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 80⁄20 Rule and the Rule of Thirds.
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.
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
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.
The 80⁄20 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
20% of the input creates 80% of the result
20% of the workers produce 80% of the result
20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
It does not always have to be 80⁄20. It could be 80⁄10 - 10% of input creates 80% of results - or even 90⁄20 - 20% of input creates 90% of results.
In marketing, it’s been adopted as a best practice that 80⁄20 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.
The Rule of Thirds states that your content should be broken up into three different types. Each type should appear ⅓ of the time:
Promotion: ⅓ of your content should consist of sharing your content, promoting products (in relation to how they benefit a consumer) and sharing deals and discounts. This content draws people to your site and can result in conversions now, or at a later time.
Personal: ⅓ of your content should focus on showing the personal side of your brand. This makes your brand relatable and helps consumers realize they are dealing with real people. This can consist of directly conversing with customers online or directly sharing information about the team or office. The goal is to draw people in and see you as more than just a brand.
Sharing: ⅓ of your content should be content that is curated from other sources. This is the content that shows you are up-to-date with the industry. You should only share content that you have vetted and will be valuable to your audience. It should come from reputable sources, from influencers and perhaps, from competitors.
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):
As we’ve seen with the 80⁄20 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.”
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 80⁄20 rule, it does not necessarily have to be 80⁄20. 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 67⁄33 (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