  • CH

    carmen hill

    9 days ago #

    How do you choose the right topic for your original research?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Hi Carmen!
      This (and “how do I get enough survey respondents?”) is the most common question I hear. It’s simple on its face, but it requires some digging.

      That said, here are the 3 things to consider. The best research topics:

      1) Are interesting to your audience. (Sidenote: If you are trying to get media mentions, remember that your audience is journalists.)

      2) Are aligned with your brand’s story. This is especially important if you are are doing a benchmarking study you want to repeat.

      3) Have not yet been covered. As I keep mentioning, YOU want to be source of authority for a certain topic, so you need to answer the unanswered questions.

      Something to consider if you are still struggling. Andy Crestodina has something he calls “Find the Stat” in which you look for those stats in your industry that are frequently asserted yet rarely supported.

      You can also flip this model on its head and use your research to disprove assumptions. So ask: What are those things that are frequently asserted yet untrue. (This can work especially well if you are trying to get media coverage.)

      2 Share
  • OM

    Orbit Media

    9 days ago #

    If you're a small team, how do you stay on top of promoting all of your content? How do you avoid burnout on social media?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Oh, social media. How I have a love/hate relationship with you. . . I’m feeling you pain, Amanda. To be honest, this is not a nut I have cracked.

      I believe in the power of social media. I use it (for work) and often reap so many benefits. I can directly attribute work and friendships to social.

      Yet, on the other hand, I have been trying to cultivate true quiet (and now how I crave it). I want to shut off all tech.

      Of course, there is middle ground, but this ground often shifts for me. Sometimes I load up my Buffer with interesting articles and tidbits of what I want to share from what I have written. Other times . . . I’m not saying anything.

      I have made a certain level of peace with turning off social media for periods of time and then engaging other times . . . but I know that is not an answer for everyone. I simply can’t be “always on.” In short, I’m trying to give myself a break at times, but not sure how practical that is as a long-term solution.

      So, I’m likely going help in this area as I know it’s not my strong suit!

      3 Share
  • AF

    Andrea Fryrear

    9 days ago #

    What are the best ways to get survey respondents for a research project? How do I make sure I can access the right kinds of people to take a survey?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      As I mentioned to Carmen, this + 'What topic should I cover?" are the top 2 questions I hear about research.

      I recently wrote a post that offers 10 ideas on how to get survey respondents (hat tip to Gill Andrews for testing many of these and offering her ideas!). But here are a couple of ideas to keep in mind:

      1) If you have a sizable audience that is representative of the audience you want to survey (this is key!), consider reaching out to them. Direct email is often best.

      2) If you do not have a large enough or the right list, consider partnering with someone who does. Great way to get survey respondents + it helps extend the reach of the findings once your publish.

      3) Use a panel. Many of the survey companies (e.g. SurveyMonkey, Survey Gizmo, Qualtrics, etc) offer a way for you to survey their lists.

  • JS

    Jason Schemmel

    9 days ago #

    Since you want to publish research that your audience will be interested in, how do you research what topic(s) to consider for original research? Additionally, what if another brand has already published something on that topic, do you still pursue it?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Great question, Jason! This question has come up in a few forms (see the responses to the questions from Carmen and Ronell).

      You want to become the source of authority for your topic by answering unanswered questions. If something has already been covered well, find another area where you can shed new light.

      A caveat to this: if you believe the data is untrue and can prove that, it could be a powerful study.

      But, in general, I suggest you carve out your own niche.

  • NK

    Nadya Khoja

    20 days ago #

    If you had to share one piece of advice for individuals who may not have a team to leverage, but who are looking to build their email lists- what would you tell them?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Sooo . . . it’s probably no surprise, but I’d say publishing your own original research project is a GREAT way to build your email list.

      When you plan correctly, you are saying something meaningful, backed with data. Others consider you the source of authority and then link to you and you get more traffic (of course, I am slightly oversimplifying; this takes some work as well!)

      You can gate your research (of course), but I’d also suggest you build something that helps your readers with a gap your research identifies. (Not to mention CoSchedule again, but here’s an example: they have a gated toolkit that includes assets related to the gaps their research uncovered.)

      Want one more tip on how to build an audience from your research? Have a partner. If you don’t yet have an email list, partner with someone who does -- who also wants to test the same hypotheses / tell a similar story. Your research will get even more reach!

