When Someone Starts Telling You “The Right Way to Market Your Business Online,” Run Like Hell

Car speeding down highway with caption "When someone tells you there's a right way, flee"
Once upon a time — 8:56 AM EST, to be precise – the Internet was born.

A great collective intake of breath rose up from the land. And for the next four minutes, the world oohed and aahed at the magical creature humanity had just birthed. (Well, OK. Some of the world oohed and aahed. A few folks sniffed, muttered “It’ll never catch on,” and went back to reading their newspapers and books, which were basically things we used to have on which words were printed before the Internet was born. And also a lot of folks didn’t even know it had happened, because – duh – no Internet yet.)

Then, at precisely 9:01 AM EST, a funny thing happened.

People started telling other people how “it OUGHT to be done.” (“It” could have been anything, but for the purposes of our story, let’s focus on those people who were referring to how folks could market their businesses using this newfangled thingamabob.)

And it went on like that for about a hot minute, and then at 9:02 AM EST, some other folks rose up and began fighting back against the first folks, saying “No, no, no, that advice is ALL WRONG. This is what you should be doing.”

And thus the Way of All Things Digital-Marketing-Related was born. As if we’d been cursed by the Evil King (what? In my world, the bad guys aren’t always women, plus it’s my story I’m telling here, so..), we became doomed for all eternity to suffer through this cycle.

Every.Damn.Time.

  1. Something new and shiny pops up.
  2. People begin to take notice.
  3. Group A, almost always the early adopters, begin preaching “The Way of the New and Shiny Thing.”
  4. Everyone follows along with Group A for a while, and then…
  5. Group B rises up in opposition, preaching “The One True Gospel of the Not-So-New-And-Shiny Thing,” which is diametrically opposed in some significant way to Group A’s message.
  6. Like lemmings, we turn en masse and follow Group B.
  7. Lather.
  8. Rinse.
  9. Repeat.
  10. Throw up.

God almighty, enough.

Just take a breath for a second. And consider this tantalizing possibility …

There is no one right way. There is only Zuul.

Wait, no, that’s not right.

There is no one right way. There is only the better way for you and your business.

I agree, it’s not nearly as catchy. But it has the unique advantage of being absofreakinglutely true. For everyone. In every situation.

I ask you: How many other things can you say that about?

I don’t wholly understand why this back-and-forth/”us vs. them” shit happens, y’all, except that we’re all humans, and as such we’re all hardwired biologically and especially neurologically to seek out patterns, because patterns make our lives easier (or at least we think they do), and because they feel true.

But they’re not true. Not always, anyway.

Reasonable minds differ on so many different aspects of digital marketing, in particular, and I think this is why so many of us get lost, confused, overwhelmed, and frustrated. Here’s a short, excerpted list of the online marketing topics I’ve seen or discovered widespread disagreement on just in the last three weeks:

  • How often should you post on social media?
  • Heck, let’s narrow it down – how often should you post on Facebook?
  • Should you curate other people’s content? Or only post your own stuff?
  • Should you be everywhere? On just one or two social platforms? Anywhere? Is it all a waste of time?
  • What about blogging? Do we have to blog every day? Once a week? Twice? Does it even matter, as long as we’re consistent in our publishing schedule?
  • OK, but how long should our blog posts be? Will readers balk at 1000+ word posts? Or do those longer posts get better results?
  • Fine, fine, no consensus on any of that, just tell me this: What the HELL am I supposed to do first? What should my focus be?

I submit to you, dear reader, none of these questions is capable of a single answer that’s equally right for all of us.

The only thing any of us “pros” can tell you (and retain our integrity in the process, anyway) is, at best, a general conclusion based on experience and observation, together with the key factors we think are important that might have changed that conclusion:

