It’s a tenet of marketing success – find your niche and become the master of it. But what if that kind of extreme focus just isn’t your style? That was the situation facing C.C. Chapman, co-author (with Ann Handley) of Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business and author of the new Amazing Things Will Happen. Chapman has become a well-known social media authority, but he’s taken the winding path to get there, building up expertise in podcasting, dad blogging, content creation, creativity, and self-help.
“It is easier if you have one thing – if you’re known as the ‘whatever’ person,” says Chapman. “But there are many of us who it’s not that easy for. I know my ‘brand’ gets kind of messed up because I do all these different things, but it’s what I love doing. I know some things suffer; with Digital Dads, I’ve never put as much time into it as I could have, and maybe that could be making tons of money if I just focused on that. But it’s one piece of who I am. More people need to realize they don’t have to be this clear cut, defined brand. You’re a person: you’re going to have different passions and talk about different things. You’re not going to connect with everybody, but you’re not going to be best friends with everybody in the real world, either.”
He sees the danger of bloggers or executives who try too hard to curate their own image: “I see people who put up a façade and they come to a conference and you shake hands, and it’s like, wow – you’re nothing like who you are [online]…If you’re just honest about who you are, it’s much easier and less stressful.”
So what are the best ways to convey the real you online? Chapman, an avid photographer, is a big advocate of using images to share your experiences and perspective. “Audio and photography are the red headed stepchildren [in social media],” he says. “They get forgotten about, but they’re both powerful.” The best part of photography, he says, is that literally anyone can do it now that smartphones enable you have a quality camera on you at all times. “Instagram woke people up,” he says. “People thought it was about the filters [that the service enables you put on photos], but it’s not. It’s about the fact that it’s so easy” to take and share snapshots of your life. “I love seeing behind the scenes. I remember seeing a guy from a really big brand on Instagram, and I saw he collected yo-yos. It sparked a fun conversation, and I got to know him better.”
Though Chapman praises content with high production values, like the TED Books app and photographer Chase Jarvis’ elegantly filmed video interviews, he says good content is about “the quality of the people and what they’re saying. With Chase Jarvis Live, I don’t know the production cost, but it’s three cameras, a crane – it’s probably thousands of dollars. But I’d watch if it was the two of them with an iPhone and tripod, because it’s more about the conversation they’re having. With TED Books, I’d read it if it was a text file. It’s not about the budget or how slick it can be; it’s more about the quality of what’s in it.” A lack of expensive equipment should never be an excuse, he says. “I’d rather watch something entertaining or instructive filmed on a beat-up old camera than slickly produced HD crap.”
Images do matter. “You hope people will take [your content] and share it, and whether they’re tweeting it, liking it, or +1ing it, the first thing people will see in all those systems in a picture,” he says. But it’s more about sharing a lens into your personal experience, rather than striving for perfection. “You need an image, but it doesn’t have to be a crazy beautiful image.” Everyone, he suggests, should start trying to think more visually. What shots around you could illustrate content you want to create? “I’ve probably seen 15 while we’ve been sitting here,” he told me, “because that’s the way I am.”
Gesturing to the snaking line at the coffee shop where we’re sitting, Chapman says, “I could take a picture of this, all empty in front and there’s a line. It could be a post about customer service, the supply chain…people don’t do that enough. The only way you develop the photographer’s eye is to use it more and more.”
How do you reconcile the different parts of your identity online? And how do you use images to tell your story?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on January 31, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.