How to be useful to the internet

Everyone tells founders to spend more time on their content marketing.

But what exactly do you do with that time?

One way to approach it is to take a long term view of how you can be useful to the internet.

You want to start by finding 5-10 online communities for the kind of people who have the problem your product solves.

Next, commit to spending at least half an hour a day listening for explicit problems and struggles in one or more of your spaces each day.

30 min/weekday is a hard minimum.

I started tracking this on the 1st of Nov. Began with 15 min a day. Now I’m more than 16 hours in.

It’s easy to get distracted doing this so I set up RescueTime to record my browser activity and connected it to a Beeminder goal that takes money out of my bank account if I fail to meet my hard minimum each day. 

This is a bit intense. You do you.

When I find an explicit question or struggle, I analyze the discussion in the same way I handle a customer interview. 

Basically you copy and paste the question and then record as much context as you can. I’ll link to a post in the footer that provides a deeper explanation on how to do this.

Then spend ~5 hours working on a solution to the most important problem you’ve found. 

I’m talking about responding to actual questions with real solutions. 

When I don’t know something, I’ll read a book, do a course or reach out experts for help. 

The idea is to become incredibly useful around a certain problem for a specific group of people. 

When someone decides to deal with the problem you’ve committed to, you show up with valuable, succinct solutions at multiple points along their journey. 

This will play out over days or weeks. First they read one of your responses to a question in a community. Two days later a post you wrote gets referenced in a YouTube video. Then they bump into a super helpful blog post you wrote the next week.

Producing content in response to actual questions prevents you from writing about what you think is interesting and keeps you focused on what is important. 

Build up a portfolio of valuable contributions and you gradually become unavoidable in the problem space.

So, we’re just talking about becoming an expert then?

Yup. Exactly. 

Reading the cannon, summarizing the ideas, getting to know the players, and making a concerted effort to steward new people in the space towards this knowledge is what content marketing is all about.

Here is the exact protocol I’ve laid out for myself: 

  • ✅ Start with one clear audience or a problem space you want to contribute to.
  • ✅ Find 10 communities where people in your scene hang out.
  • ✅ Spend at least half an hour a day listening for pain points and struggles.  
  • ✅ Consistently spend time each week researching and writing useful responses to address explicit problems that come up in the communities you serve. 
  • ✅ Use the content that resonates the most to build connections with other people in your space by offering to help their audience with your best performing ideas and solutions.

The big swings come from repurposing ideas that resonate and pitching them to other helpful contributors in the same space. You’re offering them you best battle-tested content for guest posts and podcast interview topics.

You can also group and repurpose your best ideas into reusable, long-form SEO-focused blog posts. The beauty of this approach is that you can do all of this whether of not you can find keyword opportunities to rank for. 

Making valuable contributions and building meaningful connections in a problem space is domain authority. Whatever algorithm Moz and Google have cooked up is just a proxy for this stuff. This is what the machines are trying to measure.

And if none of it works, you’ll still have helped the shit out of a bunch of people and built some wicked relationships with a group of interesting people who are committed to solving problems you care about.

Now go, find your people, pay attention, listen to what they’re struggling with, and make valuable contributions to the problem space one person at a time.

These posts are meant to be conversational. Let me know what you think. Replies to this email go straight to my inbox.

Related links and further reading