The Right and Wrong Way to Promote Your Personal Brand

One of the rules of personal branding is to help other people. If someone asks for help, you give it. You don’t keep score, expect a return favor, or hold it over their head.

And you certainly never, EVER scream at the other person or make them feel like a schmuck for looking up to you or hoping you’ll take five minutes to help them.

But Cleveland communication pro, Kelly Blazek, broke that rule when she sent several furious emails to young professionals who asked for a connection and subscription to an email job board she offered 7,300 other Clevelanders.

Diana Mekota received one after asking to be included on Blazek’s email list, and to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Apparently you have heard that I produce a Job Bank, and decided it would be stunningly helpful for your career prospects if I shared my 960+ LinkedIn connections with you — a total stranger who has nothing to offer me. Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky.

Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. Wow, I cannot wait to let every 25-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. Love the sense of entitlement in your generation. And therefore I enjoy denying your invite, and giving you the dreaded ‘I Don’t Know’ [NAME] because it’s the truth.

Oh, and about your request to actually receive my Job Bank along with the 7,300 other subscribers to my service? That’s denied, too. I suggest you join the other Job Bank in town. Oh wait – there isn’t one.

Kelly Blazek letter to MenkotaShe wrote at least two other hateful emails to people who she believed were not good enough for her network.

Blazek’s responses are wrong on so many levels, and she says she knows that now (after she got blasted on social media, and her emails became an international story). She wrote an apology, and I’m inclined to believe it, but I think she’s damaged her reputation pretty soundly. There’s even a move to have her stripped of her 2013 Communicator of the Year award from the Cleveland chapter of the International Award of Business Communicators.

How Good Networking Is Actually Done

When you reach a certain position, whether as a professional, speaker, author, or any other visible role in your community or industry, you have to acknowledge that you got there with the help of a lot of other people. You asked people for help, and they gave it. Or better yet, you didn’t ask, but received it anyway.

People who reach these stages are often excellent networkers. They love sharing and helping others achieve their goals. Good networkers do it without thinking, bad networkers either don’t do it at all, or do it with many strings attached.

Good networkers operate from a few foundational principles.

  • Your network should never be closed. While there are problems with having it be too big, there’s a lot more to be said against making it exclusive. You’re not a celebrity, and your friends aren’t movie stars and rock stars. There may be connections you protect from casual introductions, but that doesn’t mean you completely shut everyone out.
  • Blazek blasted Mekota as being “a total stranger who has nothing to offer me.” Good networkers believe everyone has something to offer. But to say a person has no value? That’s one of the worst things you could tell someone. Each of us has something to offer the world, and sometimes our job is to help others realize what their gift is.
  • “Nothing to offer me.” Good networkers never expect the other person to have something to offer them, because networking is not an “I’ll do for you only if you do for me” relationship. If you expect a quid pro quo exchange, people will soon grow tired of you. Keeping track of favors makes you stingy, and no one will want to help you at all.
  • And while you should never be rude, you definitely shouldn’t leave evidence of your rudeness. Not only does it make you less of a person — remember, we’re supposed to be our best selves — but your rudeness will be shared for everyone to see. In just a few short minutes, Blazek undid 10 years of hard work, all because she thought she was too good to help, and that they were beneath her.

Blazek has since closed down her Twitter account, LinkedIn account, and her WordPress blog. But in her wake, another Twitter account, @OtherNeoJobBank (“Oh wait, there is one”) has stepped up and is sharing job openings around the Cleveland area.

Mister Rogers Knows Networking

In the words of my hero, Mister Rogers, “I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes,’ when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to someone else.”

The people who taught me about networking all modeled this idea. They said yes, even when it meant extra work for them. So I do the same for others; I do what I can to teach them to do it for the people who will come to them one day, asking them for the same help.

Networking is never about paying back. It’s about helping others achieve their goals, and teaching them how that’s done. Because one day, when they’re established and have reached the next level of their career, someone will ask for their help.

The lessons they teach and the help they give, will be a reflection on me, which is a reflection of those who taught me, and those who taught them. I hope they understand the long line of giving they come from, and continue to carry it on.

Will You Survive The Content Shock?

We’re about to be deluged with a flood of content of Noah-esque proportions that could get so bad, we may have to actually pay people just to read our work.

At least that’s what Mark Schaefer is saying.

He says we’re about to enter a period of content shock, which is going to render content marketing unsustainable as a marketing channel.

Lightning

Of course the volume of free content is exploding at a ridiculous rate. Depending on what study you read, the amount of available web-based content (the supply) is doubling every 9 to 24 months. Unimaginable, really.