      1 Share
  • RS

    Ronell Smith

    11 days ago #

    Hi Michele,

    I've been closely following how some smart brands are leveraging original research to grow their reach, build an audience and close more business deals. I've also been curious as to why more brands aren't doing the same given its effectiveness. What's your take on why more brands have yet to step up to the plate in this area? What advice would you give for those who might be thinking of making the leap but feel the task is too daunting?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Great question, Ronnell. I often think about (and cite) this quote from Andy Crestodina:

      [Original research] may take 10x the effort to create, but you’ll likely see 100x the results of a typical article.

      Research does indeed work, but it takes a. lot. of. time. So that’s certainly one barrier.

      Another issue is research (and, I believe, data science, specifically) is a “new muscle” for many. Earlier this year, we conducted some research in partnership with Buzzsumo about if/how marketers are conducting research. We asked those who are not yet conducting research but who are planning to do so what their biggest challenge will be, and they said it’s understanding the process.

      So it’s time consuming + people don’t know what to do.

      1 Share
    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      To answer the second part of your question: what should people do if they are thinking of making the leap?

      First, realize that your opportunity is now. In the research we did with Buzzsumo, we found that about half of marketers are publishing research, and half aren't. Of those who aren't yet publish, half of those (or 26% of the entire sample) are considering their first research project this year. Now, I think this number is likely high as 1) people's intentions don't always translate into action and 2) Buzzsumo's audience is likely on the higher end of sophistication, but here's the thing: The best research answers unanswered questions. Take your opportunity now to answer those questions before you competitor's do.

      There is also more that is being written about research so educate yourself -- or get help. I'm always happy to brainstorm and answer questions!

  • JM

    Julia McCoy

    10 days ago #

    Advice for someone starting a content-based publication (I've seen several new publications on the rise!), taking inspiration from your tenure at CMI, arguably one of the best content publications out there? What would be one major to-do, & one top no-no to definitely avoid?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      That’s so nice of you to say, Julia. So much commitment and long hours (and immense fun and wonderful memories) went into building CMI (and the team is still doing amazing things!)

      So what should you do? As I mentioned in another answer, I am a HUGE believer in having what Joe Pulizzi coined the Content Tilt. How are you going to offer something different than anyone else . . . and then you need to stick to it. This tilt (which can transition into your editorial mission) needs to be the lens by which you evaluate all content. Don’t stray from this. (Really, don't.)

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      And what would I avoid? Don't be too ambitious too quickly unless you have the experience and staff. Stretch yourself and commit, but don't set yourself up for burnout. It's so very easy to underestimate the time it takes to publish something consistently and well!

      1 Share
  • PD

    Pam Didner

    10 days ago #

    What are some common mistakes brands are making when publishing their own research?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I am happy to see this question asked a few times! I listed some ideas in responses for Michelle and Deana.

  • DG

    Deana Goldasich

    10 days ago #

    You just returned from Content Marketing World. What was your greatest takeaway(s) or epiphany? What was your highlight?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I feel like it was a week of highlights to be honest, most of them personal connections (such as our "windmill conversation" and dinner at Lola!). This echoes my takeaway, but the highlight for me are the serendipitous hallway conversations.

      2 Share
    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I am still smiling from the wonderful week I had last week.

      My one takeaway: It’s all about the community. Be in the moment and embrace those conversations. Ask the tough questions that are on your mind. This truly is the nicest and most generous community out there, and you'll never regret the time spent.

      1 Share
  • BS

    Brock Stechman

    9 days ago #

    As a business owner, what do you consider your top 3 priorities?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Oooh, I love this question! And hmmm . . .

      Right now, my 3 biggest priorities are:

      1) Continually learning about, writing about and educating marketers on how they can conduct and publish original research. I want Mantis to be the educational destination for marketers who want to do this on their own. And I want to become more efficient and sophisticated with how we help our clients.

      2) Scaling the business. We’re lucky to have a growing client base, so we are working to grow the business. This includes a) finding the right people so we can scale the business and b) finding the right projects to work on. How do we package and price the offerings that will help us grow and make a meaningful impact with our clients?

      3) Talking to more marketers who are doing or considering research. This definitely feeds into #1, but something I started doing this year is reaching out to marketers who are conducting their own research. I learn SO MUCH from these generous individuals (and hope to give back where I can), and I’d like to make as much time as possible to have these meaningful conversations.

