The Trojan Horse Strategy: How to Network with Other Bloggers

5000 readers in 6 months Aug 22, 2021

Alexander the Great was a supremely talented battle tactician. Yet, his often convoluted strategies were used only to mask a simple endgame. He deployed his significantly smaller army in a way that would allow him and his best cavalry to break through the enemy’s battle formations and try to capture or kill the Persian emperor.

That was it. He knew there was only one way to defeat a significantly superior fighting force: by going after the commander of the opposing army.

What does that have to do with blogging?

Well… all the popular niches are dominated by bloggers who have the authority and social proof of a large audience and an impressive portfolio of content.

This means networking requires a bit more than showing up to comment “great post!” on every single article you come across. You need an alternative strategy.

You need to capitalize on the audiences other bloggers have built, and get them to share their platforms with you, whether that means guest blogging for them, interviewing them (or getting interviewed by them), or collaborating with them on certain projects.

But how do you do that? How do you successfully pitch the most popular bloggers in your niche?

You deploy the Trojan horse strategy.

Why You Need to Deploy a Trojan Horse

The average blogger spends most of their time laboring over new posts. They write, edit, proofread, add images and graphics, and then they click the publish button.

But what can they do after that in order to promote their articles?

Most bloggers struggle to gain traction because they are effectively writing in a void. They don’t share their world.

Now, 99% of bloggers discover, at one point or another, just how important it is to connect with other bloggers. Making friends, building relationships, and leveraging those relationships.

Well, the truth is that nowadays it’s no longer enough to try to make friends with everyone, but rather try to engage those who can best help you grow your audience.

This, yes, means that you’ve got to find a way to build connections with the most popular bloggers within your niche.

At the same time, as the vast majority of bloggers are trying to get more traffic to their blogs by commenting on other blogs, it’s become increasingly difficult to stand out, especially on the most popular blogs within your niche.

Problems

  • Most niches are oversaturated by bloggers who comment simple one-liners to attract attention.
  • As most niches are overcrowded, it’s become of crucial necessity to build and leverage relationships with authority figures within your niche.
  • Since blogging is a “winner takes all” game by default, most readers will look towards those popular bloggers for recommendations on which bloggers to read.
  • Social proof matters more than ever, as all the popular and lucrative niches are dominated by experienced bloggers, so it’s important to leverage those relationships in order to build an audience.
  • The average blogger often struggles to build an audience as the 3 most popular avenues for growth (social media, ads, and search engines) become less and less effective.

Key Takeaways

  • Focus on building and leveraging relationships with authority figures within your niche.
  • Mention, quote, and link to the most popular articles within your niche as a low-key way of building social proof and appear more knowledgeable of your niche
  • The quality of your interactions should be prioritized, and not their number.

A Tale of Two Questions

Due to a number of factors, including timing, consistency, and luck, I have gathered a rather large following on my main blog. 

That means that I receive a few hundred e-mails every week. Most of them are fan mail, hate mail, death threats, and marriage proposals, which is weird considering that my profile picture shows an eight-year-old child.

But I digress.

Sometimes I receive a pitch. The blogger asks me for the opportunity to guest blog, or they want me to mention and promote their blog.

Now, I do my best not to be a jerk, but in 99.9% of the cases I find myself asking, “Who are you and what can you give me?”

The odd thing is that I ask these questions after having read their e-mail. Sometimes they’ll go, “I am sure my article will be a great fit for your blog, and your readers will love it.”

That may be so, I’m not arguing, but why is it that I am reticent about clicking on the link to the post, or replying to their e-mail?

It’s a natural reaction. 

If you knock on someone’s door, and you want them to invite you in their living room, one of two things are going to happen:

a. They either know who you are.

b. You make yourself instantly likable enough for them to invite you in.

In order to pitch someone, you’ve got to be able to answer these questions:

  1. Does the blogger know who you are? One of the things I love about the internet is the fact that no one’s so famous they can’t be ignored. Don’t rely on your idea that you have a certain reputation. Did you interact with the blogger you’re pitching? Did you ever comment on their content?
  2. What are you offering them? What can you do for them? Maybe it’s sharing the stage with them, if you already have an engaged micro-audience, maybe it’s helping them with a project (editing articles, podcasts, video, doing some graphic design work.).

Now, in order to successfully pitch a popular blogger, you must deploy a Trojan Horse.

This is a simple, four-step strategy that requires, however, that you master the subtle art of networking and building relationships online, and this is what most of this guide will focus on.

What are you looking for?

The same way Alexander the Great was trying to breach Persian defenses to reach the emperor, you too must invest time and energy to build relationships with the most popular blogs within your niche.

Of course, not all popular bloggers are great targets for this strategy. As an example, it would be ridiculous to try to deploy this article on Seth Godin’s blog, given that he doesn’t allow comments. Also, he’s quite busy.

That’s why you need a checklist. Like this one:

Put simply, your goal is to find popular bloggers who are already part of a community, are active in the community they’ve built on their blogs, and are networking with others within the niche.

