Life isn’t meant to be spent chained to that computer. Every now and then you just have to go out, get some fresh air, and do something with yourself. But if you’re at all serious about the success of your blog, living a life outside of the computer can seem like nothing more than a fanciful dream.
Photo by Jen Dixon
After all, you’re not famous, you’re not some superstar a-list blogger whose readers wait in agonizing anticipation for your every update – and that is exactly why you need to promote yourself. If you do it right, someday you too can reap the benefits of a fanatic readership, but you must first “wax on, wax off.”
Self-promotion is an art, and promoting yourself on a shoe-string time budget is a fine art – but like every other form of art, this too can be learned. Also like every other art form, self-promotion beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, there are a lot of opinions, conflicting opinions, about self-promotion – and not just in the “how”, but even the “where” is up for debate.
I’ve managed to get the opinions of two top shelf professionals – Barbara Ling and Liz Strauss. Both have been in the biz since the late 90’s, and therefore both started before Twitter or even blogging as we know it today existed.
However, they have two very different viewpoints on, and strategies for, self-promotion. In the end, it’s only the opinion of your target audience which truly matters – just keep that in mind as you read their and my educated opinions.
I have assumed nothing – or at least tried to. In order to be efficient and effective at self-promotion, you need to understand the best practices first, then toward the end I provide tools and tips to speed things up on top of the efficiency tips provided in the “best practices” sections.
In other words, this guide is meant to be read top to bottom. Yes, it’s long – but you won’t get nearly as much from it unless you read every last word.
Liz Strauss – The Never a Stranger Approach
Liz actively seeks to develop relationships with her peers and readers. “I’ve never been much of a promoter,” she said, “I made sure I was listed in the right directories and that I commented in conversations that other blogs had that interested me.”
She made a concerted effort to help her readers feel welcome and valued. “I always answered comments and talked directly to the folks who visited. I also started Open Comment Night and talked to a Blogger a Day on the phone for over a year just because I wanted to know who was reading.”
However, this strategy may not be for everyone. Although it is definitely quite effective, you need to take into consideration your personality type. “I’ve found that staying true to who I am, keeping the focus on the people who visit, and always finding new ways and places to meet them where I can offer help are the three things that work best.”
As far as whom to network with and pay attention to, Liz doesn’t subscribe to the typical approach here either. “Everyone thinks that power users and A-list bloggers are the key influencers. I think that only works in short bursts and fades really quickly.” Instead, she focuses her time on people who focus their time on her, and looks for up and comers or people with a cause worth supporting.
“Good blogs were in some ways their own promotion,” Liz said reminiscing on the early days of her blog. “Getting to know the bloggers who wrote them by commenting and responding thoughtfully to what they wrote both made relationships and also attracted people back to your own blog.”
Liz also linked to great posts in her blog and other good blogs through her blog roll. “Some forums were powerful for bringing traffic,” she adds, “and the advent of social bookmarking sites, such as del.icio.us, reddit, and StumbleUpon made a difference.”
One of her most powerful self-promotion tactics – something I consider pure genius – was actually one big accident. Every week Liz gives out “Official SOB” badges to bloggers who “understand that the strength of the blogosphere comes from relationships, interconnectedness, and community,” to quote from her web site – and I’m quite proud to say I’m an Official SOB.
The true power of this badge is the fact it piques a reader’s curiosity – being proud to announce you’re an official SOB is quite a strange thing if you don’t know what it’s all about. That is the genius. The fact “SOB” has such negative connotations, and the fact bloggers are so proud to put the badge on their blog is rocket fuel for a curiosity fire.
The first time I saw an SOB badge, I remember thinking “what is that all about, and how do I get one?!” I’m sure many other bloggers had the exact same thought. There’s something enticingly naughty about the SOB program which makes it simply irresistible.
However, Liz didn’t anticipate the wildfire. “The SOB program started simply as a way to say thank you to folks who supported me from the beginning. I wasn’t clever enough to see the marketing potential.”
