Are You Marketing You or Your Message?

There’s a common misconception, especially among those interested in social media, about content and self-promotion. Some argue that people shouldn’t worry about self-promotion and shouldn’t attempt to promote their commercial activities.

This attitude has prompted some of the thoughtleaders of social media – those who share outstanding content day after day – to constantly defend their own activities that are, or could be perceived as, commercial in nature.

I was excited to see Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse, Brian Clark and Sonia Simone launch Third Tribe yesterday (I joined). I was unhappy to see that Chris included a few paragraphs for the “naysayers” – explaining why he was launching this new venture. Here’s what Chris wrote:

Any time I talk about money, I get a bunch of emails telling me that I’ve jumped the shark or that I’m a sellout. I did when we published Trust Agents. I did when I took my first affiliate ad for Thesis. I’ll just say my part about this up front, and you can blog whatever about it elsewhere.

The reason for building a membership forum site is that we can share information that we use for our businesses. It’s not what we want to post on our blogs. It’s something people are paying to learn and hopefully use for their own business efforts, and because of that, we think it’s of value. Don’t want it? Don’t buy it. I do plenty for free, and that’s still useful, too.

It’s not for everyone. It’s for those who want to step up their online marketing game.

The attitude and rhetoric of the naysayers – especially directed towards people who legitimately share great resources and knowledge – is appalling. The rhetoric – often driven by ignorance and jealousy – has caused much damage. Trust in information from friends and peers has dropped significantly over the past year.

Much of this damage has been caused by confusion over, and misunderstanding of, self-promotion. Everyone, whether they intend to or not, self-promotes.

Let me repeat that: everyone self-promotes.

Whether or not your online (or offline) activities support or are supported by commercial interests, you self-promote. When Marc Cuban writes in his blog, he self-promotes. He may not always intend to do so, but he does self-promote. Every time. So do I, whether I intend so or not. Sharing IS self-promotion.

There’s nothing wrong with self-promotion. Lisa Barone wrote a though-provoking post yesterday about self promotion. Lisa argued that self-promotion is both acceptable and necessary for good content to find an audience:

If you’re writing great content or putting out a great product and you’re NOT promoting the hell out of it, you’re an idiot. Because no one is seeing it…Creating good content on the Web is not enough. Maybe it was when there wasn’t as much of it competing, but today there is. What separates the Good Content that IS read from the Good Content that IS NOT is your ability to promote it. I’d go as far as to say that it’s what separates people who are successful from those that are not – their willingness to promote themselves when it is in their best interest to do so.

But I think it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room. Sharing SOMETHING isn’t the same as sharing something USEFUL.

Far too many – especially some who’ve been placed on the pedestal in social media circles – have forgotten that difference. I’m seeing many top 5 or top 10 lists with little useful content other than a few sentences that could have been written by anyone. (When I’ve written top X posts, I’ve always done my best to share useful content, not just a list).

I’ve seen many posts about startups, social media, marketing, and more, offering little value to the audience reading those posts. There’s a reason why people like Mark Suster (one of the most respected VC investors in the country), Edward Boches (Chief Creative Officer/Chief Social Media Officer for Mullen), and Ben Kunz (Director of Strategic Planning at Mediassociates) , are so deeply and broadly respected – they know that sharing means sharing something of value.

If the only thing you share is self-promotion – you’re not sharing anything of value. So let me challenge everyone – whether you’re a social media thoughtleader or a 13 year old with two Twitter followers, writing about technology: Share something useful. Always.

If what you’re sharing is useful – you’ll find a grateful audience that will respect what you’re doing. It’s simple to get started. Just ask yourself a simple question: When you share, are you marketing you or your content?

image credit: Insight Marketing Design

  • First, thank you for the props on the content I share. Here’s my thoughts. The reason to do this is threefold: 1. sharing information first and foremost helps you build a community and following who may very well reciprocate, helping make you smarter and more informed. 2. sharing information conveys that perhaps you know what you’re talking about, and becomes proof when you need to convince clients or prospects that you could do the same for them or that your guidance and counsel is worth it. 3. sharing and creating content helps you develop you own thinking and arguments; it’s a great exercise to hone and focus your ability to express a point of view on any given topic. 4. sharing in an open way stimulates conversation and dialog that makes you even more informed and aware. 5. sharing content, if it’s good, gets you visibility that can lead to everything from speaking engagements to business inquiries. Personally, I try never to sell anything in this space. In a presentation yes. To a prospect yes. But I know how much I hate to be spammed, pitched, or sold. I would rather be entertained, informed, inspired or invited. That would make me feel a lot better about any brand or company. So I try and do the same.

  • Great post.

    Most social media conversations are blather without compelling content. I also really like the line “share something useful. Always.” I am often repeating to my colleagues the words “add value” and “don’t be an idiot”. I think useful is a better word than value.

