Content Creation Expert Interview with Ann Handley

April 20th, 2011 • By:  • Expert Interviews

Expert Interviews

This week, just following our fearless leader Arnie Kuenn’s webinar “How to Beat the Competition After the Google Update” and an enthralling discussion on the importance of content for today’s businesses I had the great pleasure of speaking with one of my personal favorite content experts Ann Handley. If you aren’t yet familiar with her she is chief content officer of MarketingProfs and co-author, with C.C. Chapman, of Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business which is great read.

Elise Redlin-Cook: In one of your previous articles “Five B2BTrends in Content Social Media in 2011” you wrote that “Serving is the new selling and support is the new marketing” can you elaborate on this concept for our readers, please?

Ann Handley: Sure! Said another way, Share or solve, don’t shill.

The inherent tension in marketing is that businesses always want to talk about their products or services. Meanwhile, your customers only want to hear what your products or services will do for them. That seems like a simple idea, right? A no-brainer? Except most businesses are terrible at really grokking what that means: Share a resource or solve a problem for your customers, help them do their jobs better; don’t just talk about your stuff.

In other words, Click to Tweet this Quotegood content doesn’t try to sell. Rather, it creates value for your customers (or would-be customers) by positioning you as a reliable and valuable source of information. As we say in the book, “Your content shares a resource, solves a problem, helps your customers do their jobs better, improves their lives, or makes them smarter, wittier, better-looking, taller, better-networked, cooler, more enlightened, and with better backhands, tighter asses, and cuter kids. In other words, it’s high value to your customers, in whatever way resonates best with them.”

American Express does this really well with its OPEN Forum (openforum.com) website. OPEN Forum is a resource for small business owners, and the articles and videos and ideas there transcend American Express specifically. But it positions AmEx as a trusted source. American Express sees the value of putting Content and Context before Shilling and Selling.

So does Citrix: It’s Workshifting.com blog is a place where “workshifters,” or people who work outside of a traditional offices, can share ideas and just hang out. Citrix sells technology, but its content creates a resource and shares ideas with people who work in their jammies. It focuses on how people use the technology, right? Not the technology itself.

Elise: Often times when people say the word content they think text, or copy but what should they be thinking?

Ann: I know – as a writer and former journalist, text is my default, too.

But the truth is that content isn’t just text. It’s also photos, videos, webinars, audio, Slideshare presentations, your Twitter stream or curated headlines, puppet shows, and whatever else you can dream up. Here’s the bottom line: Content is anything you create or share that tells your story.

Elise: Great explanation–Thanks! So, I recently read your new book Content Rules and loved it! I thought that the examples that you gave of businesses that were doing it right were fantastic and really helped to get a good idea of great content marketing in action. Off the top of your head can you share one of your favorite examples of this?

Ann: First, thank you. I love hearing that – because there’s a lot of me in that book, so it’s personal to me and to C.C. Chapman, my co-author.

Secondly, there are so many stories in the book that I love – mostly because (for the most part) they aren’t your typical suspects. We all know the high-profile companies really rockin’ content – like Zappos, and Dell, and Southwest. But we wanted to showcase the stories of companies that are a little more under the radar – like the nonprofit PinkStinks in the UK who used a Facebook and blogging content strategy to get key department stores to rethink their toy departments, or Kodak, which has a tremendous way of encouraging employees across the company to contribute content to its blogs.

But probably my favorite story of all is how Indium is creating content about the key products it sells – specifically, solder paste. When I talk to B2B companies and they whine, “But our products aren’t interesting… we don’t have anything to talk about!”, I always point out that Indium is creating content around probably one of the most boring and un-sexy products imaginable: Indium is an inspiration to any B2B company who worries about its own content’s lack of appeal.

Elise: Perfect Example! I also found your 25 approaches to developing relevant content helpful since I’m often asked, “What do I talk about when I have nothing to say?” when it comes to content marketing. In this section you suggest to Curate the voices of many. What do you mean by that?

Ann: Right. Curation can take on many forms – but essentially it means collecting information from elsewhere and sharing it with your audience. Curating is another way to be a go-to resource for your audience.

The truth is that content isn’t just text … content is anything you create or share that tells your story.

But in the example you give, above, we suggest “curating” voices within your company. In other words, we suggest showcasing the people who make up your company to encourage people with a passion for creating content to do so on your behalf.

While I think Marketing should own the Content function at your company, all of your content creators don’t necessarily have to be from marketing. So encourage people from across the company; Kodak does this really well by creating a blogging template it offers to employees. (We also include a “Content Rules” version in the book.)

Sometimes, you’ll find that what staffers are doing might not be related to your business. But still there’s value in that. You might find – if you look around – people who are blogging about their passions, be it knitting, or running, or music, or animal rescue. I think it’s great to occasionally showcase the outside lives and passions of people as a way to humanize your company.

Elise: I know that you manage the @marketingprofs twitter account. Is it then, safe to assume that you think twitter is a great place to share content?

Ann: I just don’t manage it – I am it! (LOL)

I think Twitter is a great place to connect, period. So yes – I like sharing content there, but I also like just connecting with MarketingProfs reader or would-be readers, and just being social with folks I couldn’t otherwise reach. For me, it’s a great way to also listen – What are people talking about? What are they interested in? It’s an easy way to get real-time feedback. As an editor, that helps me do my job better.

Elise: That makes perfect sense. I also noticed that you manage this Twitter account much like you would a personal account, and some might not even realize on first glance that this is actually a business twitter account. Can you tell us more about why you’ve chosen to do it this way?

Ann: That pretty much happened by default, because I started on Twitter more than three years ago, well before my colleagues here at MarketingProfs (and before a lot of other people, too). At the time, it was purely experimental – mostly, I used it as a broadcast tool to share headlines.

Of course, over time – Twitter evolved, both as a platform generally as well as for me and for MarketingProfs. I found that I enjoyed talking to people there, and it started to grow into a larger presence. Now, I use it as a way to talk, listen, share, and so on… and yes, it’s my account.

That said, I think there’s a difference between personalized (which is what the MarketingProfs Twitter account is) and personal. I share my life to a point – but there are limits that exist because I am (after all) representing a business. And ultimately, the Twitter account is a MarketingProfs asset – it belongs to MarketingProfs, not Ann Handley. If my relationship with MarketingProfs changes (which is doubtful), then it belongs to the next Chief Content Officer (or whatever folks there decide).

One final point about Twitter (and social media generally): The way MarketingProfs uses its Twitter account is one approach – one of many. Click to Tweet this Quote I don’t think there’s a “right” approach to Twitter – you have to find what works for you and your company.

Elise: I couldn’t agree more! Thanks to Ann for sharing her fabulous insights on content and twitter! Do you agree or disagree?

Elise Redlin

Elise is the Content & Marketing Manager at Vertical Measures, an internet marketing company in sunny Arizona providing services ranging from content marketing, to social media marketing, link building, and advanced SEO. She’s fully immersed herself into the world of content marketing and content strategy and is the managing editor of this blog. +Elise Redlin

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