I’m gonna let you in on a little secret.

At e27, we love getting you published. We celebrate it every time we post and share a story that a valued member of the community has submitted.

In fact, it’s part of our core values. If you can check out our mission-vision statement, it’s right up there:

To empower entrepreneurs with the tools to build and grow their companies.

We love it so much that we have published almost 2,000 guest contributions since 2017 — not counting articles not tagged under the “e27 Community” category.

But why, you may ask?

e27 is basically a platform that you can use to your advantage. We have our offline Academy, the events page, our startup and founder databases, as well as our investor network, our jobs board, our news and editorials, our content partnerships, and more.

Most of that is managed by my colleagues, but it is my job to manage community submissions as contributions editor.

If you’re wondering what’s so valuable about the Contributor Programme, here’s what you get as a published e27 contributor:

  • Reach across our audience of entrepreneurs, founders, investors, and other community stakeholders through various channels (web, mobile, social);
  • A voice as a thought leader;
  • Syndication across high-value sites like Yahoo!
  • Potentially good SEO from a quality website with great linkages to startups, corporates, and other such institutions.
  • That warm, fuzzy feeling that you have helped a fellow member of the Southeast Asia startup community with your sage words of advice.

Also read: The definitive guide to validating your startup idea

Now these advantages — except perhaps the warm, fuzzy feeling part — are also the reason why any publication with a contributor programme can be susceptible to being taken advantage of. It’s a given that we receive tonnes of both manual and automated spam, with article submissions in topics ranging from the mundane to interesting to the downright sensational.

  • Web development company in Bangalore? Maybe.
  • Water filters in Dubai? No, thanks.
  • Escort services in Hyderabad? Seriously? (Yes, we get these fairly often).

These are just some examples of potentially irrelevant and spammy submissions we receive on a daily basis. Of course, many of these get promptly archived, hopefully never again to see the light of day. But every once in a while, we also get submissions that are marketing or PR-driven, and some that obviously have commercial interest in them.

It’s one thing to hire a PR company to pitch ideas, products, and even content, in the aim of getting media mileage. It’s another thing to blatantly disrespect a capable editorial team by sneaking in SEO-driven links in poorly-written, non-relevant articles that are out-of-place, anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. We love content partnerships as much as the next tech publication. But what we don’t agree with is when a submission tries to sneak in a few links and keywords with the obvious intent to gain SEO value without giving something relevant in return.

With content partnerships, we carefully work with clients in crafting and building relevant articles that are both helpful to the community, and which help our partners gain hearts and eyeballs.

So what’s the deal, then?

I’ve actually worked on a few contributions that may or may not have some commercial interest in them. We would be naive to think that all contributed articles are organically-driven by the need for warm fuzzies. Of course some authors may have ulterior motives — whether it’s to gain exposure for their brand or product, or to perhaps get paid by some brands or products to do inbound or influencer marketing.

After all, no such thing as free lunch, right?

In many cases, we have had to turn down obviously promotional or spammy material.

In other cases, we have let a few of these articles through. That’s why I wrote “maybe” above to a pitch for a “web development company”. I mean maybe they’re a startup or they do indeed cater to startups that need to outsource technical expertise. Maybe the author does have something relevant to offer, but perhaps needed to tone down the promotional aspect a bit.

There is a stark difference between those that we’ve let through and those we’ve relegated to obscurity. In short, those that do get published are the ones that give value.

So this article serves to give advice to brand managers, PR companies, marketers, or even startup founders who want to get some free media leverage in exchange for content.

1. Provide value to the community

We are a platform after all, and we provide tools for you to use to gain exposure. But this platform is also being read by a community of hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs. They want something that adds value. They want practical advice, forward-thinking opinions, and thought-provoking ideas.

We generally prefer to stay away from generic content that’s obviously written by content farms (trust me, I know it when I see it, having operated a content farm startup before). Our audience is not stupid. The audience knows a thing or two about technology and entrepreneurship. Thus, they do not need 1,000 words of fluff that does nothing but state the obvious.

Go ahead, you can do a little plug for your product, event, or team. But our readers want something valuable in return — your great ideas, your stories, your experiences.

It goes without saying that you will need to give something relevant to the audience. We are a startup publication, after all. We have, on occasion, focused on other topics, such as Blockchain, crypto, fintech, AI, IoT, VR, AR, HR, (insert acronym here), but that’s because those are the themes that the community has been buzzing about at the time. If you want to talk about something off-topic, better have a good angle that will tie it up with the startup ecosystem. Or, it better be truly thought-provoking and innovative.

Also read: e27 is a platform for exchanging ideas, here is a quick guide to contribute an article for the community

2. Establish good relationships

A colleague once asked me what makes a startup tick with editorial teams. I told him rapport was important. Editorial teams get a ton of PR material on a daily basis. We have to sift through a lot of PR-speak from people reaching out to us, wanting to touch base about their latest disruptive product. We cannot always circle back to leverage the potentially low-hanging fruit that their principals are sharing.

We want actual interactions.

As a Contributions Editor, the easiest articles to publish are those submitted by regular or long-time contributors. Sometimes I get pings on Messenger, WhatsApp, email or even text when someone has sent in an article. If it’s from someone I know, I tend to prioritise it, because of our relationship, and also because of their good track record.

This does not only go for contributions, but also our news channels.

And, by establishing relationships, I do not only refer to the e27 Content Team, but also with the rest of the ecosystem, as well. Many of our good contributions get good traction on our social channels, which gets you good discussions and potential connections.

3. Find the right timing

When I was younger — more than a decade and a half ago — I got reprimanded by a colleague for emailing in the middle of the night, outside of business hours. I thought that since it was email, the recipient would receive it once they opened their inbox at the start of business hours the next day.

It turns out that my colleague had a point. It was not only inconsiderate (what if they had notifications turned on, and it disturbed them during dinner time or while in bed?). It was also ineffective.

As a night-owl, I tend to check my inboxes at night, when everything is quiet. But other than that, some messages received in the middle of the night might get buried under a ton of other emails received in the morning.

Or, the sender might have to wait hours before a good reply. It’s the same when I’m on the road. I might just click on an automated reply, but then forget to address the message later on.

What I’m saying is to be considerate of the recipient’s timing. I know it’s a  globalised business environment we live in, and we have different time zones. But we mostly work across Asia, where a few hours time zone difference is not a big deal. So if I receive a contribution or email at 3 AM, and I get another juicier, more interesting submission at 10 AM just when work starts, then I might tend to prioritise the timelier one — that’s unless we’ve worked together before and we have good rapport (see #2).

Also read: e27 Academy gives you the personalised advice you need to build your startup

The point being …

In a perfect world, contributor programmes would be self-publishing, and no one would need editors to triage, vet, proofread, format, and publish contributions. But it’s not a perfect world, and user-generated platforms are prone to abuse.

I should know a thing or two about content marketing — I’ve done inbound marketing myself, and I had ghost-written dozens of articles that have been published on major tech sites. That’s how I learned the fine art of marketing an idea or brand without being pushy. The key: good relationships, providing value to the audience, and writing stellar content that’s readable, interesting, and actually very useful.

True, we want to “empower entrepreneurs with the tools to build and grow their companies”, but that doesn’t mean we can be taken advantage of.

Come on, with the Contributor Programme, we’re offering you something for free. But that means you need to give our audience something in return, too (and play nice while you’re at it). Otherwise, I’d be glad to refer you to our revenue team for paid content partnerships.

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The author is contributions editor at e27.

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash