Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the author, with C.C. Chapman, of the brand-spanking-new and bestselling Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Wiley, 2011). She is a former journalist for the Boston Globe and a 12-year veteran of creating and managing digital content in the B2B space.
Q: Why is it so difficult for companies to understand that content is king?
A: Is it really difficult for them to understand? Perhaps for some, but most companies I talk to understand that if they have any kind of online presence—even a website—they have to be producing relevant, compelling content to attract people to them. A static, “brochure” website just doesn’t cut it anymore, which means that increasingly businesses are publishers as well as being in the business of whatever they are in the business of… selling software, or shovels, or what have you.
It seems to me that companies understand the Why of content pretty well, but they have a harder time grokking the How: How do I produce great stuff that meets the needs of my customers? How do I speak to them honestly and directly? What do I say? Why doesn’t my blog have any comments? And so on. The How is hard work.
Q: How do you convince your boss that content is the key to successful social media marketing?
A: Having a social media marketing strategy before you have a content strategy is a little like opening a store before the shelves are stocked. You have to know who you are, and what you want to say, before you can say it. You have to give people something to talk about, to react to, to share with each other. Social media is a great place to stoke a campfire, to get people talking to you and about you with each other. A campfire can only really roar when you regularly add kindling and logs to it. That kindling and logs are your content.
If that’s too loosey-goosey a metaphor to share with the C-suite, show your boss some cold, hard, irrefutable numbers: Almost 90 percent of B2B companies are already using content as part of their marketing strategy, according to research MarketingProfs conducted last spring with Junta42. Why? Because it works: Companies that blog have, on average, 55 percent more website visitors than companies that don’t, according to Hubspot.
Q: If Strunk and White were alive today, how would they revise The Elements of Style for digital content?
A: Wow, I’d be thrilled if E.B. White were alive today, as he’s kind of a hero of mine! So many of the concepts he and his former Cornell professor (William Strunk) lay out in The Elements of Style -- with their emphasis on clarity, brevity, simplicity and honesty -- have direct relevance for the way we should be communicating today. The only revision might be that they would need to embrace a more conversational, loose style. White wasn’t a fan of breezy writing, but we live in a breezier world. Also, White didn’t have much respect for marketing or business writing generally. I like to think something like Content Rules might help him evolve his thinking!
Q: What are the elements of the perfect tweet?
A: I’m not sure there is a single perfect tweet, but that said, a good tweet is like a good headline. It has a point of view, communicates something of value, and compels the reader forward, because it hints at something more.
Q: The perfect blog post?
A: The inherent tension in marketing is that companies want to talk about their products or services, but your audience only wants to hear what your products or services will do for them. That’s a subtle, but huge, thing: The perfect blog post keeps that idea squarely in mind. It’s written to meet the needs of the readers: to share or solve, not shill. In other words, share a resource, solve a problem, meet the needs and shoulder the burdens of your reader… don’t shill your own stuff. Also, it’s fun to occasionally surprise your audience with an offbeat or unexpected post, just to keep things interesting…
Q: The perfect Facebook update?
A: Remember that campfire metaphor I talked about earlier? The perfect Facebook update keeps that metaphor in mind: It tosses something on the fire that solicits the stories and feedback of your customers or fans, and gets them talking to each other -- not just to you.
Q: What is your SEO strategy?
A: My strategy is to consistently produce good-quality content that helps me rank higher than former Connecticut State Senator Mary Ann Handley (D) in Google. She recently retired, so that’s helped me dominate page one of the search results. She’s now relegated to page two in Google. (Score!!)
Q: If you had headcount for only an SEO expert or a writer, who would you hire?
A: A content creator, no question about it. Why? Great content will help your business rank in search, but an optimized site without compelling content doesn’t further engagement with actual people once Google pulls them in.
Q: Why does your book have so many ordered and unordered lists?
A: I like lists because they simplify complexities and order my own world. I tend to think in lists and objectives to create order out of chaos. As for why some are ordered and some aren’t: The answer is kind of boring… but it’s because some (the ordered ones) are steps to a specific issue or problem, and some (the unordered ones) are just big fat lists of ideas.
Q: If you could have only one tool to generate content, would it be a video camera, still camera, voice recorder, or laptop?
A: A laptop. I’m a writer, so I’m not nearly as compelling a content creator in video, or photos, or audio. Plus, of course, most laptops can function as a video camera, still camera, audio recorder… right? So that’s an easy answer. I’d actually be happiest of all with a Moleskin and a Sharpie, though, because those are my two favorites tools for creating content—ranking above any digital tool.
Q: Why won’t your sales team let me use your e-mail list to promote Enchantment?
A: I just love you. But the truth is, because it’s not mine… it belongs to MarketingProfs.
If you’re interested in the importance of content and practical ways to improve your content, be sure to read Ann and CC’s book. Maybe if enough of you do this, Ann will convince her sales team to promote Enchantment for me.