The Shame of Content Marketing And Social Media

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There has been a long-held thought that great content for social media can’t be a shill or a hard sell.

That is true. Up to a point. Some brands (and individuals) have done quite well leveraging content and social media channels in a direct response fashion. True, some feel more snake oil salesy than others, but that’s not the point. If a brand (or individual) decides that social selling is for them, and – in turn – they are able to find a customer base (which may not be the same thing as an audience), it’s not for us to judge (so long as the product or services does what it claims to do and that the customers are happy with their purchase). From big brands “advertising” with content marketing and social media to the gajillion of online courses, seminars and events that we’re all exposed to, many brands have one (and only one) strategy with their social media and content marketing: to sell!

It’s not just about selling.

When Six Pixels of Separation started publishing (back in 2003), it was a soft (very soft) sell. The focus was on you: The individual. The content was geared to helping the reader (and, then, the listeners of the podcast) build a better business, see their brand from a different perspective and, ultimately, embrace the change that technology was using to disrupt their respective industries. The soft sell (at the time) was that if the reader thought that they might require the services of a digital marketing agency that (because of the content and perceived value) they might consider working with our agency. There was also an ethos in the early days of social media and content marketing that came from the visionary book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, which stated: “markets are conversations.” Content and social media was a way to have a conversation (not just push an advertising message) out to an audience. It was also hyper-personal (content was usually created and attributed to an individual, unlike an ad or press release that was issued via a corporation). I fell in love with the idea that marketing was now about real interactions between real human beings.

Real interactions between real human beings is still a noble cause. It’s just not the only cause.

In a more mature social media and content marketing space, we can track back to see how the introduction and growth of personal brands has led to a certain level of celebrity. We can see how the selfie revolution has made us all a tad (or a lot!) more narcissistic. We all know about the self-esteem and depression related issues people have related to their own Facebook feed (it’s a world where people are posting things about themselves – mostly – to create a persona that they want to world see them as). With all of this complexity, there still seems to be a stigma attached to how much a brand pitches, sells and shills on social media. At the same time, another (perhaps more nefarious) trend has emerged. It’s a place where individuals may not promote or shill their wears, but are pushing beyond the humble-brag into claims, self-promotional statements and other not-so-subtle manipulations to create the aura of success (or results) without ever substantiating their claims.

The not-so-humble brag. 

It’s subtle, but if you look for it, you will see it (often). Statements or sentences that start like this:  

  • “People have said…”
  • “I don’t like to promote myself (it’s weird), but…,”
  • “I wasn’t going to post this, but people have been asking me to…”
  • “Someone told me that they didn’t know I launched (insert product/service XYZ here), so I will share this with you…”
  • Any time they add in words like “best-selling”, “first-ever”,  “vital, important, original…” 

It’s not terrible. We all (brands and humans) need to promote our own work (if we don’t, who will?), but it’s a form of manipulation and persuasion that goes (mostly) unchecked.

Why should this irk you (why does it irk me?). Self-promotion is a funny thing. It can be subtle (like this post probably is) or overt. It’s distasteful only to the person who feels like it is on the receiving end. Some people find these tactics smart. The issue is in finding your truth. Is that book really a best-seller? Is that consultant really somebody who has helped a business to grow or adapt? Has this individual really had people ask/beg/plea with them to share this information or is that a manipulation to make it look as though they are just the messenger instead of wanting to shill? Words matters. The context behind those words matter. Actions matter much more than those words. So, don’t fall for claims that are not substantiated. Dig a little bit deeper on the brands and individuals that you are following. Find out if they truly deliver the work that they claim. Find out if the accolades that they are simply “sharing” have merit and truth (that the claims are true, and that the source of the claims are reputable as well). This is not a slight against any brand or individual. Things have become complex and clouded in the content marketing space. It’s easy to create, shill, lie and hit the publish button. Who watches the publishers?

Social media and content marketing are as powerful as ever. Let’s get back to those real interactions between real human beings. Value trumps all.