The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.

This summer, I started writing a book called The Rule of Thumbs. Named after a blog post that I wrote ten months ago, the book covers the research that I’ve been conducting since I wrote Read This First.

While writing, I came across an amazing success story that demonstrated some of the book’s most important principles. The story involves a young musician by the name of Julia Nunes, who used social media to raise $78,000 US in thirty days–for her yet-to-be-recorded CD!

The story demonstrated so many of the book’s concepts that I wanted to release a case study immediately. The result is the following e-book: The Rule of Thumbs.

Please feel free to download a copy in your favorite electronic format: PDF, Kindle, iPad, or EPUB. The e-book is free and requires no annoying sign-up shenanigans.

Please let me know what you think of it!

Crab boatRecently, I’ve found myself hooked on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, the reality television show that features fishing crews working the Bering Sea to find Alaska King crab. While enjoying my new-found vice, I’m struck by the parallels between crab fishing and the business of creating online content.

Crab boat captains are responsible for catching their legal quota of crab within a small window of time. Through the use of sophisticated GPS technology, experience, superstition and a little luck, captains decide where to drop their crab pots–800 pound steel and mesh baited crab-traps. Sometimes, they’ll “set a string” of over one hundred pots, which will lie on the ocean floor awaiting crabs to crawl into them. After several hours “soaking,” the pots are retrieved and the crabs are harvested.

The first pot in a string is an indicator of what the rest will contain. That’s when the producers of the show capture the most dramatic moments, because the first pot sets the morale of the entire crew. Sometimes it’s full of crab. Other times it isn’t. Low crab-counts mean longer times out at sea, and longer times at sea means both increased danger and lower prices at the dock.

*  *  *

Many similarities exist between crab fishing and creating compelling content for our companies. As corporate storytellers, our goal is to create content that attracts audiences in the form of prospects and customers. Sometimes prospects and customers flock to our content. At other times, we pull-up our own empty pots.  When audiences don’t resonate with the content that we’ve spent so much time creating, our morale may wane. We question our actions, defend them to upper management, and question whether or not we’re doing the right thing.

It’s at times like these that we need to learn from the fishing crews of the Cornelia Marie, Northwestern, Time Bandit, Seabrooke, Ramblin’ Rose, Wizard, and Kodiak. Just because one particular blog post, podcast episode, or video piece doesn’t gather the audience that we expected, we can’t stop fishing. Just as crab boat crews re-bait and return empty pots to the ocean floor, we must continue to punch those keyboards, speak into those microphones, and look into those video cameras. Just as the crab boat captains learn from each set-and-retrieve cycle, so must we. With each piece of content, whether it is popular or not, our job is to learn something that we can apply to the next story.

The creation of serial content is hard work. Sometimes it draws prospects and customers to us, and sometimes it doesn’t. The trick is to keep on fishin’. Without doing so, we’ll never meet our quotas.

Photo Credit: Slightlynorth

Had someone told me at the beginning of the month that I’d be flying to Minneapolis to co-present an all-day session at the Confab Conference, I would have laughed. But that’s exactly what happened when Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs) called to see if I could pinch-hit for her Content Rules co-author, C.C. Chapman, who wouldn’t be able to co-present with her due to emergency surgery.

And so, last Wednesday I found myself standing next to Ann before sixty content creators, who were all there to participate in: “Content Rules: How to Create Content People Really Care About.” I was very excited to speak to this group for one simple reason: they already know the value of content. Unlike traditional marketers who see content creation as a threat to their jobs, or old school PR folks who see it as a threat to their cushy monthly retainers, the corporate storytellers in front of us represented the new guard of this digital communications era.

At the beginning of the session, Ann asked everyone to jot down three things that they each wanted to learn. We collected 117 questions from 48 participants.

The figure to the left represents the seven categories that we divided them into. Almost sixty percent (60%) of the questions fell into two categories: Finding and Telling Stories and Executive Education. The largest vote-getter wasn’t much of a surprise considering the name of the presentation and the audience. The second one, however, was. No matter how much we in the social media fishbowl pontificate about how far we’ve gotten with “social media,” we still have a long way to go. The fact that “managing up” is the second-largest concern for those tasked with creating corporate content proves that we haven’t yet made a dent in the problem.

For example, here are some of the Executive Education questions:

  • How to get an organization to see content as an opportunity (exciting!) rather than a burden?
  • How to get execs to respect content development as a skill (and non-execs too)?
  • How to develop organizational discipline around writing i.e. get everyone onboard with starting with the story.
  • Focus execs so they/we can prioritize which story to tell

I love the last one. You know that things have changed when the creatives are trying to get the executives to focus!

Thirty percent (30%) of the questions revolved around Content Strategy and Best Practices — again, not surprising considering we were at a Content Strategy conference. However, the next two categories, which accounted for twenty-five percent (25%) of the questions, identified a need to connect stories to business and to find ways to balance voice and the corporate brand.

Some of those questions included:

  • How do you use those stories to help make sales goals?
  • How to tell a brand’s stories without being too salesy–but still achieve business objective.
  • How do you balance the goal of making the voice of your content informal/accessible with the goal of making the “voice” professional quality?
  • How do you keep your brand story consistent and powerful across multiple content creators? Over time?
  • We want to do more video content but our brand manager wants it to look “perfect.” What’s your take on this?Does video need to look super duper professional?
  • Practical ways to convert brand messages into engaging, compelling content.

These are the questions that companies contemplating new media self-publishing must ask. They form the conversation-starters for serious discussions around water coolers, in break rooms, meeting rooms, cubicles, and on all rows mahogany.

Over the next couple of months, I’ll draw blog posts from some of these questions/categories. Are there any that you want me to prioritize?