  • How often should you post on social media? It depends. Engagement per tweet, for instance, seems to diminish when you post more than 4-5 times a day, but overall engagement continues to rise up to about 15 tweets a day, when it then begins to diminish a bit.
  • How often should you post on Facebook? It depends. If you’re getting good reach organically, once a day may be enough, assuming it’s visually eye-catching.
  • Should you curate other people’s content? Or only post your own stuff? It depends. If you’re interested in exploring higher-volume social media marketing tactics and you can’t afford outsourcing content creation to feed that content monster, you’ll probably need to turn to content curation in some way. Content curation can potentially give you a host of relationship-building, authority-enhancing, humanity-strengthening benefits, too.
  • Should you be everywhere? On just one or two social platforms? Anywhere? Is it all a waste of time? It depends. For most solo and small business owners, being everywhere isn’t cost- or time-efficient. You’ll probably want to focus initially on one or two channels where your prospects are already participating actively. And yes, it can be a waste of time – for some businesses, some business owners, in some contexts. It just depends.
  • What about blogging? Do we have to blog every day? Once a week? Twice? Does it even matter, as long as we’re consistent in our publishing schedule? It depends. Blogging is a great way to build authority, and since most blog posts carry a useful marketing life of two or three years (compared to the 1 to 3 hours of useful life of your average Facebook post), it might make a lot of sense for you to focus your efforts there. And it depends – on your content, your niche, and your readers. What do they want? Do you even know?
  • How long should our blog posts be? Will readers balk at 1000+ word posts? Or do those longer posts get better results? It depends. One business’s prospects may only have time for the short, down-and-dirty how-to kind of post. Another might be craving more thought-leadership kind of stuff, wordy and dense. Or anywhere in between. Or something else entirely – inspiring quotes on pretty pictures, for instance. Or podcasts only, so they can listen during their workout at the gym.
  • What the HELL am I supposed to do first? What should my focus be? Sing it with me people … It depends! What are your goals? What are your assets? What do you do best? What scares the crap out of you? What does your business need right now, and what’s the fastest way to get it?

Right about now, some of you may be hyperventilating.  For you folks, I hear you. I feel you. For you, and just for you, I offer two things:

  1. First and foremost, here. Breathing is good. Hyperventilating is bad. Yeah, pretty much always – but – ahem – it depends. (Please note: In no way do I endorse that last one. For my purposes here, it’s just a metaphor. Hyperventilate at your own risk.)
  2. Second, while you’re breathing into that bag, consider this: If there is no one right way, then you can stop looking for it.

That’s true for everyone, actually. Yes, you’ll have to do a little more digging and experimenting, but there’s value in that process. You get to know yourself and your own business much better.

And the more you do that, the easier it gets in the future. You can even get to the point where Group A starts in with the “Gospel of the New Shiny” and you can say “Hmmm, yeah, not for me, thanks.”

Or “Ooh. That will very likely solve Problem X for me. Sold – for now.”

Think of that. You are your own best expert. You’re in control. You decide the better way for you and your business.

So what’s the moral of our little fairy tale up there at the top of this post?

It’s just this:

When someone tells you there’s “one right way” to do anything related to marketing or running your business …

Run. Run like hell.

The New Year is bright with all sorts of new ideas, but in certain circles there’s still plenty of shady tricks and underhanded practices that we think should be called out. This month’s word carnival: Dirty Deeds and Due Diligence – what to watch out for in 2015. Check out all of this month’s posts at that link!

Photo credit: cosmo flash via photopin cc

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  • I so love this, Annie; you tell a good story! I’m always saying “it depends” to my clients, when they want to know how long an article should be, how long it will take, what links they should include, where they should post … there are never any easy answers. Everyone has to know what’s right for their business and circumstances.

  • Never been an early adopter. I’m much more of the wait and see, poke holes at things type gal. And yes the two most popular words in any expert’s vocabulary should be “it depends.” Unfortunately, being one of those kinds of people means it’s hard to write opinionated posts — you know, the kind that rile people up and get shared all over the place. Having a strong opinion about should you/shouldn’t you doesn’t necessarily make you a bad “expert.” So fleeing in the face of one, might not be the best course of action. I guess it all…depends. LOL. Love your post, Annie.

  • First: “bwahahahaha….There is only Zuul.”

    Secondly: I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve told my clients the same thing. There is not “one size fits all” website, social media plan, marketing plan, etc.

    Everyone has to do what works not only for their industry and target demographic, but works for them personally too. I talk to my customers in-depth about social networks and blogging, and just how much time they want to devote to that, and which networks may be best for their industry and demographic.

    Preach it Annie!

  • It is especially true for social marketing, I think, Janice, but yeah, it’s pretty freaking universal. I commented on another Carnie’s post just now that one of the awesome things we enjoy now is the radically low barrier to entry into the digital marketspace. The downside, however, is that so many of us feel rushed and pressured into making that entry,without giving it all sufficient time/space for clarity of purpose. And then you throw in ALL THE THINGS – all the stuff we have to decide, to do – and it’s just overwhelming. The only way out is through, though.

