If you want people to do business with your small business on an ever-more-crowded web, you have to
- Get their attention
- Stand out from the competition
- Sell something they want at a price they’re willing to pay
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
For most of us, that means doing some form of content marketing. We write blog posts, we’re active on social media platforms like Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter. We join groups on LinkedIn and we pin on Pinterest or we Instagram.
All of these — your blog posts, social posts, pins and the like — comprise your marketing. You’re using content to get attention, stand out from the crowd, and to encourage prospective buyers to do business with you.
Because you know that people do business with those they know, like, and trust.
Sure, it helps if you have a great product or service to offer, but given a choice between shelling out their hard-earned money to you or to your competitor, they’ll choose the one with the highest know-like-trust factor.
The key to gaining that know-like-trust is honesty, or, to put it in today’s buzz-word parlance, authenticity.
You’ve got to be your authentic self online because that is what makes you completely unique. Nobody else does “you” as well as you do.
I’m going to address my remarks to solopreneurs and bloggers, but the information holds true even if you’re the content manager or social media manager for a big company. (If that’s the case, just substitute the company’s personality for your own.)
“Wait!” I hear you say. “The company doesn’t have a personality.” Really? Why the heck not? (I was going to say, “why the hell not,” but that doesn’t fit with my company’s personality.)
If you — or your company — are just bland and beige online, nobody’s going to care about you.
On the flip side, unless you’re a professional comic, making jokes in blogs or social media can trip you up. Sarcasm doesn’t come through well online, as some, like Justine Sacco, have found to their peril. Sacco posted a sarcastic tweet to her 170 followers, it blew up into a major internet thing, and she lost her job over it.
If you’re a funny girl, or guy, you can minimize that form of expression online and still be authentic.
What Is This Authenticity You Speak Of?
Google “how to be authentic online,” and one of the first search results is the Tiny Buddha site. In the post 4 Tips to Create Meaningful, Authentic Connections Online, author Lori Deschene describes a soul-sucking corporate job where she “wrote for hours about a topic that meant absolutely nothing to me.”
From that experience she derived her four authenticity tips:
- Get comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” Nobody (except maybe yourself) expects you to know everything.
- Let yourself be vulnerable. Believe it or not, exposing a vulnerability attracts people to you because they can relate. My son, who usually comes across as a brilliant know-it-all on Facebook, got his most comments ever when he posted recently that he was feeling scared about a life situation he’d never been in before.
- Ask for what you really want. Lori from Little Buddha says:”I’ve found it’s far more effective to simply be upfront with people. In the end, most of us really do want to help each other. In fact, of all the bloggers I’ve encountered online, the vast majority say that their purpose is to help people.”So be direct. If you’re looking for guidance or advice, ask for it. If you’d like someone to review your book, instead of asking if you can send it—no strings attached—ask outright if they’ll consider reviewing it. If you’re hoping to create some type of mutually beneficial arrangement with another blogger, put it out there upfront.”
- Treat the web like an “actual crowd.” Got “only” 400 Twitter followers? How big a crowd is that if you try to get them all into one room?
Valerie Buckingham reminds us on Mashable that:
“Given the speed of social media, your message can go from trusted to falling out of favor in the blink of an eye, and it could all hinge on what you say next. That’s why the number one thing you can do to ensure authenticity and trust when connecting with fans, customers, and partners is to think about what your message means to them.”
On the Firebrand Talent blog, Matthew Hutchinson writes:
“The key to developing authenticity is consistency, being true to yourself and your brand, and posting content in-line with the persona you’ve developed. The more consistent you are, the more people will come to trust and rely on what you say.”
What Authenticity Is Not
Being authentic online does not mean that you:
- Share intimate details of your life with the world
- Tell everyone what you ate for breakfast (unless you’re in the food or health business)
- Complain about your kids, spouse, dog, boss, or in-laws
- Share every moment of every day (unless you’re on Reality TV, in which case you’re not reading this anyway)
- Say the first thing that comes into your head
Authenticity doesn’t confuse honesty y with full disclosure. When my kids started asking questions about the birds and the bees, I didn’t share details of my love life. I was honest about the facts, but I didn’t disclose what was private between me and my husband.
Sharing details that cross the line is different for everyone, based on their niche or industry and their audience. I write mainly about writing, content marketing, and WordPress, so it serves no purpose for me to post on social media about the jerk who kept me standing in the subway because he was “man spreading” and taking up three seats. That’s just complaining. But if I were blogging about gender issues, that post might be very appropriate.
By the same token, I don’t want to write about nothing but business because that’s, well, boring.
Think About The Audience You Want To Attract
Some solopreneurs worry that showing their authentic selves online might push away potential buyers. That’s actually a good thing. You can’t do business with the whole world, and it’s to your advantage to quickly separate your target audience from everyone else.