However, our ability to consume that content (the demand) is finite. There are only so many hours in a day and even if we consume content while we eat, work and drive, there is a theoretical and inviolable limit to consumption, which we are now approaching.

This intersection of finite content consumption and rising content availability will create a tremor I call The Content Shock. In a situation where content supply is exponentially exploding while content demand is flat, we would predict that individuals, companies, and brands would have to “pay” consumers more and more just to get them to see the same amount of content.

I won’t lie. This scares me a bit. Basically, small content marketers who produce good work are going to be buried by Sturgeon’s Law.

(Scifi author Theodore Sturgeon once said “95% of everything is crap.” Actually, he said “crud,” but I like “crap” better.)

Still, in an age of the Walmartization of everything, there are experts and artisans who have survived the onslaught of cheap plastic crap cheapening their work.

If you want to survive the content shock, here are a couple things you need to remember.

You have to write better than everyone else

As much as it pains me to say it, you have to “write good content.” (Even though I still say it’s a stupid strategy.) But it can’t just be “good,” it has to be awesome.

Because most of the content that’s being put out by content marketers around the world is at best, just awful.

The Internet is already one example of Sturgeon’s Law, and we’ve managed to survive that so far. All this means is that there’s going to be more crap, and we just have to figure out a way to stay in the 5%, or even 1%.

The written word has been commoditized over the last few decades. Excellent writing was cheapened by pretty good writing, as publishing got cheaper. Pretty good writing was diluted by good writing, as people started blogging. And good writing is now being weakened by mediocre writing, as more businesses jump on the content train, and marketers will accept content from anyone and everyone who has a basic grasp of the English language.

If you want to outperform the flood, you need to be better than the mediocre crap that’s being passed off as “content.” You need to be better than the hacks and flacks who are calling themselves writers, just because they can construct a grammatical sentence.

You have to start “social media marketing” again

Plenty of social media veterans have stopped talking about “social media marketing” in favor of the new flavor of the day as being — inbound marketing, digital marketing, mobile marketing, blah blah blah — but businesses are only just now recognizing “social media marketing” is a thing.

But the content flood means that building relationships and being seen as an influencer is going to become important, even as it becomes more difficult. If nothing else, people will read your work because they trust you and know that you give them valuable insights.

If people buy from people they like, they’re certainly going to read stuff from people they like.

Lately I’ve been seeing a number of people inflating their Twitter and LinkedIn followings as a way to fake influence. They’re chasing numbers and growing their counts, but they’re not actually doing anything important or valuable.

That’s not influential, that’s just stupid.

I will never follow anyone with 20,000 followers and only 1,000 tweets. I can’t believe those 1,000 tweets are so awesome that 20,000 people shrieked “I have to be a part of this!

High followers + low tweets = you cheated. It doesn’t mean influence.

There’s no secret to being influential. You need to start building it three, four, five years ago. If you didn’t, don’t scam your way to the top. Slog it out like the real influencers.

The content shock may be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t survive it. It means you have to work harder, write better, and be more trustworthy than everyone else. It means adding followers one and two at a time, by building genuine relationships with them.

Let all the hacks and fakers flail away at an ever growing mountain of utter crap. Stick with your own little patch and grow it by by bit. It may not be huge, but it will certainly be more effective and appreciated than those who muddled their way through and never actually contributed anything.

Photo credit: Luke Zeme Photography (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Being Loathsome is a Bad Career Move

I’m worried about a recent Forbes article that encourages people to be assholes as a way to further their careers.

J. Maureen Henderson’s article, Why It’s Better For Your Career To Be Loathed Than To Be Liked thinks that Erika Napoletano’s obscenity-filled presentations and slides of Sarah Palin copulating with a polar bear are to be admired and cheered.

In the article, Napoletano says:

I’m not concerned with being likeable as a brand or person. I’m concerned with not having to put on a meat suit every day when I stand in front of the world around me. Being honest and building the next better version of you? That’s what creates memorable people, brands and experiences. I don’t give a s*** if I’m likeable. I care the most about whether the people who allow me to do what it is I love every day respect me for who I am and know that I respect them the same way.

Angry Screaming Guy

If this is how you approach your business relationships, is it any wonder people don’t like you?

I hate, HATE, HATE! it when people equate the phrase “being honest” with “being an asshole.” As if being intentionally offensive is honest and noble, and people who are nice are less of a person.

