A little while ago, I wrote a guide for becoming the most interesting artist on Twitter. It was fun to write; Twitter is probably my favorite social network to use. However, I read the comments, just to see what people were saying. One comment in particular stood out to me.
“But that’s not how I use social media at all!” I thought then. As a writer, artist and creator, I find myself using social media (and especially my blog’s Twitter) to reach out to people – not in the celebrity-chasing, obnoxiously desperate follow-for-follow way. No, to me, it was always about relating to others, reaching out to others, communicating with people who had something interesting to say about something I said. My tweets were sincere, if not always SEO-friendly and with an optimal number of hashtags. For some reason, that comment bothered me, it rang wrong against what I knew to be true, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. So, I thought about it for a bit.
I thought about this comment more as I spoke with various clients who all had different marketing techniques and needed help with their blogs.
I thought about this comment when meeting with one potential client, whose company blog was written in a heartfelt, sincere and mature tone of voice.
I thought about this comment as I rewrote the advertisements for my blogging and social network management services, wondering if maybe, just maybe, doing this job well makes me some sort of con man. I wondered if the writing I do and the graphic design I do and the art I do were deserving of the attention they got; if maybe the only thing I was good at was getting like, five people to think I’ve got my life together and know what I’m doing.
I thought about this comment as I read my BlogLovin’ feed at night, scrolling through the thoughts and feelings of countless fashion, beauty, craft, lifestyle, and design bloggers.
I thought about this comment as I scrolled past countless click-bait headlines on Facebook.
I thought about this comment as I read every single blogging, writing, and marketing newsletter that popped into my inbox, separating those that seemed sincere and honest from those that seemed to be just trying to sell me something.
And then, finally, it hit me. Optimizing things, making yourself and your work easy to find, getting followers, getting subscribers, advertising… those things are just half the puzzle. There’s another component, a big, fat, obvious secret that no one ever talks about. And I’d finally found it.
If you’re paying attention, it might have just hit you, too. Social media, blogging, getting more followers and fans… it’s not about the average number of hashtags used, or SEO, or schedules. It’s also about sincerity. I always took it for granted that any and all social media communications should be sincere, honest, truthful, from the heart or at least the mind, but it seems it’s not such an obvious thing to some. All the guides, all those step-by-step tutorials on how to become a social media maven, they never tell you that one important thing. More than anything else, social media, blogs, et cetera – all these things need to hold some element of sincerity, especially for a small business, blogs, artists, writers, or other assorted creative beings.
Most of us can tell when someone is being at least very dishonest or very fake in front of us. Maybe not consciously, but we feel repulsed by people who are fake, people who are too perky, people who try way too hard, people who always seem to be lying. We don’t like being sold to. We don’t like cheap tricks or sales gimmicks. We don’t like con men. Once we know the signs of a scam, a con, or a sales gimmick, we learn to avoid it. For example, after creating so much click-bait and content with headlines that follow a formula for maximum clickability and maximum SEO friendliness, I found myself not clicking on those Buzzfeed and Upworthy links anymore, not even out of curiosity. No matter how fascinating the headline seems to be, I know that whatever is inside that article is not going to be nearly as interesting as the headline itself.
I looked at a lot of the blogs and people I follow. Artists, writers, fashion bloggers, beauty bloggers, geek bloggers, horse bloggers, you name it. Always, the ones I was attracted to were those who wrote with sincerity, emotion, honesty – not those who promised me the moon and then delivered a cardboard cutout. A lot of tutorials and walkthroughs teach would-be Tweeters and bloggers and Facebookers and Instagrammers – SEO, keywords, hashtags, formulas, templates, fill in the blank. This is wrong. Sure, those things are important, but the number one factor? SINCERITY.
I know what you’re thinking. If being sincere, heartfelt and honest while doing social media is the key to success, why doesn’t anyone actually mention it? I have no good answer, just guesses. I suppose, to those who are good at promoting themselves and their work over the Internet, it comes naturally. It might even seem self-evident, something that doesn’t need to be said, shouldn’t need to be said. And to those who base their income and prominence on gaming the system? Putting sincerity and their feelings into their tweets is probably right next to scrubbing the shower with a toothbrush and helping Lucifer clip his toenails on their to-do lists.