  • Agree wholeheartedly and thank you for the very kind words. Promotion = marketing. Why would anything be wrong about this? In fact, if you’re not marketing yourself I wonder why?

    Now, there is a difference between promotion and self promotion. I believe in the “earned media” concept. You add value to others and if they respect your participation then you get market benefits as a side note. I’ve said this publicly about speaking at conference and sitting on panels – you need to talk about the topic not about you, you, you. You can mention your experiences but it is as support – not the main event. The same is true about social media.

    Good piece here.

  • This is such an interesting topic. Great stuff. I am in awe of people like Chris Dixon who can self-promote in such a way that others actively promote them. (and here I am doing it now… )

    I’m a nube to promotion, but I think beyond “share something useful” there’s also some sort of approachability, openness and honesty required…. and magic pixie-dust can’t hurt.

  • “Useful” is when you give someone something they can use, whether you’re involved in the next step or not. By definition, “useful” has selflessness in its birth.

    Of course we all self-promote and none of us are completely selfless, ever since our warbling cries as babies made our moms turn to us and give us milk. The challenge we all face in new social media, and one in which I’ve thought-wrestled Chris Brogan all the way to a BusinessWeek column, is where do we draw the line in promoting ourselves … where do we lose our authenticity?

    In my mind, there is a hierarchy of promotion from *selflessness* to *pure greed.* It goes like this:

    1. Pure selflessness. “Look at this thing — it can help you!”
    2. Some help with credit. “Look at this thing — it can help you and oh by the way, I made it.”
    3. Little help with ego credit. “Look — I made this thing and I want you to see it.”
    4. Ego. “Look — I’m being mentioned about what I made.”
    5. Greed. “Look — I’m misrepresenting myself here but I’m being paid to attract attention to this thing, so please look to benefit me!”

    A link to a brilliant post someone else wrote would be No. 1. A sponsored post in which you get a free Nikon camera for authoring a “review” about its features would be No. 5. The question for people in this space who are trying to build communities is, what appropriate balance can you strike to help others while also boosting yourself a little?

    There is no easy answer. I think Chris Brogan says it best in “Trust Agents” with a formula (I compress) that Trust = What You Give / What You Get. It’s better to give than to receive, and we all know the bragging tweets and paid posts that tip that equation in the wrong direction. Chris, for instance, has played in the sponsored blog post space (something I do not like) but has given so much more to his community with his wisdom and tactics that the balance still tips positively in his favor. So it’s OK to promote your book, your post, or even a product, if you have built a base of trust by giving away far more than you try to get and if you are straightforward when you do go into self-promotion that benefits yourself. Yet if your focus is making money by misrepresenting thoughts in a way that denigrates your integrity, your lack of authenticity will quickly erode your audience and your chance for success.

    Put another way, The Beatles got it wrong: In the end, the love you take is *always less* than the love you make.

    Thanks for a thought-inspiring post. And sorry about that BusinessWeek reference; I’m trying to do more self-promotion.

  • I responded on February 4 and just noticed that my response never posted! Here it is…

    Edward – great thoughts on sharing. I didn’t fully appreciate #3 (sharing and creating content helps you develop you own thinking and arguments; it’s a great exercise to hone and focus your ability to express a point of view on any given topic) until I started recording videos, forcing myself to do it without preparation and on one take only. That practice forced me to very quickly crystalize my own thinking around issues that I find both challenging and important.

    Frank – I wonder if many people mistake statements for conversations, or find a need to have conversations when mere statements would do. One benefit of Twitter and similar platforms is that while you can engage in conversations (with some difficulty), learning doesn’t happen only through conversation. But I think we agree that whether you’re making a statement, a comment, or engaging in conversation, find a way to add value and as you put it – “don’t be an idiot.”

    Mark – Interesting perspective on promotion vs. self-promotion. I’ve seen some people do this really well over a long period of time. I’ve seen others who’ve started out pure-hearted but who will sometimes begin to blur that line. I wonder if human nature trully allows most people to maintain that balance effectively over time.

    chadmaue – you’re right. There are other tangible and intangible factors. Magic pixie-dust can play a role, but as I look around at people I admire (some of whom have posted comments here) I see people who are approachable, open and honest – the very factors you’ve suggested are also important.

    Ben – really nicely articulated hierarchy. What I find most insightful about your comment is the point about a need to strike a balance while boosting yourself a little. It’s a very fair and often ignored point about promotion vs. self-promotion. Many people argue that one should stay clear from 3 and 4 (and certainly from 5) in your hierarchy. It’s an easy suggestion to make, but difficult to follow because people naturally seek out acceptance and feedback. There’s nothing wrong with seeking ego credit once in a while – it’s natural and can be healthy (in small doses).

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