When asked what she would do if she only had 10 minutes a day to promote her blog, Liz said she plans to “start doing more interviews and video on sites other than my own. I want to go meet people where they are and answer the questions that they already have.” Her self-promotion time savers are Twitterfeed and Tweetmeme. She said “they make it easier for people to know what’s going on with my blog.”
Barbara Ling – The To The Point Approach
Barbara Ling‘s claim to fame is… being famous. “I started BarbaraLing.com back in 1998… before blogs existed. Thus, my most successful venue for self promotion (which holds true today) was being an acknowledged expert in my field.”
Despite that single fact, her approach to self-promotion is very formulaic. Anyone can duplicate it (so long as you’re willing to dedicate yourself to learning a system), whether you’re a people person or not.
“It takes time and it takes energy…but self-promotion can truly be a lifesaver for your long term future goals and success. Niches come and niches go, but your own personal name brand will always be a viable, desired resource. Take advantage of that.”
Like Liz, Barbara also credits direct links in forums for much of her traffic, but that is where the similarities end. “Gathering an audience of people who retweet and publicize your writings is also useful […] but by far, I’ve learned that you simply cannot count on anyone except yourself to make things happen. Do not go into business expecting someone else to make things easier for you… it has to come straight from your heart instead.”
Barbara also added “you…and only you…are the only resource on which you can truly count 100%. Everyone else is looking after their own Number 1 (ie, themselves)…and your needs might get pushed to the bottom of that list. Define yourself as the destination and the rest will follow.”
Also unlike Liz, Barbara focuses exclusively on the bottom line. “Visitors [and] pageviews,” she said, “mean nothing if they do not eventually convert into a tangible result.” Nevertheless, Barbara said her mentor is what truly helped her succeed. “I was in the right place at the right time with the right product… plus I had a mentor who had an ‘in’ with the right audience as well!”
Of course, reaching the audience is only one part of the equation. “You have to understand that readers want to be intrigued – they want to read a story, they want to be entertained, they want to have their problems solved (ideally with little to no effort as well).” To this end, she makes sure to include “catchy one-liners” in her forum signature while providing valuable responses.
Barbara’s approach is extremely direct and professional. “Then, like today,” she said, “it’s headlines, baby!” The way she phrases her self-promotion leaves very little mystery, saying things like “click here to stop losing leads today” and other distinctly sales-y pitches – but they work, and they work for one important reason. She says you should “always focus on the WIIFM (ie, what’s in it for me?) aspect.”
I told a little fib earlier though – there is one last similarity in Barbara’s approach to Liz’s. Barbara also had an award program before she lost the associated domain. “I ran the ‘Deemed Tops!” Internet recruiting program in which top quality recruiting sites earned that particular badge.”
“It provides a *very* strong long-tail (so long as you don’t lose your domain) because sites generally tend to keep those badges active. Just look at Liz’s SOB badges – they’re all over the place!” (interesting note – at the time Barbara had no idea I was talking to Liz about this as well)
Invaluable time-savers for Barbara include SocialOomph to schedule useful tweets “so I’m always offering excellent resources to my followers.” She has ‘Tweet This Now!’ enabled in her blog, and uses an “extensive setup” in her RSS feed reader to let her know about critical updates.
Her top time saving tool for self-promotion – “an autoresponder, hands down, sideways, and rightside up. If you are not capturing your visitors’ email, you’re not giving yourself an opportunity to brand your services and value on your visitors’ minds.”
In case you’re interested in learning her step-by-step methods for promotion, you should visit IncomeFitness.com. “It describes in detail everything I currently do today to remain highly visible online.” As additional assistance, Barbara has also started a forum at Virtual-Coach.com.
When asked what she would do with 10 minutes a day to double her readership in 2 months, Barbara replied “I’d participate heavily in niche forums (ensuring there was a direct link back to my resources) plus I’d comment heavily on Comment-luv enabled blogs. That returns a deep link back to my site…always a good thing indeed!”
Other Tips on Self-Promotion
Photo by Maja
Pre-promote before anything and everything you intend to post-promote.