Shock jocks and sullen teenagers do it, but it gets tiresome after a while, and at the end of the day, no one likes either of them.

These are the same people who say “I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I just say it like it is.”

You know who else speaks their mind and says it like it is?

Three-year-olds.

They don’t have the maturity and tact to think twice about what they’re going to say. How bad does a person have to be when they have the same lack of maturity and tact as a three-year-old? You would think that after 30+ years, they would have figured that out by now.

Whatever happened to being nice and pleasant? Being respectful and kind? I knew a man who ran an entire department, whose daily mantra, both to himself and the people who worked for him, was “be nice.”

It was especially unsettling for the people who worked for him, since many of them were retired military officers, including a colonel who had commanded a tank brigade. Their collective job was to deal with large-scale disasters and emergencies.

But “Be nice” won the day. This guy had the respect and admiration of everyone who worked for him and with him. And they were still able to get the job done and keep people safe.

Being Nice Doesn’t Mean Being a Pushover

I know some people who worry that being nice means you have to let people walk all over you, or that people are going to take advantage of you.

That’s not what it means.

Being nice means you don’t belittle someone or try to hurt them. You don’t screw someone out of a business relationship. It means you don’t have a deliberate “screw you” attitude when dealing with people you disagree with.

Being nice means you treat people with kindness and respect. It means you stand firm on your convictions and you speak up — loudly, if necessary — when the situation calls for it. It means you stand up against bullies, and speak for people who don’t have a voice. Being nice doesn’t mean being a wimp, it means being strong, but respectful.

I have never known anyone to be fired or lose a client because they were nice.

“We had to let him go. He did good work, but he was always polite and helpful, and had a kind word for everyone. I hated him.”

There are plenty of people who get fired for being unlikable. For being rude, irksome, boorish, crude, inflammatory, and loathsome. No one was sad to see them go, and some people even got a going away party held in their honor.

After they were gone. And they weren’t invited.

Either Way, Bring Your A-Game

Henderson’s article says, if you’re going to be an asshole — I’m paraphrasing here — you’d better bring your A-game. You can’t just be offensive and be bad at your job, because then you’re just offensive, and you’ll be fired.

Napoletano believes that it’s okay to be loathsome as long as the clients love what you’re doing.

Which is true. But it’s also true that you still have to bring your A-game if you’re nice.

People don’t keep you around because you’re nice if you’re not providing a benefit. They want results. They want success. They want a positive ROI. And it doesn’t matter if you bake cookies for the office every Friday, if you’re not producing, you’ll be let go.

I prefer being the nice guy. I like helping people. I want to see, and help, people accomplish their goals and succeed in their endeavors. The whole reason Kyle Lacy and I wrote Branding Yourself was to help people, because there were a lot of people out of work, under employed, or in a job they hated. We wanted to help them find their way out of that.

Bottom line, your personal brand is yours to define, any way you want. You can be kind and helpful and nice to people, and have people who love to work with you and spend time with you, or you can be pompous, outrageous, and loathsome.

You can be likable and have people who want to work with you, or be loathsome and say you don’t care if you’re liked or not (which is good, because you’re probably not).

You can be successful with either approach, but one is going to bring you — and everyone else around you — more happiness.

Photo credit: B_Heyer (Flickr)

24 Quotes to Inspire Any Marketer, Plus One of Mine

Have you ever had your name mentioned in a sentence with someone you admire? Like you’re being compared to them, or included with them? And not, “Is Erik Deckers older than Jason Falls?”

It happens occasionally for me, where someone includes me in a list of people I’ve only read about, and who wouldn’t know me from Adam. Every time it does, I want to say, “Wait, I think you made a mistake.” It’s terribly exciting and a real honor. It’s also something I struggle to accept.

People from Indiana are taught to be humble, and to not brag. (We’re America’s Canada.) We don’t take compliments very well, because we’re supposed to be humble and not appear boastful.

So when someone includes my name or mentions something I’ve done/said in a list of people I’ve looked up to, quoted, and read regularly, part of my brain ducks its head, says “aw, shucks,” and kicks at the ground. And another part squeals like a 12-year-old girl meeting Justin Bieber.

It happened yesterday after someone pointed me to a slide deck of “25 Quotes to Inspire Any Marketer” from ezanga.com. It included quotes from Dan & Chip Heath (Made to Stick), Seth Godin (Purple Cow, Tribes, and Linchpin), John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing), David Meerman Scott (Real-Time Marketing & PR), and David freaking Ogilvy.

And me.

