Michael Stelzner on How to Spot Trends

Are you an entrepreneur and want to predict the future? Do you want to figure out what trends are working in your business and what will not work?

In this article, Michael Stelzner, the founder of Social Media Examiner, explains how he could spot these trends. Before that, he was the number one white paper guide.

Michael Stelzner

So, how did he know that social media marketing and all the subtopics of social media marketing would become popular? How did he know what would happen in the future, that it would grow? So we could build the biggest conference, the biggest podcast, the biggest website, the biggest in every one of these categories.

And then how did he know that based on that, he would completely shift directions and move to things like NFTs? So how is he able to spot trends?

I have spent time with Michael Stelzner over the years, and he taught me this methodical process.

It doesn’t involve a magic eight-ball. It involves using data, looking at search engines in Google Analytics, and looking at attendee feedback to figure out the topics he will have and who will be on his podcast. And I want you to see how someone like Michael Stelzner approaches data so you can do the same thing in your industry.

Here are Michael Stelzner’s tips:

  1. Ask smart questions to the right audience.
  2. Segment those audiences, look at what they’re most interested in learning about, and let that develop the downstream objectives of what we’re doing.

It’s really just about asking people what they want to learn more about, with the hypothesis that some people want to pay more to learn and others will not want to pay more to learn.

So, analyze that data. That’s how you can map out what you’re going to do next.

  1. Interest doesn’t equate to intent.

A few years ago, Michael Stelzner did similar research and discovered that Facebook advertising seemed to be the standout item he would talk about in Social Media Marketing World. So, a Facebook Ad summit was a great success. But then he did a course on Becoming Well Known that wasn’t successful.

So how do you distinguish between when it will work and when it won’t?

Sometimes, you will interpret data the way you want to and ignore all the other data around you. That is, your own bias enters the interpretation. Or we may look for what we’re interested in, and when we find it, we conclude that the whole world is interested in it. And this is the mistake that people make.

As an analogy, it happens when you buy a car. Let’s say you buy a brand new Toyota Camry, and then all of a sudden, you notice everyone’s driving Camrys. Actually, those Camrys were always there; you just never noticed them before.

So in the case of this course, people were interested in the concepts but weren’t willing to pay money for it. And this is the part about entrepreneurship and marketing that is really important.

So when someone’s interested in learning about something, it doesn’t mean they’re going to buy it. So, many people are interested in the Web 3.0 strategy, but it doesn’t mean they’re willing to pay a dime to go to a conference to learn about it. It’s the curiosity phase.

The hardest thing in the world is to say I have a good-sized audience over here that’s interested in marketing and social, so I can quickly get the audience for Web 3.0, NFTs, DOWs, Crypto, and social tokens. But it’s not easy. First, it doesn’t matter how big your audience is. They may not give a crap about Web 3.0 or the other stuff yet.

This is the entrepreneurial’s dilemma. Just because you are successful in one area does not automatically mean you will succeed in another. You have to work on it. You have to be known for it.

  1. Next, create content about the things they’re interested in.

Then, capture a sub-segment of that audience as a subscriber –  email subscriber, YouTube subscriber, podcast subscriber, and so on, and then the hope is that they return to the well and keep feeding at the content. Then advertise something that you think would be interesting to them, knowing full well that it’s like a funnel.

Create ‘How to’ content. How do I make an Instagram real? How do I do shorts, YouTube shorts? Look for launches of new technical innovations and create such content around them for each sub-segment of the audience.

They sample your work, say it’s great, and hopefully, they subscribe and want more of it. It’s that simple.

But, again,  having a big audience doesn’t equal purchase intent. So the hardest thing in the world is researching and figuring out what they’re interested in buying.

That’s why the Becoming Well Known product did not sell very well. If it had been free or priced at $50 instead of $2,000, it would’ve sold like crazy.

  1. Make all your content freely available.

When you sell information, you’re crafting it into a course that is a structured way of sharing information.

You can only teach so much in a 15-minute video, a 45-minute podcast interview, or an article.

People want to get their taste buds percolated. It’s like a free sample at the restaurant. But they know they can have a really good meal if they sit down with the chef.

So, if they come to your conference or subscribe to courses, they will have deeper training and community; that’s what people are willing to pay for.

The truth is that you can find everything you want for free on YouTube and Google. However, people are willing to pay for structure, guidance, and handholding.