Twitter! Of course! But tweet with your followers in mind, and leave them space to retweet.
Forums related to your blog are still an excellent form of self-promotion.
Comment, comment, and comment! In case you didn’t know – commenting on related blogs brings in more traffic.
Flattery will get you everywhere – especially when you link to them (note this doesn’t just apply to our site – feel free to target anyone you want).
Common Mistakes Self-Promoting on Social Networking Sites
Photo by Jay Lopez
One medium I notice is particularly easy to make a fatal mis-step is Facebook. Take for instance, earlier today I was invited to become a fan of a page – nothing out of the ordinary here. However, the person inviting me to become a fan had the same last name as the surname in the business name. Obvious self-promotion.
That alone would not have been all that big of a deal, but I have no reason to become a fan. They have never spoken to me on a personal or professional level, and I’m pretty sure they’re not even in my friends list. As far as I’m concerned, they are not a trusted – or even known – friend offering a valid recommendation.
Again, those two factors alone I could have overlooked if there were some kind of note with the invitation giving me an enticing reason to become a fan – but there was nothing. Just a bare invite demanding that I investigate their company and find a reason on my own.
Sorry but I’m a busy ‘netizen and don’t care to look into your company without reason. The invite was ignored without a second thought. I didn’t even bother to click on the link to their page to check if there might have been something worthwhile.
So where exactly did this self-promoter go wrong?
They never gave before they asked to receive. I had no idea who they are, but they were asking me to put their face on my profile. If you have the time, at least offer some kind of information currency (like “hey I saw something in the news I thought could benefit you – here’s the link”) before asking a prospect to act on your behalf.
No message or note included in the invite with some kind of teaser or reason to look at their page. This means having something valid to offer – a discount or sale is often a good enough reason. If you don’t have a lot of time to build a relationship, this method is a great alternative solution for the short term.
How else could he have improved the self-promotion?
He could have sent a note along with or ahead of the invite telling me about his promotions and asking me to become a fan. Along with asking me to become a fan, he should include an explanation of what I will get for being a fan, and what will happen to my profile because of it.
In the invite, he could have referenced his message – something like “I sent a message yesterday about the benefits of becoming a fan, and thought I would send an invite to make it easier for you” would have been more than sufficient.
Other Self-Promotion Uglies to Avoid
Photo by Christine Weddle
Don’t try to be flashy or use too many symbols. Most web users have likened anything resembling “salesman’s flair” to banner ads, and likewise tune those out as well. Only users who still look at banner ads will also still look at those flashy promotions begging for attention.
Try to be as inconspicuous as possible in your word choice. Another way of phrasing this is to make sure you choose to promote something which benefits the user. I have a friend who owns a business, and almost all his status updates are along the lines of “if you need my services, don’t forget about my company!” Eventually self-promoters like that get seen as crying wolf, and all their promotions end up ignored – even if the promotion would have otherwise enticed the prospect.
Have a reason outside of “I need more sales.” The basic rule of thumb here is whether your promotion is newsworthy, and newsworthy promotions include sales, discounts, new inventory, especially helpful or important blog posts, and new services. If you don’t think it’s important enough to write a press release, then it’s not important enough to promote, period.
Don’t just use tactics which require the least amount of time invested. Today’s ‘netizens have grown accustomed to a social web, and thus expect a certain level of relationship with the companies whose products and services they use and blogs they read. If all you provide is touch-and-go and never show any vested interest in your customers and readers, then you will eventually lose their interest.
Useful Tips and Tools to Speed Up Your Self-Promotion
Whew! You’re almost done. Last but not least, I’ve assembled some tools and tips to help speed up your self-promotion efforts. Now go get ’em tiger!
Evernote – definitely handy for taking down useful information during your everyday web surf.
RSS feed readers – we all love ’em, now here’s an excellent way to get caught up on that reading list.
Twitterfeed and similar – if you schedule your blog to update when you’re not online, may as well set your microblogging accounts to automatically update too.