Originality and Identity in the Awfully Big World of Content

Published February 7, 2012 by jcrosland

"Who am I? And where am I going?"

If you plan on getting involved in social media any time soon (and you probably already have…Facebook, anyone?), then you should pick up a copy of Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman’s Content Rules. This book provides readers with a stylish and informative run-down of all things social media. This includes how to create:

  • Killer blogs
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Ebooks
  • Webinars
  • And more…

These are designed to “engage customers and ignite your business” (no guarantees). Upon first glance, the book is a bore-fest. Unless you’re a communications studies major fresh outta college looking for ways to make it big (monetary or attention-wise) on the wide ol’ Net, Rules reads a lot like a how-to manual disguised in an informal writing style. It’s educational, and the footnotes can be humorous, but it’s simply not this English major’s cup of tea.

Having said that, I’d like to point out a few good, err, points that Handley and Chapman make in chapters three and four titled “Insight Inspires Originality” and “Who Are You?” respectively.

*gasp* Shame on you, Marvel Animation! -_-

How to NOT Be Like Marvel Animation (see above image)

Chapter three is titled “Insight Inspires Originality” for a reason. Handley and Chapman lay down some ground rules and advice on how to make your content (whatever it may be) stand apart from your competition. After all, who wants second place?

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Whom are you trying to reach?
  2. Where do they spend their time online?
  3. How do they access the Web?
  4. What are they craving?
  5. What do you want them to do?
  6. What content do you already have?
If you can’t answer numbers one and two, then you should probably get off the Internet and start brainstorming. I feel that number three is an interesting question. How people access the Internet alters their perception of any given content. For example, cell phone Internet access can be limited based upon the make and model of a phone. My poor, sluggish, and outdated Rumor Touch can’t process videos or photos very well (if, at all). Thus I am cut off from the niche that CAN watch YouTube videos or comment on a person’s Facebook picture. Thus, I’m less apt to acquire content on the fly, being restricted to using more traditional methods of viewing content (meaning the laptop/PC/Mac/C64 if it’s modded).
Furthermore, people who are a part of said-niche are able to respond to content quicker, thus allowing for a greater volume of information sharing. Additionally, a social media pro can upload content on the go. Content has entered a new age. No more turning pages and looking at billboards for us.

Four is exceptionally important. If you don’t know what the people want, then how can you possibly begin to cater to their needs? Guesswork has long-since been a thing of the past. With social media sites like Twitter, it’s impossible to not know what people are thinking and feeling. You shouldn’t waste your time uploading content in a format that doesn’t resonate with a given audience. Do some research, experiment, and see what works best for both you AND your audience.

If you’ve done a good job, then your success will be based upon whether or not you’ve managed to:

  • Generate at least 100 mentions of [a] product online
  • Having more than 10,000 views of [a] video across all sharing platforms
  • Having 10 bloggers write positive posts about [fill in the blank]

Handley and Chapman distinguish these goals, which are quantifiable, from non-quantifiable goals. These include:

  • Generating a lot of buzz and conversation online
  • Having [a] video go viral
  • A-list influencers or Web celebrities talking about [fill in the blank] in positive ways

Now, unless you’re a business owner or employee concerned about number crunching, then the non-quantifiable goals sound pretty good. Well, they sound good to me. After all, star endorsement and video viral status are good ways to draw attention toward your content/product. It’s even better  when said-publicity and viral status earns you money-making deals down the road.  The end of the chapter wraps up with methods of measuring success by content type (i.e. blogs, photos/videos). Certain content types operate differently. For example, the success measuring stick for blogs entails the number of subscribers, inbound links (ahoy!), comments, and the presence of social validation (ex. Blah-Blah liked [your page] on Facebook). By contrast, ebooks have only the number of downloads as a means to judge content popularity.

Moving on!


Who are you? What are you? Are you a human? A robot? Trustworthy? Deceitful? Funny? Morose? Stiff? Boring? A slacker? A thinker?

People want to know who you are. They want to see that spark of originality shine through the content you upload. This is a difficult aspect of social media. Standing out in a coded sea of what could be billions is nigh-impossible…unless you bring something new to the table. Here’s what Handley and Chapman have to say:

  • Be human
  • Lighten up
  • Be appropriate for your audiences 
  • Build on your own brand
  • Differentiate from the pack of bland
  • Know who you’re talking to…and how to talk to them
  • Take a stand
  • Your voice should be authentic

Blah-blah-blah blabbity-blah.

“Be human” is a biggie for me. Too many times have I sat in a class, behemoth textbook opened before me, befuddled by the mysterious words scrawled upon its stark white sheets because, simply put, it was too complicated to understand. Now, I’m no dummy. Four years on the Dean’s List and two honors societies under my figurative belt prove my intelligence. However, college-level texts are, and forever shall remain, a challenge to my 80’s pop culture trivia-addled brain. Why must authors use such big words when smaller, more well-known ones are available.

*sigh* But, I digress.

Point three is definitely important. Always remember your audience. It would be disastrous to post racy content without a warning, especially when your site is frequented by minors and the impressionable. Likewise, you shouldn’t post something that will clash with the moral fiber of your audience. Shy away from controversy UNLESS that is your intent, I believe.

“Take a stand” is also an important point. Dare to be different. Defend your content. If someone doesn’t like it, then question them. See what can be changed to suit their needs, but only follow through with such if you’re prepared to compromise. Otherwise, never settle, and don’t sell out on your values. This is, after all, your content.

Buy the book here at amazon.com!


One comment on “Originality and Identity in the Awfully Big World of Content

  • Haha even though the book may be boring for a more literary person such as yourself, it IS easy to read right?
    Great insight. I wish I could print this out and give it to everyone who reads this book as a great summary. You should consider book reviewing!
    Also, good point about the mobile devices. Many businesses forget that in this day and age people need to convert their content to be mobile friendly, so you are not reading thousands of tiny words on a screen.
    Nice job.

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