  1. Stay with the long form and figure out how to use the short form to get the audience to the long form

Short-form content is simply the person with the sign on the intersection when you turn into your neighborhood every week saying there’s a house for sale or a restaurant that sells pizza., but that’s never going to teach them anything. They are like teasers or movie trailers, but you still need the movie.

One of my mentors was the CEO of American Airlines, and back when the internet became a thing in 1997, he told me to build a website for American Airlines. So, I asked him when people would be meeting online, have phone calls and 1-800-CONFERENCE call.com, and all that, would that not reduce the number of passengers flying. And he said, No. The more connection, the more people actually want to meet, and the more people want to see the Eiffel Tower instead of just looking at a picture.

I’ve met many people online through social media marketing, in the Facebook group, and I want to meet them in person.

People want depth and authenticity. Depth would be like a 2000-word article, a 30-minute video, or a 45-minute podcast.

Nowadays, we are being fed all day long with crazy fishing videos, construction accidents, and what not. But unfortunately, though they are fascinating, you’re not learning a damn thing.

The Be Real Platform from France is where once a day, they ping you. You have two minutes to take a picture of where you are, and it takes the front and back pictures.

This is the antithesis of Instagram. Instagram just came out with a feature that models Be Real because they realized that Instagram was all about making up stuff. But with Be Real, it’s just real.

So we’re moving back towards an era where people want authenticity and to see the real stuff, which means more long-form content, live video, interviews, and more realness.

  1. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Today, you’re putting content out there in arguably the most competitive environment where YouTube channels and social media experts are putting all that stuff for free. However, to convert some of those to subscriptions for a course or conference, your audience needs to understand that while they may be interested in learning something new, there is no easy button. It involves a lot of work.  

As an entrepreneur, you try stuff. If it doesn’t work, you try other stuff. Eventually, you hit a couple of home runs.

But if you venture with data and insights, the likelihood of it being successful is greater.

  1. Experiment. The key word is experiment, meaning it could fail.

Michael Stelzner was the most well-known in the world on the subject of White Papers. He had written a book called Writing White Papers. So he took the funds from that business and started an experiment called Social Media Examiner, giving it 90 days. He just started this little blog in 2009 without even monetizing it. Then, all of a sudden, he got 10,000 subscribers. He started doing some online summits, and it took off. He had made more money and interest than I’d ever had before.

A year later, he shut the old business down and went all out on social marketing. But he went there only after proving the model.

Sometimes, the experiment could have an unexpected outcome. For example, a year ago, the Clubhouse Room was extremely popular. It started a new thing, social audio, which is like talk shows.

However, when the world opened up, we suddenly returned to our old patterns. But what ended up happening was Twitter Spaces emerged from it.

And what you may not know is Twitter Spaces is the primary way people in the Web 3.0 space communicate. It’s the primary way people who have NFT projects, metaverse projects, and social tokens meet; it’s the space they go to have real, true engagement all the time, almost nonstop.

So that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Clubhouse.

  1. Take your data and also look at related macro data.

This is where search queries on Google are really valuable. You can use Google Trends to look at what the trajectory is. This is also when you want to look for things that are harder to measure. For example, are many people who used to be in this industry switching to another?

Brian Fanzo is a great example. Joe Polisi is another example, Mark Saffer, to a lesser extent. So you start seeing these people decide to get into this space. They see what I see. So this is a bit of confirmation.

But then you look at the Gartner hype curve. All innovations go through a peak of inflated expectations, which is where we were with NFTs last October. And then, it goes into the trough of disillusionment. Those that make it through this phase can survive the long trajectory ahead.

Web 3.0 and NFTs may make it through.

Dennis Yu

About the Author

Dennis Yu
Dennis Yu is co-author of the #1 best-selling book on Amazon in social media, The Definitive Guide to TikTok Ads.  He has spent a billion dollars on Facebook ads across his agencies and agencies he advises. Mr. Yu is the "million jobs" guy-- on a mission to create one million jobs via hands-on social media training, partnering with universities and professional organizations.

You can find him quoted in major publications and on television such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, and LA Times. Clients have included Nike, Red Bull, the Golden State Warriors, Ashley Furniture, Quiznos-- down to local service businesses like real estate agents and dentists. He's spoken at over 750 conferences in 20 countries, having flown over 6 million miles in the last 30 years to train up young adults and business owners. He speaks for free as long as the organization believes in the job-creation mission and covers business class travel.

You can find him hiking tall mountains, eating chicken wings, and taking Kaqun oxygen baths-- likely in a city near you.