Once you’ve found “the perfect target,” it’s time to…

1. Comment on their content

This is common-sense advice, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Try your best not to place your lips upon the blogger’s posterior. In other words, don’t comment as if they’ve just written the best damn blog post ever. They know all too well that you’ve just become enamored with their social proof. 
  • Don’t overcompensate either. This means, “don’t turn into a jackass.” Don’t criticize their content, and don’t disagree with them as a way of standing out from the crowd. Yes, you’ll stand out, but in a bad way. 
  • If you feel a bit of anxiety when it comes to interacting with them, it’s best to take a step back and try to understand where all this is coming from. Like I said, you’ve probably fallen in love with the numerous exhibits of social proof (follower count, the number of adoring comments they receive, or the flashy logos of publications and magazines they’ve written for in the past). This, however, does not mean they’re not human. They are. They are not perfect, so don’t think that they are. 
  • Never, ever, ever waste their precious time by asking them (in a comment, of all places) to take a look at your blog, or to help you with promoting your content.
  • Try not to mention or link to your articles in your comments. There are few who can pull this off. Most times, it feels kind of sleazy. If you want to pick up the girl, don’t ask her about the weather, and then tell her you’re the weatherman.
  • Don’t comment on every single article they publish. Seriously. It gets kind of annoying, in a way.
  • Only comment when you can genuinely add to the conversation. “Yeah, but…” comments are a fantastic way to start. You agree with what’s being said but also have something to add.
  • Focus on personal experience. It shows you’re human and not just acting as an echo chamber for someone else’s words. If you can share first-hand experience related to the topics and ideas being shared in a blog post, that’s a sure-fire way to stand out from the crowd.

I’m starting this list with commenting on their blog because you don’t want to cold-email popular bloggers. When you reach out to them, you want them to instantly recognize you from previous interactions, thus they are far more likely to respond to your requests.

At the same time, it’s crucial that you keep in mind the following mindset tricks:

a. Be a giver, not a taker

One of the biggest barriers for new bloggers who are trying to build their platform is not that they don’t have any connections to begin with, or that their blog readership is small, or that they don’t have anything to offer. The problem is they are thinking too much of themselves, rather than of others.

That can sound confusing. How can you build your own audience and following if you’re supposed to focus on helping others?

In a world where most operate out of scarcity and are all “me, me, me” you stand out if you help other bloggers.

Yes, you do need to know when to say no, because some people will try to abuse your generosity, but never, ever, ever start your interaction with another blogger asking them to link to you, add you to their blogroll, etc — start by offering them something first.

P.S. This is the main reason folks who comment, “Please, can you take a look at my blog?” will be stuck at 57 followers for the rest of their lives.

b. A lot is not enough

People don’t care how much you offer them. They care about whether you exceeded their expectations.

If I walk into your store and it looks and feels like stores I’ve been into before, my expectations are locked in. Now what? But if I walk into your showroom and it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, you get a chance to set my expectations, right?

Marketing isn’t merely bragging. Marketing creates a culture, tells a story, and puts on a show.

The secret is simple: promise less, do more.

c. Don’t expect too much too quick

Building rapport takes time. Building trust takes time.

Just as it happens in real life, if you rush, you’re going to alienate the other person.

d. Be direct and honest about what you want

If you want something out of the relationship — be honest about it.

After all, if you feel a bit sleazy, it’s not because it’s not nice to ask for favors, but probably because you can’t repay them, which means you shouldn’t be asking anything of them in the first place.

e. Be strategic about it

You wouldn’t leave the house for a 1,000-mile journey without a map, would you? Of course not. You wouldn’t make it very far.

And yet most people embark on this journey of promoting their blogs to others without taking time to map out their route. They spend almost no time thinking about how they should build relationships— and end up sending the same emails or writing the same type of comments.

As a result, they wander without direction or focus.

So, create your own roadmap. Sit down and create a list of 20+ bloggers you want to connect with in the next 12 months.

You can do this by creating a simple spreadsheet.


If you want to get really clever about it, and you want to gain an edge over your competition, download our Competition Research Template.

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A few things to add to this list:

  • The best way you can add value to them (pay attention to what you could help them improve based on your skills: it may be editing and proofreading, design work, or helping them land a speaking gig)
  • A way to remind yourself of when you’ve interacted with them (last interacted with, a date, and maybe a link to the article you last commented on or the email you sent them)
  • A ranking of how your interactions went (did they reply to your comment/email and what was the quality of that interaction?)

If you’re just starting out, I suggest a varied approach—include a lot of bloggers who are “at your level,” but also include some bloggers you admire who are further on the journey and who you think you can help out.

This will allow you to fine-tune your strategy without forever ruining your chances at building relationships with the most popular bloggers within your niche, and you also become more confident because at least the bloggers who are at your level will be replying to your comments/emails.

The next step is to create a system for following up. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make after having a positive interaction with someone is failing to follow up.

Do you realize how crazy a strategy this is, especially if you don’t like networking? By not following up, it’s like you’re dooming yourself to the networking hamster wheel.