  • AG

    Ann Gynn

    9 days ago #

    How important is it to detail your methodology when reporting results? What are the best ways to do this?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I am SO glad you asked this question, Ann.

      Your methodology is super important. I talk to journalists to understand why they cover (or choose not to cover) research, and one of the things I hear is that the very first thing they look at is the methodology. How many people were sampled? Who did they sample? Does the audience lean in a certain direction (e.g. are they from SMB or large companies?). And, as more marketers undertake research, I think methodologies will become even more important as readers suss out the quality of studies.

      I’m actually working on a post that looks at the anatomy of great research findings, and one of the parts of the report I’m studying is the methodology. I’ll suspect I’ll have a much better answer soon, but I’m a big believer in being transparent. How many people did you survey? What do you know about them? Is there any implicit bias?

      2 Share
  • GA

    Gill Andrews

    9 days ago #

    Hi Michele,

    I wanted to ask how you balance working from home (and travelling) with managing family and kids.

    It seems to me like a lot of advice online sounds as if social media / content marketing / running a business is all we do and pretends that no one has small kids or needs to be there for their family. But I noticed that you're the one of the few people who mentions the family and the kids as well.

    So, if you could tell us a bit about how you manage to run your own business, write great content and participate in all the online and offline events while managing family and kids, this would be great :)

    Thanks,

    Gill

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I so appreciate your question today, Gill. As I type, I’m home with my (kind of) sick 6-year old . . .What is it they say about the best-laid plans? :)

      Working at home with kids is such a mixed bag. Even though I work from home, I try to separate work and home as much as possible. I’m a big believer in daycare and camp as needed. I can be present and “heads down” while working, I am more apt to be present (and less cranky) with my family.

      I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it has gotten easier over the years as the kids have become more self-sufficient.

      I am better about proactively taking time away from home when needed. For instance, I recently started leaving the house first thing to work at a coffee shop one or two days a week. I get so much done when I’m uninterrupted and not dealing with morning routines. (We work from home moms can be super efficient!)

      I also have a tremendous spouse who never complains when I am out of town and simply does what needs to be done. My gratitude for him can not be over-stated!

      And, when I get frustrated, I remind myself of this story from my 10-year daughter. We were talking about a mom we know who is very craftsy and artistic (two things I am most definitely not). I am so envious of those qualities, but my daughter chimed in, “That is not nearly as awesome as owning your own business, Mom.” I love that my kids see what I do!

  • JS

    Jason Schemmel

    9 days ago #

    In your experience, what has been the most valuable (in terms of overall effectiveness, not just sales/conversions/leads/etc) form of content marketing and why do you think it stands out more than other forms?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I hate to say research, but I truly believe it's research :)

      But what else do I think works well? Authoritative how-to content is another form of content that works time and time again. There is a lot of "overview-y" how-to content out there that is not adding to the conversation. But, if you go in-depth and/or cover topics that have not already been covered, it can be tremendously helpful.

      Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm surprised at how well our how-to content has worked for the early stages of Mantis :)

  • JS

    Jason Schemmel

    9 days ago #

    If you could take your family, kids included, on a 2-week vacation to anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Ooh, I am such a travel junkie.

      Where would I take my kids now (6 and 10)? Costa Rica.

      When they get older, I'd love to explore Europe with them. I love London!

  • HG

    Hailley Griffis

    9 days ago #

    What do you think makes an original research study really take off? I've run several studies and I'm always surprised when one will get a lot of traffic and press mentions where another may fall flat.

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      I think a lot of it comes down to the topic. Is it something that is interesting to the press? Your readers?

      One journalist suggested to me that studies that expose FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) work well because it alludes to something that needs to change. Validation of something we believe may be less interesting from a press perspective.

      And, you also need to do the work of getting it out there. Do you have the right contacts who have influence?

  • AL

    Angel Lacret

    9 days ago #

    What do you think that are gonna be the traditional industries that have more growth this year in Digital Marketing?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Great question. Just a few years ago there were digital laggards. One that comes to mind is manufacturing. (Of course there are others.)

      I've noticed manufacturing is really leap-frogging ahead, in part because they are big players in the IoT space--they are at the crosshairs of innovation. Anecdoatly, I see many more manufacturing companies--as well as all the companies that serve manufacturing--take up and embrace digital marketing in the last 12-24 months.

