Walk the Line: Finding the sweet spot between promotional and organic

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There’s been some talk about transparency, authenticity and all the synonyms in between. And regardless of your personal view about any of those things and what they mean to you, the mere presence of the buzz surrounding them in everything from Inc. to CIO Magazine means that for whatever reason, their meaning or our perceived meaning of them, is important.

So as you market your business, promote your personal brand or even job hunt, you need to pay attention to walking the line. Here’s why: Half the time personal branding gurus are telling you sell yourself, promote your skills, etc. The other half the time, you’re being told to be yourself, stay in your niche, be passionate and authentic.

Walking the fine line between promotional and organic is something to pay careful attention to whether you’re a professional marketer or a regular person trying to figure out the game of social media (make no mistake, this is very much a game). For a marketer, the promotional stuff is easy. It’s what they teach you in college: write well, find the hook, build a process, distribute as fast and as loud as you can. But it’s not so obvious for the rest of us.

You’ve probably read this far hoping that I would provide some great three step process or surefire way to walk the line with social media. Sorry to disappoint. The reason this is so difficult is that it’s different for every person, company and organization. But here are some guidelines that can help you find your own personal boundaries:

1) What do you hate? Do you delete people who “pollute your twitterstream”? Does it make you angry when business connections spam you on Facebook? Do you feel business networking should involve some element of personal knowledge? Pay attention to what works ON you and FOR you when others are successfully (or not) marketing to you is a great indicator of where your comfort lines are.

2) Pay attention to what works in REAL life. We’re in lots of social situations all the time: church, school, work, sports. Would you walk up to a group of people and hand them your card and loudly proclaim yourself a guru? I hope not. You would introduce yourself at an appropriate time, listen to the conversation and see if you could add anything of interest when asked. So think about whether you would do what you’re about to do online, in real life.

3) Define your goals. This is a really tough one. Sometimes it seems like the people breaking all the rules are “winning the game”. But that’s only if you measure success by number of followers, retweets, and friends. Many might disagree with me, but I don’t think that’s a great goal. We’re so often asked for metrics and “proof” that social media works, that we latch onto the numbers as though they mean something. They don’t. If you have a defined goal (getting a new job, creating a conversation with a specific group of people, staying on the trending edge of your industry) you’ll can work out a strategy that includes actions that will lead to that goal and you’ll avoid the pitfall of thinking more @s means more influence.

4) Don’t go against your own grain. Are you a quiet person? Then don’t tweet 20 times a day because some expert told you it was smart marketing. Do you love to talk? Then nod and smile when Mr. Business hotshot tells you you’re too verbose. I understand the desire to apply a process more than anyone out there but trying to be something you’re not always plays as false.

5) Count to 20. I never do this but it’s good advice. When I would play outside as a kid, I never wanted to go inside to the bathroom. My fear was mom would see me and tell me to come in for the night. So no matter how badly I had to go, I would stop and count to 20. It worked most of the time. When you’re in a “comment war” or chat session or about to tweet or blog something that makes your stomach feel funny. Count to 20. Count to 50. And then…walk the line.

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