Maybe no one actually mentions it, that you should be as real as possible, because we’ve all forgotten that we like feeling like we’re talking to a real person on the other end, that there’s a real person reading your tweets. It’s incredibly easy to distance yourself sometimes, and look at your Facebook likes or Twitter followers as just a number. Everyone talks about marketing like it’s a game; the follower counts are your scores. It can be hard to remember, after a while, that each of those “points” is another human being, just like you. After a while, maybe, it’s just a game like any other con man would describe – how many people can you con into following you? How many people can you convince that you’re the greatest thing on Earth? How many people can you sell swimsuits in the middle of winter?
The amazing thing about people, though? They keep on being people, and no matter how insincere your current marketing tactics are, they’ll try to interact with you as if you’re human (or at least some sort of sentient life form with feelings). They reach out, they try to interact with you. Some are just trying to get attention, sure. Some just want to talk to you. Some just think you’re really, really awesome. Some have something to say about something you said. And, treating them like they’re people can really help your reputation in the long run.
For example, lots of people idolize Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, right?. This one time, I was reading an AMA he did on Reddit, and some guy, some guy who wasn’t famous or important, just an aspiring musician and a fan, posted a link to his music in a comment, asking Grohl what he thought of it. He got downvoted to hell; his roommate reposted it. Dave Grohl saw it, commented on it, gave him feedback, told him he’s doing great. I’ll be damned if I can find that post again, but it happened, and isn’t that just awesome? Or hey, how about Neil Gaiman? I’ll always have a good impression of him, because this one time, my friend Raven (whose middle name is actually Destiny) tweeted at him that her parents were inspired by Neil Gaiman’s work when they were thinking of baby names, and he ACTUALLY RESPONDED even though she had, like, thirty followers. How awesome is that?
Of course, there’s always a likelihood that it’s not really Neil Gaiman tweeting, or Dave Grohl answering questions on Reddit. Maybe it’s just some nameless intern. Even then, the policy of, “treat people like they’re, you know, people and always try to be as sincere as possible” is probably a good one, regardless of who you are and how famous you may be.
Just because there’s a formula to follow on some things, doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that ever works. Yeah, you should use hashtags, and maybe don’t use those really long ones you made up yourself (unless it’s a major exception, you don’t look clever at all). Yeah, you should use pictures in your tweets – especially if you do art, because isn’t your art awesome and shouldn’t more people see it? And yes, you should set a profile pic and a header image, because those egg things on plain pastel backgrounds look hella sketch, that’s all I’m saying. And you should time your tweets, and maybe tweet the same link in different ways at different times, and maybe sometimes you should reach out to someone who’s much bigger than you – but reach out as a person, reaching out to another person. They’re just guidelines, and I’ve found there’s plenty of room to fit honesty, truthfulness, feelings, emotions, personality, caring, and compassion in those 140 characters.
That’s the big secret, that’s all there is. Just be yourself, be true to your art and to your ideals. You don’t have to do any dirty marketing tactics, or buy followers, or hire an assassin to take out your rival’s entire follower list. Don’t look at social media like it’s an impersonal shopping mall; think of it as a flea market, where you can talk to people and hear their thoughts and opinions on the things you’ve created. Maybe, by sharing your work, you’ll find someone who wouldn’t have heard of you otherwise. Maybe, by talking to people, you’ll encourage someone to buy something you created. Maybe, you’ll find wonderful new opportunities for collaboration and creation and sharing and being.
Now that I realized this, yeah, I think I’ll still wonder if I’m just a con man sometimes, when I feel like my work isn’t good enough to get the attention it’s getting. Even as I write this paragraph, I wonder, is this good enough for other people to read? Am I being presumptuous and narcissistic in claiming to have found the ULTIMATE SECRET TO SOCIAL NETWORKING SUCCESS?
Maybe. But, now, I’ll also try to remember – whatever followers I have, whatever readers I get, whatever attention my work gets, it’s because I created it myself, with honesty and sincerity. When I create, I don’t just create for me, no matter the medium. I create for those who will see it, too. When I share my work, I’ll try to remember that I’m doing it so I can connect with others who might feel the same way I do. I’ll try to remember that I’m doing it so that someone else might see it, and find some meaning they’d been searching for.
And I’ll hope that in some way, somehow, this post helps you, too, because there’s so much wonderful stuff out there in the social networking universe that you’re totally missing out on if you’re not part of it. Go be part of it.