  • You wanna know something about those “opinionated posts” that get shared all over the place, though? Sometimes – especially lately – I look at those posts, and no matter how much I may like the author personally, how good I know their intentions really are, all I can think is “oh COME ON.” It just makes me … sad.

  • I confess: I was bingewatching “Once Upon a Time” in the last two weeks, LOL. It shows, I guess?

  • 🙂 Nothing wrong with that!

  • Will I say something pithy here? “It depends.” LOL!

    There’s always more than one way to cook an egg, right? It’s all about the available utensitls and such you have on hand and how you like your eggs cooked. Want them over easy? Go with that. Hard boiled? Be my guest. Scrambled? Why not? Same holds true for marketing. There’s more than one way to skin a marketing cat. Do what works and what you’re comfortable with. Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in all the pearls of wisdom floating around the web. You know – “experts” who claim to know it all. I say just be brave and try something. If you get the results you desire, amen! If not, try something else. Use your good judgement and better logic and call upon sensibility.

    Great story!

  • I’m on board with “all the things” here, as you say. Janice: there’s no one size fits all. Téa: opinions are ok as long as they come from a place of strength (you’re not just saying something to be contrary). Melanie: it depends! No matter what you hear/get told you’ve still got to see it to believe it. Try something. If it works, do it. If it doesn’t, ditch it.

  • It sounds cliche, but digital marketing isn’t an exact science—there’s no other way to put it. It depends so much on your goals, your reasons for marketing, your target audience, your messaging, etc., etc. etc., that there’s no way on Earth that “one quick trick” will work for everyone. In fact, that “one quick trick” probably won’t work for more than 10% of businesses: that’s how varied this stuff is.

    Great topic, and I love your storytelling!

  • “It depends” is a standard answer for me too. “How much for a website?” Me: “it depends? how much for a car, house, or meal?”

  • I love Once Upon a Time. I binge-watched until I saw them all on Netflix, then bought the most recent season on Amazon Prime. 😀

    It’s like crack, I tell ya.

  • Yes. Delicious delicious crack.

  • SandyMcD

    Loved reading this Annie. You so put into perspective the blip that was Internet Marketing. The great IM myth. I’m going to sing this as a new mantra, ‘if there is no one way right way, you can stop looking for it.’ What a relief for so many people bamboozled by the endless search. You write a great story.

  • This post is filled with gems of truth.

    In particular, you and I are of a similar mindset that indicates “Why?” should always be the first question out of someone’s mouth when told about a new marketing technique.

    There’s zero reason for Business A to try to follow the same path as Business B (in marketing or other pursuits) if Business B’s environmental factors are fundamentally different than Business A. That’s true in Marketing, Management, Finance, whatever.

    So Why should always be the first question. The next thing that should come after “Why?” is “OK, so what do we really care about?”

    For most businesses, that’ll be “Sales”. or “Butts in Seats”. or “Customer Retention”. If none of those things are happening as a result of your marketing efforts – be it Facebook posting out the wazoo, content curation, or whatever the saveur de la journée is, there’s no reason to continue doing it even though it might be “a best practice”.

    In my mind, the answer to: “what should I be doing first?” Is almost always “what’s the fastest path to revenue, or to promoting your long-term goals through building your resources?”

    Answering a question with a question usually earns you a glare, but that particular line gets the lightbulbs to turn on and the gears to start cranking.

  • hahaha! I use the phrase “butts in seats” in my intro video on my site.

    Anyway, back on topic: this is something I talk to my clients about EXTENSIVELY. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it is right for them. Just because their *competitors* are doing it, doesn’t mean it is right for them (shoot, their competitors may be doing it wrong anyway and now they’re just copying a bad formula).

    Yup. Ask the customer the hard questions. I ask the questions, and the responses are ALWAYS, “wow, I hadn’t thought about that”. And THAT is what my book covers. 😀

  • I love “it depends!”

    Following our inner knowing, and the grounded insight of experts is my go to method!

  • The internet isn’t like basic math. 2+2 is going to be 4 this year, next year and next century. The internet is constantly changing. Heck it’s changed since I started writing this comment. With something so fluid, through in a dash of your own uniqueness as a business, and you’ve got “It depends”. What is right for your business depends on many things, and can’t be easily pigeonholed. Great post Annie.

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