Ten Good Reasons Not to Listen to Bad Online Marketing Advice


Entrepreneur Magazine gave some space to Susan Gunelius‘ musings about social media. Being somewhat concerned with the subject, I decided to review her conclusions.

1. The Law of Listening
Gunelius believes that succeeding in the social media and content marketing game requires less talk and more listening. Here we run into the “one to many correspondence” error. It is impossible for a single individual to pay attention to the thought threads of hundreds of other unknown individuals. It cannot be done, not even with supercomputers, because even the most sophisticated AI program (and I know this because I have written several of them) cannot look for connections that it hasn’t been programmed to look for. The premise that there is a “target audience” is in itself fallacious. Your target audience is whomever happens to to find your website. You have no idea who they are until they have already come and gone. How are you supposed to read their online content if you don’t know who they are in the first place and, if you think you do, you are operating on assumptions, suppositions or intuitions, not facts.

2. The Law of Focus
Gunelius believes that it is better to specialize than to be a jack-of-all-trades. Really? The New York Times doesn’t seem to agree, nor does any other major publication, all of which “specialize” in providing a general purpose publication to a general purpose readership. The “highly-focused” social media and content marketing strategy that Gunelius proposes results in the same compartmentalization that is at the root of all evil in intellectual discourse. It also limits your potential audience, which is rather like coming to a rodeo without a quarter horse.

3. The Law of Quality
Gunelius tells us that it is better “to have 1,000 online connections who read, share, and talk about your content with their own audiences than 10,000 connections who disappear after connecting with you the first time.” Nonsense. If you have 1,000 online connections, the best term to describe your online venture is “bankrupt,” because those aren’t enough daily visitors to support a viable business plan. If, however, you can attract 10,000 visitors once, you have a viable business because, if you can attract 10,000 visitors once, you can attract another 10,000 and more ten-thousands after that.

4. The Law of Patience
Gunelius wants us to know that “social media and content marketing success doesn’t happen overnight,” but every study of successful online ventures supports the contrary notion that successful models catch fire very quickly. Starting slow, and building slowly only results in dying quickly. In other words, in the online world, if at first you don’t succeed, try something else…fast. The intellectual atmosphere of the 21st century is so volatile that anyone who waits for success will get run over by those who were smart enough to be impatient.

5. The Law of Compounding
Gunelius’ law of compounding suggests that, if you build it, they will come….but the people you are trying to attract are also being sought out by everyone else, and they don’t have any more free time on their hands to promote your product than you do to promote theirs. More people generate more comments, more comments bring more visitors, who make more comments….and promote their comments on their social media. We all know that. The problem is defining what constitutes “amazing, quality content,” because no two people have the same definition of what is amazing. Finding some common denominator that cuts across the spectrum of different likes and interests is a matter of serendipitous chance….blind, dumb luck. Of course, there is one way to insure that you hit that mark: publish lots and lots of very varied content. My rule has always been: “Try everything. Something might work.”

6. The Law of Influence
Gunelius wants you to spend time “finding the online influencers in your market who have quality audiences and are likely to be interested in your products, services and business.”  This isn’t hard to do, because these online influencers are constantly promoting themselves….but they don’t come cheap. Anyone who has the ability to “put you and your business in front of a huge new audience” is going to want lots and lots of dollars to do that. Most people call them advertising agencies or public relations firms, but both categories of organizations will tell you the one true fact about free advertising and publicity: it’s only worth what you paid for it.

7. The Law of Value
Listen, Susan, you really have to stop using the word “amazing.” No, really. Amazing just doesn’t mean anything. It has no contextual meaning. Sales gurus are always telling their students to answer, “Amazing,” when asked how things are going for them, because no matter how good or how bad things are actually going, it is still true if you say that your business is amazing. That said, while you are out creating amazing content, you are also painting yourself into a corner because no one cares about your content until AFTER they have found your website.

8. The Law of Acknowledgment
Okay, finally, something I can wholeheartedly endorse. Treat others as you want to be treated. Do unto others, etc. Don’t ignore your readers. Respond to their concerns. Personally, I prefer to pay them. It works wonders.

9. The Law of Accessibility
See Number 8. Gunelius wants you to “consistently publish content and participate in conversations” because online followers can be fickle. Tell me about it. So are contributors, advertisers, and competitors, who only drop by now and then to see how you doing…and steal whatever they find. For me, this boils down to: “Keep your nose to the grindstone,” or, as Mr. Miyagi puts it in The Karate Kid: “Wax on. Wax off.”

10. The Law of Reciprocity
See Number 8 and Number 9. Not to get snarkier about it than I have already been, but it’s a really bad idea to publish ten rules for anything if you can only think of seven. Seven was good. Eight, nine and ten were the same idea repetitiously repeated. If you’re not part of the conversation, you’re not part of the conversation. What could be more basic than that?

Conclusion: Whenever I see an “expert” article advocating platitudes that don’t actually mean anything, I really feel that it is in the public interest to gently excoriate the author, lest some poor benighted souls stumble upon said prognostications without the obligatory shakers of salt. While there are nuts and bolts, how-to articles that might actually cast some light on this subject, this isn’t one of them. There’s no deep mystery to finding and keeping an audience. You just need that special secret ingredient: money.