Think about who is your most likely audience. Are you a so-called Mommy Blogger? Then you want to attract an audience interested in raising and caring for young children. If your posts turn off empty nesters, do you care?
Do you run a website all about the best Bed & Breakfast inns in Maine? Do you care if someone who plans to vacation in Idaho leaves your site? Not at all.
Maybe you’re a CPA or an Attorney or someone else with a “serious” profession. Does that mean your content needs to be all buttoned up and dull? Nope.
Naomi Dunford is a blogger who’s developed a successful online business, called IttyBiz, and she’s “been helping little businesses become less little since 2006.” Naomi is quirky and irreverent, and she’s got a mouth and is not afraid to use it. Her bio on her website states:
“About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to…ha! Free time. You’re adorable.”
She’s not everyone’s cup of tea. She offends a lot of people, and she’s ok with that. Those are people who don’t appreciate her style or laugh at her jokes, and they are not her audience. But she’s got a strong following, and when she releases a new product the fans flock to it.
Another successful blogger is David Risley. He started with a tech blog, then switched to teaching others what he’d learned about blogging successfully. That led to the creation of his Blog Marketing Academy.
David’s a take-no-prisoners kind of guy. He sugar coats nothing, and some readers are turned off by his blunt approach. But that’s fine because he does a booming business with those who know he’s going to tell them the truth as he sees it.
Each of them has a thriving content marketing business. Each of them is authentic, in his or her own unique way. They’re honest bloggers.
How To Become An Honest Blogger
Think about yourself. Seriously. Not in an ego-tripping way, but about all the different ingredients that make you “you.”
In no particular order, these include demographics like:
- Marital status and family
- Religious beliefs
- Political leanings
- Level of income
Don’t panic, I’m not suggesting you blog about any of these things, but they’re all part of you, and they all contribute to how your readers will see you.
It Doesn’t Require Full Disclosure
Now, think about which of these you want to disclose to your readers.
Some of it will come through whether you choose to talk about it or not. I don’t think anyone, reading my blogs, would think for a second that I’m a Millennial, for example. Even if they didn’t see my silver hair in the bio photo. Or, even though I don’t write explicitly about politics, I’m sure my leanings show themselves from time to time.
If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, your city life will creep into your blog posts. Same if you love living in the country.
If you earn a seven-figure income and you live in a mansion with a household staff of five, your view of the world is different from someone fresh out of college living the life of a starving artist. Even if neither of you writes about your circumstances, readers will see the differences in your world views.
Now think about some of your passions. Are you involved in a pet rescue organization? Do you run a fundraising event for cancer research? Support an overseas orphan? Chair a local political organization? Do you have a secret ambition to write a mystery novel? Attend sci-fi conventions wearing elaborate cosplay? Play a musical instrument? Act in Community Theater?
Depending on your industry or niche, consider intentionally incorporating one or more of your interests in your writing. When you do that, you add a layer of humanness that readers can relate to, even if they don’t share that interest.
For example, Brian Gardner is a WordPress theme developer. Because I’ve read his blog for a while, I know he’s also a self-described Starbucks addict, and he’s always searching for simpler ways to live. He’s a minimalist.
Mike Allton, SiteSell’s Chief Marketing Officer, loves Star Wars.
Sonia Simone works for Rainmaker Digital. She has pink hair.
Freelance writer Kristi Hines is a storm chaser.
Does Brian’s love for Starbucks, or Mike’s for Star Wars, make a difference in their businesses? Does anyone care about Sonia’s hair color? Does being a storm chaser get Kristi more freelance writing gigs?
No, and yes.
Probably none of them has ever landed a contract or sold a product solely because of those little items of interest. But does it make them more interesting people? And, therefore, are readers more likely to feel they know them, like them, or trust them? Absolutely!
Sharing their interests makes them more relatable — even to people who don’t necessarily share the same interests. It helps readers feel like they have an inside track on those bloggers’ lives, almost like sharing a secret. And if the writer trusts the reader enough to share a secret, then the reader wants to trust right back.
Because I work with Mike, I know that he made a deliberate decision to share his love of Star Wars. He includes Star Wars references in social media posts, and when he started doing Hangouts on Air, he decorated his office with Star Wars memorabilia so it shows on camera.
I’ll bet you didn’t know, though, that he’s a talented saxophone player who once considered a career in music. That’s a facet he chose not to emphasize. It doesn’t make him less honest or less authentic.
Write The Way You Talk
Some people have a wonderful, conversational tone when they write. As a blogger, that’s the tone you want. Sadly, school drums that easy flow out of most of us, and our writing ends up stilted, stiff, and dull.
To get that conversational tone back into your writing, try speaking aloud as if you’re talking with a good friend. Then type what you just said. Or use one of the many speech-to-type dictation software packages to actually dictate your posts.