  • SS

    Shweta Saxena

    9 days ago #

    Hi Michele,

    If you're a solopreneur how do you manage creating and then promoting content across all social media channels. I repurpose the content and post on selected social media channel. Any other strategy or tool you would recommend that can give max results in minimum efforts/time.

    Regards

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      As I mentioned to Amanda, I honestly struggle with social media, and it’s something I want to get better at. I personally focus on where I think my audience is and where I can be of most help (for me, that’s Twitter and LinkedIn).

      After I publish a piece, my intention is to break that down into multiple tweets and/or LinkedIn postings and schedule those out. My tool of choice is Buffer. I also try to tag people to thank for for inspiring me.

      But, this is very much a work in progress. I hear GREAT things about this approach Nathan Ellering outlined on the CoSchedule blog, but I haven’t yet executed it.

      This Is The Social Media Posting Schedule That Will Boost Your Traffic By 192%

      • SS

        Shweta Saxena

        8 days ago #

        Thanks for the answer Michele. I have heard from almost every marketer that Twitter does a great job. Honestly, I haven't been much active on it. Now I'm definitely gonna try this out. Thanks for sharing the link also.

  • SA

    Scott Aughtmon

    8 days ago #

    Hi Michele! I have a couple questions...

    What is the best way that you'd suggest people use original research in their content marketing?

    What's the best way to take low cost, baby steps to begin using original research?

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Great questions, Scott.

      As I am have mentioned in other questions, use original research to lead a meaningful conversation in your space. What compelling story can you tell that is backed by data?

      For instance, If you are in a new space or if you are trying to create a category, a State of [Your Industry] report may work really well. You can use this report to get authority and dig into the topics that are most relevent as the space evolves. (Impprtant: If you do this, repeat this report annually so you can show year-over-year trends . . . and continue leading the conversation.)

      If you are in a crowded space, choose a niche. Figure out what you want to be known for using the questions above. Be you, but be better as you’ll have data that no one else does.

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      If you are getting started, you can definitely start small. Consider a short series of mini-surveys or polls -- but commit to doing several as one does not a test make :) 9I guarantee you'll learn a lot every time you repeat this process.)

      The other thing to do is go all in with a bigger study. You can get so much more reach and benefit!

  • MK

    Mariana Klober

    8 days ago #

    Hi Michele!

    Awesome to have you here! Thank you for taking the time for doing this.

    I have a few questions I'm curious about:
    1. I'd love to know more about your editorial process at CMI, how was it structured? Did you use any tools/platforms or built a process with tools of your own?
    2. Can you pick out 3 things that you learned during your time at the CMI that you later applied to Mantis Research's operational processes and decision making?
    3. What is it about building your own business that you're most passionate about?

    Thanks again!
    Mari

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      2) I learned SO MUCH at CMI, but here are three things that come to mind.

      - It's all about the people and the one-on-one relationships you have with them (both people you work with as well as the broader community you are trying to help.) Content marketing works, but it works so much better when there are meaningful relationships behind them.

      - You need an editorial mission / Content Tilt (see the response to one of Deana's questions). Find it. Stick to it.

      - Show up, even when it's hard. Content marketing can feel like a slog, and you often don't know if what you are doing will have any kind of impact . . . especially at first. But stick with it, be genuine and be helpful. Chances are, you'll see amazing things.

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      And 3 . . .

      This may sound counter-intuitive, but I get too comfortable being comfortable. I love building something new because there are no right answers or way to go. You test, you learn, you test some more. I love being scrappy and trying and failing and trying again (and hopefully succeeding at some point!)

      And, I know you also asked for just one thing, but I love sharing insights with other marketers. If I can pay my knowledge forward, I'm all for it!

    • ML

      Michele Linn

      8 days ago #

      Thanks so much for having me, Mariana! To answer your questions:

      1) When I was at CMI, the editorial process was managed via a Google sheet. Lots of details, but it worked for us. I also experimented with and used Trello, but we only used this in pockets.

  • SC

    Seth Cobbs

    8 days ago #

    What are the biggest mistakes you see junior content marketers making today, and what are some trends that are just catching on that you like?

  • JC

    Jack Carter

    2 days ago #

    Why should companies consider publishing their own research report as part of their overall content marketing strategy?

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