Face it, your life is governed by rules, written and unwritten. What influenced you when you got dressed for work this morning? Did you choose clothes based on a written uniform code or cultural norms? Did you brush your teeth this morning because you wanted to, or because it’d be unacceptable to have bad breath all day? Even the most basic things you do in life are influenced by some kind of rule.

The point is, rules help create structure so you can be more productive and think less. In fact, Charles Duhigg wrote a book, “The Power of Habit,” about rules - habits - we follow and how they form. In it he mentions that habits are so important because they reduce mental fatigue. Our brains are muscles, and the more we use them, the more tired we get and the less we are able to make good decisions.

With this in mind, here are two new rules, or rather ‘observations,’ that you should be using in your content marketing and making a habit of. The 8020 Rule and the Rule of Thirds.

8020 Rule

What is it?

The rule states that 80% of the content you put out should be educational and interesting to your audience, but non-promotional. 20% of your content should be promotional: linking back to your website, talking about your specials or deals, or promoting new content you’ve published.

The 80%

80% of the content you put out on social media should not talk about your brand or product at all. This content needs to be relevant to your industry, as well as provide interesting, educational information: i.e. instructions on how to do something, insights on how to view something, introductions to new perspectives, news on industry innovations, etc.

This 80% should consist of content that you vet and believe will be valuable to your audience. It should come from reputable sites, influencers, or competitors. Competitors you say?! Sam Milbrath (@sam_milbrath) of Hootsuite put it well:

“Why is sharing outsider content by other businesses or thought leaders so important? It shows your audience that you know the industry like the back of your hand, you’re collegial and aware of competition. It shows that you’re collaborative and confident enough in your own brand to share another’s content. It also doubles your exposure by connecting your content to their audience or online community. By sharing content from another business, even a competitor, you position your business as the industry’s finest, most well rounded content source.”1

The 20%

20% of your content can be promotional: boast about your blog posts, share links back to your website and offer deals and discounts. You need to share this type of content to boost your conversions. It’s great to be an information source on the industry and send people to great content, but if you do not also pepper in links to your site, you’re not going to be driving as much traffic or as many sales.

Why is it 8020?

The 8020 ratio can also be referred to as the Pareto Principle - it’s an observation that most things in life are not distributed evenly. “In 1906, Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian sociologist, mathematician and philosopher, discovered that 20% of the Italian population owned 80% of the land. And this proportion repeated in many other countries and many other daily life aspects, such as power distribution, material wealth, etc”2. For example:3

It does not always have to be 8020. It could be 8010 - 10% of input creates 80% of results - or even 9020 - 20% of input creates 90% of results.

In marketing, it’s been adopted as a best practice that 8020 is a good rule of thumb to follow. Some will say that 80% of your return comes from that 20% of promotional content. Or, you can look at it as just a balancing act: if you are always talking about yourself and saying how great you are, it turns people away. So limiting your self promotion and then providing valuable content in the meantime is the sweet spot. You want to draw people in for the content you share, and once they are hooked at what you provide, you have an audience for the promotional content that’s peppered in.

Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds states that your content should be broken up into three different types. Each type should appear ⅓ of the time:

Why is it the Rule of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds is best known in photography. It posits that images look more natural and balanced if the ‘point of interest’ of a photo is off center and lies along lines or intersections created by dividing an image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Rule of Thirds in Photography

Rule of Thirds

As we’ve seen with the 8020 rule, when principles are observed in several areas, people like to apply them to other areas. Neil Wilkins (@vipermarketing) puts it best:4

“The answer appears to lie in the content Rule of Thirds. This simple rule builds upon the theory that three is a fundamental prime number in nature, art and photography and is a rule of natural balance. As marketers seek to find the balance that convinces their customers that they are talking their language, the content Rule of Thirds provides a daily checkpoint in the delivery of a highly effective content strategy.”

Which Rule Should You Use?

There will be proponents who argue that one rule is better than the other - but it really depends on your audience. As mentioned with the 8020 rule, it does not necessarily have to be 8020. The entire point of this principle is that things are often not distributed evenly - especially within business. So perhaps, if you like the Pareto Principle, your ratio eventually becomes 6733 (essentially, the rule of thirds).

Whichever rule you follow, adding a personal element makes sense. Sam Milbrath put it well:

“Businesses… can learn a lot from personal social accounts. Engaging with your audience over personal interactions opens your business up and shows a vulnerable, more human side. This could mean sharing your customers’ stories, liking their comments or encouraging employees to be brand ambassadors online. In doing so, you’re not only acknowledging your audience, but building an engaged community.”1


1 http://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-rule-of-thirds/

2 http://www.business2community.com/content-marketing/80-20-rule-content-origins-apply-0855447

3 http://betterexplained.com/articles/understanding-the-pareto-principle-the-8020-rule/

4 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/rule-thirds-content-strategy-neil-wilkins

5 http://digital-photography-school.com/rule-of-thirds/

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