Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the past few years, you know that social media and social marketing are now the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread. Whether you want to become famous, sell a million units of some product or service, or simply change the world, you can’t do it these days without spending countless hours diddling with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Ning, and all the rest.
Content Rules brings much of this same message, but it does so in a fast, simple, straightforward way and then moves on to more valuable nuts-and-bolts discussions of what to do because of our present situation, and how to do it. This comprehensive practicum makes Content Rules a lot more valuable for the would-be successful social media practitioner than most of the other exhortations to excellence now floating around in the ideas marketplace.
From its upbeat promotion of confidence (“anyone can begin producing great stuff”) to its 11 rules that help set you on the right path, Content Rules tries hard to eschew—or at least limit—its exposition of theory in favor of detailing successful practice.
In the well-organized chapters, you’ll find a good deal of what you need to make a favorable impression using today’s social media, including:
• An overall method for purveying content in ways that will garner the most attention
• Tips on “content curation,” or the organizing of other people’s content to suit your own purposes
• A plan for blogging effectively
• Suggestions for creating and disseminating webinars, the new name for online training experiences
• Ideas on developing relevant and persuasive case studies
• Tips for crafting FAQ materials that will win friends for your brand and influence people
• Guidelines on making and posting captivating videos
• An interesting set of actual case studies, complete with explicitly laid out “ideas you can steal”
And there’s more.
Handley and Chapman are big on “repurposing” content, which means starting with larger works like white papers and ebooks and chopping them into smaller ones like blog entries and newsletter articles, as well as going the other way, building smaller works into large ones. The purpose of all this: not only to fill all available communications channels with unified content, but to squeeze greater mileage from every idea and action you muster as you think, write, and work with social media.
Along about page 97, the authors offer a wonderful metaphor: the “content campfire.” Like a literal outdoor campfire that attracts and comforts people while facilitating socialization, your metaphorical campfire—consisting primarily of your killer content—should provide a comfortable online destination where people are more likely to gather, linger, and absorb the information you make available for them there.
There are also tips and ideas on listening—to colleagues, clients, customers, experts, and others—a behavior which today in many circles receives relatively short shrift, but which in social media is almost always among the most important steps you can take.
Among the few flaws in these pages is the paucity of reminders that creating good content is hard work—not surprising and perfectly understandable in a book of this sort; after all you don’t find many diet books telling readers about the implacable difficulties of losing weight. But creating good content, of course, is the major hurdle that will prevent the vast majority of those who work their way through this book from earning the rewards so abundantly in evidence in the book’s plentiful case histories.
Just as there are differences between a Van Gogh or a Renoir masterpiece and a completed paint-by-numbers canvas, there will be differences between the sublime offerings created by the most inspired or gifted content creators among us and the copy-cat materials served up by the average Joe or Jane who follows the directions in this book. That’s not the fault of Content Rules, but it’s an undeniable fact.
There are some other weaknesses in this book. Try as they might, Handley and Chapman cannot teach the average reader to write great headlines, even though they deem such story toppers to be critically important in the creation of effective content.
Though they offer storytelling as the primary answer to the question of how to create compelling content, the authors are equally unable to impart enough wisdom to make great yarn-spinners of most people who study their discussion of the elements of a good story.
In both cases, too much remains unsaid, and too much detail must be filled in by the creativity and personal judgment of the reader, which obviously vary immensely from one person to another.
However, none of these deficiencies is fatal to the value of the book. To be sure, maybe no one can teach the craft of headline writing or storytelling. These are gifts given to some, and the rest of us just muddle through as best we can.
One nice element in this carefully structured treatise on content creation is the honest admission that you can’t make your content go viral. “. . . the truth is,” say the authors on page 113, “that viral [success] is a largely happy accident.” But this gloomy realization doesn’t dampen the spirits of Handley and Chapman, nor does it deter them from providing a wide range of tools and techniques to help content creators “nudge, poke, and pray” for viral success, just the same.
So Content Rules does not remove the work involved in killer content creation, nor does it eliminate the uncertainty of success or the benefits of talent in determining the quality of the final output. But it does compile in one place nearly everything one needs to consider in order to put one’s best foot forward in the online world of social media, and particularly in social media marketing.
Many readers will want to keep it near their desk as a handy bible of what to do before, during, and after their every attempt at blogging, posting, tweeting, and whatever other efforts they make to build their brand in the world of social media.