Walking the Tightrope

Steve Brazell and Aiden Livingston


Facebook is the tightrope of marketing tools for businesses looking to promote themselves. Do it right, and win the accolades of your target market. Do it wrong, and plunge into the abyss of social media shame. On one end of the spectrum, if your Facebook presence dwells too much on the professional aspects of your company, you run the risk of turning off people who see you as exploiting the medium for shameless self-promotion. On the other end of the spectrum, a page that is overly personalized runs the risk of looking unprofessional and irrelevant. It is a double-edged sword that forces many businesses into a state of social media agoraphobia.

Fear not, my “online socially awkward” brethren; the situation isn’t as dismal or challenging as it seems. Much like socializing with people in person, socializing online requires a certain degree of finesse. Similar to making friends in the real world, we have to consider the motivations and wants of those we are trying to befriend.

Let’s consider for a moment why people choose to “like” something on Facebook. It isn’t simply because they like that thing. I might like Lady Gaga’s song, but I certainly wouldn’t “like” her on my Facebook page. Why?  Because announcing to the world that I like Lady Gaga muddies up my status as a heterosexual male. 

As a result, people “liking” something on Facebook has more to do with how they want others to perceive them than just a matter of preference. So when we consider how Facebook uses this metric, it is easy to see why so many Facebook pages never really catch on. Few people want to be associated with your business unless you are a large established brand. Being a fan of Jon’s Deli doesn’t say much about me. Well, actually it might say one thing: “I am such a loser, I declare my passion for a deli to my online social community,” which is a pretty sad statement that most consumers using social media would rather not make.

If you’re not a large established brand, you may want to consider making your Facebook title a little broader, so you can become an attribute people wish to share about themselves. We call it “promoting the category” rather than just spotlighting your small piece in the category.            

For example, while traveling through Thailand I met a bull rider from Perth, Australia. He told me how he had a Facebook page boasting more than 50,000 fans. Seeing as how this rivals the magnitude of Perth itself, I was intrigued. Evidently, his nephew had set up the page for him, and cleverly set it up under the title “Rodeo” and not just “Rod the Bull Rider.” This small detail made all the difference in the world. People wanted their friends to see that they “liked” the rodeo category, whereas I am quite sure the thousands of fans he had would not have much cared for their bull-riding friends to see that they “liked” an Aussie named Rod.

Successful large-brand Facebook pages include Pringles, Coke, Starbucks, Adidas and Red Bull. Why have their pages succeeded? First, these brands benefited from having a solid brand image and loyal following before they embraced social media. Second, they understand and know who their audience is. And third, they provide quality, relevant and regular content that encourages discussion and engagement. Plus, they don’t take themselves too seriously.

It is important to understand the underlying motivations of the online social world so you approach it correctly. Facebook may or may not be the right tool for your brand, but understanding the subtleties of approaching the social media world can make all the difference. After all, if a bull rider from Perth can have 50,000 fans, imagine what you can do.

Bottom line: Facebook is a conversation not a pulpit. Talk don’t sell, then listen carefully, Facebook is inexpensive market research. Don’t take yourself too seriously, others won’t.

Blog. Blog. Blog.

Most of us are now way past the idea that blogs are simply the rantings of disgruntled humans or discussions by professors about the latest breakthroughs in medical terms we can’t understand. Blogs are one of the most popular ways to disseminate new ideas and share information. And the new economy consumer seeks out just this kind of information beforemaking a purchase.

Most businesses understand the need for a blog, but very few know how to do it well. A blog is useful only when it is consistently updated, pertinent and relevant. A blog should be a significant reason for your target demographic to revisit your site often. Otherwise, after the first surf, why would someone revisit your site at all? Without regular, relevant updates to your site, your original posted information is probably not compelling enough that people will feel the need to drop back in just to reread it. 

The problem for most companies is they over-personalize their blog; that is, they discuss matters that are important to them without considering their audience. Most people have a natural mental filter that we exercise when talking to random people at a cocktail party. We inherently understand that this person, who doesn’t know you at all, won’t likely enjoy hearing about how you think your mother-in-law hates you, or how you are considering buying a new lawn mower but don’t know whether you want the Toro or the John Deere. The reason we don’t indulge our personal whims is because we can appreciate that although these matters are of great significance to us, when discussed in a mixed crowd, the odds of this spurring a more meaningful conversation are slim.   

The same rules apply to a blog. If you are hoping to engage strangers and turn them into customers by getting them interested in learning about you or your company, use your cocktail party filter. What might come up in conversation at a cocktail party? Perhaps you share an interesting study you have seen recently that is applicable to your industry, or you discuss an interesting emerging trend that positions you and your company as an expert in your industry. Don’t blow your own horn; be a provider of timely and relevant information -- become a trusted advisor. 

Not unlike our metaphorical cocktail party, a good blog should also discuss interesting recentnews that is relevant to your target market. Most news is always more interesting when it is, well, new. And discussing the most recent applicable events of the day is always more likely to attract and intrigue people than rehashing news from years ago (unless you are tying together information and showing trends).

As an added benefit to your blogs, discussing relevant topics that are already receiving a lot of buzz on the web can have huge implications for your search engine optimization on your site. Keywords in blogs can receive especially high attention by search engines like Google. So just by virtue of discussing the implications of the latest news story in relation to your industry, you have a much higher chance of both intriguing your existing audience and attracting new readers.

Your company’s blog is an opportunity to have an open discussion with your target market. It is also an opportunity for you to become a trusted advisor in your industry. Both opportunities should act as a “third party” funnel to drive consumers to buy your product or service, which is, of course, the point of having a blog in the first place.

Bottom line: Use your blog to provide relevant and timely information to your target market. Pick a fight, take a stand -- have something meaningful to say. Become a trusted advisor. And remember, content is king.


At only 27 years old, Aiden is fast becoming an ex­pert in the next generation of branding. His first book, “The Secrets of Advertising to Gen Y Consumers” (Self Counsel Press, 2010), explained to businesses how young consumers perceive brands. He lives in New York City and Austin, and blogs at http://aidenlivingston.com/nextgenbranding/

Steve Brazell is the founder of Hitman, Inc., a Competition Re­moval™ firm with offices in New York and Vegas, and the author of “Who Are You and Why Should I Care?” and “Bang. Bang. The Hitman’s Guide to Competition Removal." He blogs at www.SteveBrazell.com/Brand