The line is from Branding Yourself, a book that Kyle Lacy and I wrote in 2010, and finished a second edition in 2012. I can’t remember who we learned it from (we cited him in the book), but it was used to illustrate the idea that, just like people have emotional reactions to their most-loved and most-hated brands, people have the same reaction to us.

I thought, “this must be a mistake. Or it’s one of those ‘Daily Paper.li’ pages where 87 different people get included and tweeted.” But then I looked and saw that it was neither of those things. It really was something I said, and it was good enough to be included in a list with the Johnson Brothers, Seth Godin, David Meerman Scott, and David freaking Ogilvy.

People think it’s odd that the personal branding guy has difficulty in accepting compliments or stating simple facts like, “I wrote a book,” especially when he wrote a book that told people “get over yourself.” But I do. I get red in the face when I get complimented. I still don’t like telling people, “I wrote a couple books,” because it seems like bragging. And I still feel like a fake when someone asks me to sign their book.

I have to fight that urge to not say anything about what I’ve done and, you know, actually do the things I tell other people to do.

So, here it goes:

“I had a quote about marketing included in a slide deck and blog post that included a lot of really smart people.”

You have no idea how hard that just was.

Free Tickets to Revenue North Indianapolis, March 21, 2013

Revenue North Indianapolis is a one-day conference for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and job seekers. It’s filled with breakout groups, each with 12 speakers per block. We’re covering the gamut, from search engine optimization to finance to social media marketing to pitching investors to networking.

The event is Thursday, March 21 at the Wyndham Indianapolis West Hotel, 2544 Executive Dr., Indianapolis, IN 46241, from 8 am to 5 pm.

Erik Deckers speaking in public

“And the doctor said, ‘that was no duck, that was my wife!'”

I’m speaking at 8:00 am in Fortune Square D and again at 9:15 am in Golden Ballroom 7 on 10 Personal Branding Secrets for Professional Success.

My talk will go beyond the “you have to be on LinkedIn,” Personal Branding 101. . .stuff you see at these kinds of events. It will be 201 and 301-level material. (Basically, if you’re reading this, you already know why you have to be on LinkedIn and Twitter, because that’s probably what brought you to this page.)

If you own a business, you need to be here. If you do sales and marketing — especially Internet marketing, you need to be here. If you’re looking for a job or a chance to network, you need to be here.

The price is normally $99, but if you use my special code — A28LG7 — you can get in for free. My goal is to bring in at least 2% of the attendees, although I don’t get anything for it. Just a warm, happy feeling all over.

Check out the Revenue North Indianapolis schedule here.

You can register for Revenue North Indianapolis here.

Erik Deckers to Speak at Revenue North Indy on March 21st, Free Passes Available

I’ll be speaking at the Revenue North Indianapolis conference on March 21, 2013 at the Wyndham Indianapolis West Hotel. It starts at 8:00 am and runs until 5:00 pm, and they’re expecting close to 1000 people.

Erik Deckers speaking in public

I might even wear this shirt when I speak.

Passes are normally $99 for individuals and $299 for companies sending up to 5 people. But if you use my special promo code, A28LG7, you can get the individual pass for FREE.

You can see the full conference schedule here. Some of the speakers will include Doug Karr speaking about the Dangers of SEO; Kyle Lacy’s dad Dan speaking on Transforming Your Business; networking specialist Jamar Cobb-Denard will tell you to Stop Wasting Time Networking; my mentor Lorraine Ball of Roundpeg will tell you Why People Hate Your Website; and, I’m speaking about your 10 Professional Branding Secrets.

There are nearly 100 breakout sessions throughout the day, so you’re going to get your head crammed with a lot of great information.

Writing for Exposure: Mark Eveleigh Replies

After Monday’s post, “Writing For ‘Exposure’ Is Not Payment,” travel writer and photographer Mark Eveleiegh emailed me a great response that helped me crystallize my own thoughts. With his kind permission, I am reposting his reply here (not a differing response, but more of a ‘hell, yeah!’ reply), because he makes a very important point.

Mark Eveleigh in Chiapas, Mexico

Mark Eveleigh is a professional photographer, travel writer, and journalist. I also like his tattoo.

(Note: Mark is British, so any ‘misspellings’ are actually English writing styles and spellings.)

When I was starting out I had a golden rule NEVER to write for free. The magazines that want your free work are rarely the ones that can offer the best exposure (also most pros and editors know you wrote for free, thereby lowering your professional credibility). Will the day come when Nat Geo will expect us to write for free? After all it is the best exposure we will ever get. [Read more…]