If you want to go pro with your blog, you need a system for following up and managing relationships.

Now, you can try to schedule reminders in your calendar manually, but that will get unwieldy quickly. A much better approach is to use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) program to automate reminders to follow up.

f. Don’t be lazy

This is something that needs to be said.

Don’t try to be first, try to be fabulous. You need to write comments that truly help you stand out, not simple one-liners that get dismissed instantly.

Go the extra mile when commenting on other blogs. It matters. A lot.

g. Be perseverant, but don’t become a mosquito

Some bloggers will take a few comments before they’ll warm up to you.

There’s a lot of noise around the blogosphere so don’t be offended if people don’t respond — try again in a little while — but try not to comment on every single article of theirs.

The art of being social is quite subtle, so I think it’s best to comment on their content, get them to reply, then try again, and all this makes it far more likely they will reply to your e-mail.

At the same time, you need to be able to figure out if all of this is worthwhile. Are these interactions generating traffic towards your blog?

To figure that out, practice keeping track of referrals from other sites for 30 days after you’ve started commenting on a particular blog.

One simple way to do this is to add another field to your spreadsheet to help you keep track of how many clicks you’ve received from a particular blog.

h. Focus on building real relationships, not numbers

Make friends, not followers. Comment, don’t just like posts and call it a day.

Human interaction is where it’s all at, and a like from some unknown username is not going to elicit much of a response, but a comment? A genuine one? That’s going to make a much, much better impression.

 

2. The first email interaction

After you’ve commented on their articles and were acknowledged (either in the form of likes and/or comment replies), it’s time to send your first email (and deploy that trojan horse.)

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

a. Get to (genuinely) know the other person

Most bloggers approach networking with obvious agendas and goals but fail to listen to the other party.

When you ask others about their goals and objectives, not only do you make a good impression, but you’ll be in a great position to know where your situation aligns with another person’s — this is where networking becomes most effective to both parties.

b. Know who you are and what you want

I get many emails every single day from folks who want me to promote their blogs, but they’re not sure why, what their blogs are even about, or if it is all worth it.

Besides the fact that they are just into taking, they also explicitly tell me that even if I were to offer them my help, it still might not be worth it.

So… why even e-mail me?

c. Focus on what you have to offer

This is the trick, and this is what this framework is based on.

Don’t write a thousand words on how much you appreciate their work, or how much them helping you is going to turbocharge your blog.

In the grand scheme of things, especially among popular bloggers, these things don’t matter that much. Yes, they may be decent people, but at the same time, it’s quite common for them to receive all sorts of requests.

You, however, are going to request something else: you are going to request for a chance to help.

That’s your trojan horse, that’s your way in.

It’s so simple a lot of people don’t think it works. But keep this in mind: any reluctance you have is the side-effect of this strange sort of social contract we have that prohibits us from offering value first.

At the same time, however, we deny our primordial psychological nature, that of reciprocity. Also, we tend to view positively someone who offers us value, simply because most people operate out of scarcity.

Don’t ruin your first email by making a demand, but rather offer value.

Pro-tipFriendly, free, and competent. These are three words you should always keep in mind when interacting with folks online. Try to be friendly and nice, do not impose, beg, threaten, or some other crazy stuff, and always show them that you are competent enough to be worth their time.

As an example, if you want to interview a popular blogger (or do a podcast episode with them), the trick is to focus on what you can offer them (exposure to a different audience, future opportunities, etc.) If you’re not sure whether this initial offer ads any real value to your target (the kind of value that is almost impossible to turn down), then you should try to come up with a better offer.

This is the trick: to offer something that is almost impossible to turn down with your initial email.

3. Subsequent interactions

After you’ve successfully deployed your trojan horse, you can begin to shift your focus towards requests that add more value to you.

The truth is that a trojan horse, once successfully deployed, will ensure that the other blogger will be far more likely to help you out.

4. Work on building a group

What’s better than interacting one-on-one with other bloggers in your niche?

When you interact with more of them at the same time.

Of course, you could build a community, or you could join the conversation on Twitter/Facebook groups, but the principle remains the same: get more social with more than one blogger at the same time, while also creating a support group that enables all of you to work towards a common goal (growing your audience, promoting a new product/service, etc.)


A few things to keep in mind as you go about networking, building relationships, and leveraging those relationships with the most popular bloggers within your niche:

  1. Your initial set of interactions have to be top-notch. Try your best to keep this 3 words in mind as you comment on other people’s content (friendly, free, and competent)
  2. Be as strategic as possible. A simple spreadsheet to keep track of your networking efforts (and their results) can do wonders and also keep you motivated.
  3. Your trojan horse has to be “an offer they can’t refuse.” Offer real value.
  4. Keep in mind that these bloggers receive hundreds of requests for help/promotion every month. Do your best to stand out from the crowd by operating out of a place of abundance, offering your help for free in order to attract their attention.

If you apply these concepts in your day-to-day networking efforts and are consistent about engaging other bloggers, you will soon be able to build a highly effective promotional network that will help you drastically grow your audience.


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