Learn How Writing and Tweeting Created Key Influencer for Digital Marketing

From co-founding ClickZ to writing books like, Everybody Writes, Ann Handley speaks to her start and continuous gratitude. Handley maintains her own site and blog, which derived from sharing updates on her life to tips and trends in digital marketing. Despite being the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, she still finds the time to write and advise others.

ZOG Digital chatted with Handley about how she fell into her role of an influencer within the content and digital marketing field. She’s been fortunate to travel around the world and be an active contributor to Entrepreneur.com. We were able to sync up with Handley to learn about how everything came to fruition and where she plans to go next.

ZD: How did you find your way into the realm of content and content marketing?

Handley: When I was 8 years old, I wrote in my diary that I wanted to be a “writter.” But even at that age I wanted an audience—someone to write to. I craved community, comments, interaction.

The Internet hadn’t happened yet. As a kid in the Boston suburbs, my ability to build an audience was limited. So I created a neighborhood newsletter, which I delivered on my bike to my neighbor’s mailboxes.

When I got older, I wrote to a bunch of pen pals around the world. And because my life was pretty boring, I invented new lives for myself and wrote about them to my pen pals. I researched places I’d never been and things I’d never seen. I wrote about the life I didn’t have. It was entertaining. It was content. Even if none of it was true.

Eventually, I learned to spell “writer” and I became a writer, journalist, editor and (when the Internet happened) a content publisher. I worked at newspapers, magazines, and became the first Chief Content Officer at ClickZ, which I co-founded in 1997, and now hold the title MarketingProfs. I write books. I write a blog for fun. I speak all over the world.

ZD: Did you always plan on blogging and using social media?  If so, when did it turn into tips on digital and content marketing?

Handley: I realized that the skills I’d been honing since I was a child (as in: writing engaging content for audiences I cultivated) were increasingly what businesses needed to do. That was somewhere around 2009. That evolved into my first book, Content Rules, which I co-authored with my friend C.C. Chapman.

ZD: What does your typical day look like?

Handley: I work full-time for MarketingProfs as its Chief Content Officer. I work part-time as a speaker and a writer. I try to work on something substantive for each every day. I manage some of the MarketingProfs social media accounts, I manage my own social media. I travel for work about 40% of my time. I get roughly 7,000 emails a day, and I try to respond to as many as I can. Every day I also spend time with my family and I walk my beloved little dog, Abby. As I’m typing this, my Skype alert is going off, because someone at MarketingProfs has a question. I’m pretty busy.

ZD: How do you separate having a job, personal life, and being an influencer with a large following?

Handley: I don’t really separate it. It mixes messily, which some days is awesome and some days is irritating. But I also separate family from work in two ways:

  1. I built a Tiny House in my backyard that functions as my backyard office. It allows me to be separated from the ebb, flow, and pull of everyday life.
  2.  I balance periods of intense focus on work (which goes on for weeks) with complete breaks. I have a house in Maine that is a sacred space for me. It’s 90 minutes from my house but it feels like another world.

ZD: You’ve not only been successful online, but also had success with a best-selling book. How did this come to fruition?

Handley: To any aspiring writer, I’d suggest that you build your platform before you decide to write a book. Also: Recognize that writing the book is only half the work. The other half is marketing it.

ZD: When did you notice your following take off? What do you think sparked it?

Handley: There’s no magic to it: I showed up, day after day. And when I have, I’ve tried to have something substantive to say.

Also, my goal was never to influence alone: It was always focused on helping an audience.

ZD: What was it that made you realize, you were an influencer within the industry?

Handley: I never think about being an “influencer” that way. That’s not false modesty; it’s simply the reality of how I measure my own worth, from a professional point of view: Do I have some insight or advice to contribute that helps people? That’s literally all I think about.

ZD: What opportunities has this passion opened up for you?

Handley: I’m grateful to be asked to speak all around the world, and to guest-post all over the place, too. I’m grateful that you asked me to answer these questions for you. I’m grateful to anyone still reading.

ZD: Which platform(s) do you feel are the most impactful for you as an influencer and why?

Handley: Twitter has been key for me, because it’s one of the few places where you can still freely interact with people you don’t know. I love the randomness of it, and always have. It was quieter in 2016, when I first joined.

ZD: What is the next goal on your list to accomplish?

Handley: I’ve been thinking a lot about slow marketing. I don’t know just yet whether that’s a book or just a point of view. I’ll let you know!

Follow Ann’s worldly advice and content marketing concepts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.

  • Lee Odden

    I love how Ann always brings the humble smunny (smart + funny) to marketing. Or is it hunny?

    Photo credit: Lee Odden.This was taken at the Content 2 Conversion conference in NYC 2014.