Once you’ve got a first draft, read it aloud. Does it flow easily? If you’re tripping over words, or if it sounds formal, rewrite it. After a while, the conversational tone will come more easily and each post will take less time to write.
One of the most powerful and most-shared blog posts in the history of the Internet comes from Jon Morrow. He almost blew up the ProBlogger website with this a few years ago. It’s called How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise and Get Paid to Change the World. I’ve read and re-read it a bunch of times, and I still can’t get through it without both tearing up and feeling inspired.
Derek Halpern, of Social Triggers, is someone I think of as being sort of a tough guy. He’s confident, even cocky. But then he posted this.
People love someone who doesn’t have it all together, doesn’t know everything, and is willing to admit it. That doesn’t mean you should use your blog to whine, complain, or confess every single one of your failings or uncertainties. But once in a while, a little dose of vulnerability shows you’re human, and readers relate to it.
Ask For What You Want
Sometimes this is easy, and sometimes it’s really, really hard.
If you want information or feedback, you can create a survey and use it to ask.
If you want people to buy your stuff, you have to let them know what it is and how it will benefit them. Then ask them to buy. It’s simple (though not always easy).
Interact, On Your Blog And On Social Media
If someone takes the time to leave a comment on your blog, respond to it! Be gracious (even if they’re not). Same with social media. It’s not the place to just trumpet your wares, promote your latest post, or advertise your services. That’s not authentic, that’s just obnoxious.
Be generous. Share other people’s stuff, comment, and add value.
On social media, I like to share articles and posts that help WordPress users, and which aren’t specifically about WordPress. For example, as WordPress Building Blocks, I love sharing information about tools like Trello, or Canva. Internet security is important to my readers, but it’s not directly WordPress related. Anything about social media or social platforms is shareable, along with SEO-related subjects.
If it’s an interest you and your readers have in common, share it. This is where Mike shares geeky Star Wars info, along with the business items.
A Blogger With Two Faces Can Still Be Authentic
I’m going to use myself as an example here — something I’m not horribly comfortable doing. (Did you spot that little admission of vulnerability there?)
As An Expat Blogger
Back in March, 2009, I started a blog called Future Expats. My husband and I were thinking about eventually retiring overseas and exploring the possibilities. I recognized that it was a timely topic, and decided to blog about it. A week later — seriously, this is the genuine time frame — one short week later my “secure” job melted away in the US economic meltdown.
Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find another job. Suddenly, our overseas adventure started looking like our only viable option for financial survival.
We moved from Central Florida to a small town in Panama, and I went from writing about a hypothetical, wished-for experience to the reality much sooner than I had expected.
Readers of that blog know a fair bit about me and about my husband, our kids, and our dogs. Even about our finances living in Panama. Those are all highly relevant to the topic of the blog.
They also know I have an interest in portable careers because I researched and wrote about ways to earn a living from anywhere. They know that the portable career I developed while living in Panama made it possible for us to return to the US when my husband wanted to be closer to his elderly parents.
Being an honest blogger in the expat arena meant sharing a lot of personal information.
That carries over into social media as well. Anything relating to day-to-day life is fair game. A walk on the beach with the dogs, for example, is well received. Trying out a new restaurant, or viewing property for sale are subjects of interest. They are part of being an honest blogger in that niche. Not so much for my other persona, though…
As A Business Blogger
After we moved to Panama, I was casting about for a business idea. Back in the 1990’s I had built websites the hard way — hand coding with HTML. Around 2007 I discovered WordPress, and fell in love.
I realized that there was an under-served niche market in teaching non-technical people how to use WordPress. Sure, there were a ton of great teaching sites, but most of them are very intimidating to someone who doesn’t have an IT degree. I felt I could bridge that gap.
So I created WordPress Building Blocks.
I set out to make it the opposite of intimidating. So I chose bright, quirky colors — no dark blues or blacks. I chose a fun headline font. I chose to write in a light-hearted style.
I share a lot less personal information on that site than I do on Future Expats. But I still make the posts interesting and I let my personality shine through.
Perceptive readers will see that I’m a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. I never blog about those topics, but there’s an occasional reference, on the blog and in social media. In social media, I also post an occasional update about political issues that would affect the internet or internet security.
Neither on the blog nor in the social media accounts do I ever talk about a restaurant visit or taking my dogs somewhere. I stick more closely to business topics.
Does that mean I’m an honest blogger for Future Expats but not for WordPress Building Blocks?
Not at all!
I’m totally myself on both of them, but I adjust what I focus on and disclose for the interests and needs of the audience.
And that’s what being an honest blogger is all about — being the best “you” that you can be to meet the needs of your target audience.
This is where SiteSell can help. With the right tools and processes, you can make sure that your voice is carried to the right audience, wherever they are.
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