What #SMBInfluencers Taught Me About Self-Promotion


It’s been a week since community voting ended in the Small Business Influencer Awards and that sound you just heard? That was me breathing a heavy sigh of relief because, well, as fun as it was to play the adult version of Color Wars (and it really was fun!), the month-long spree was also just a little draining. However, it also gave us a great opportunity to examine the art of self-promotion and take away a few lessons.

Or at least that’s what I did.

Below are some lessons I learned about promotion courtesy of the SMBInfluencer Awards. What did you take away from it? I’d love if you’d share your own thoughts in the comments. You can even comment to tell me how annoying you thought I was. ;)

30 Days Is Exhausting

Do you know who was the most excited when I could finally stop asking you nice people to vote for me in the SMBInfluencer awards? It wasn’t my Outspoken Media cohorts, nor my Twitter army, nor my BFF or any other third party. The most excited person was me. Because promoting the same piece of content, especially the same piece of 100 percent promotional content isn’t easy. It’s actually kind of exhausting. And it’s okay to admit that because it’s something you need to be aware of and prepare for when you have something you’ll be heavily promoting for some length of time. What kind of promotional strategy are you going to use? How will you keep it interesting?

You have to plan ahead because good content dies without promotion. You are not Matt Inman releasing the perfect viral butterfly masked beautifully in geek humor and potty –mouth jokes. You have to work a little harder. I know Peter Shankman would probably disagree with me on this (read #1) but, well, tough. If you want something, you gotta have the nerve to ask for it.

People Like When You Promote Content They Care About

I could calculate exactly how many times I promoted the Small Business Influencer Awards on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and in blog entries, but then I would be mortified and, well, we’re doing company headshots today and I don’t want to remain that shade of red. The point is, I promoted it a lot. I know that. But what surprised me was the response to all my promotional tweets. I found that as long as I spaced them out with my OTHER content that was intended to inform or entertain (preferably both at the same time), people appreciated them. More often than not the response to my hawking for votes was actually “thank you” and not “OMG, shut up”. Because people like the content that I put out and the things that I share with them, they wanted to support me back and they liked the reminder to do so.

If you want someone to write a review for your business? Ask them to. As long as they like you, they’ll be happy you told them about a way they could support you. If you want people to share your content via StumbleUpon, tell them that. As long as they think you provide value, they’ll be happy to do it for you. It was pretty cool watching this play out over the past month.

Clear Calls to Action Create Teams

Do you know what happens when you ask for your community’s help in achieving a certain goal? You unify them and create an army that is bigger than yourself or your Web site. It allows people to form a new type of connection with your or your brand – one where they’re PART of it – and they get excited about it. Because as connected as the Internet makes us feel, most people still want to like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

About halfway through the SMBInfluencer Award voting I created a Team Lisa Google+ Circle for people who had said they voted for me. And you know what? The craziest thing happened. People thanked me for it. They were all part of something and it created a new kind of experience that totally didn’t suck.

There’s a scene in the movie Friends with Benefits (shut up) where Justin Timberlake (SHUT! UP!) and Mila Kunis have a conversation about how feeling part of something makes people feel less alone, even when they’re surrounded by people. It’s worth a watch.

Some People Will Think You’re A Jerk

While I didn’t receive any annoyed comments directed at me during the time I was shilling for votes, I know that doesn’t mean there weren’t any or that people weren’t quietly unfollowing me or planning to murder me in my sleep. They just weren’t telling me about it. And that’s okay. My goal is not to attract every person in the world or to become the Prom Queen of the Internet. My goal is to connect with the people who WANT to connect with me and Outspoken Media. If you’re not one of those people, it’s okay for us to not be BFFs. It’s okay to not like things. We don’t have to be jerks about it.

The Size Of Your Community Can Surprise You

I don’t think you truly know how far your community does (or does not) reach until you put yourself out there and ask them for their help in achieving something. You don’t know until you challenge them from moving away from being a passive consumer to an active member of your street team. On a personal level, I was pretty blown away by how far Team Lisa actually reached.

Case in point – Mike Blumenthal.

A few years ago at SMX East one of local search’s premier voices sat at my breakfast table and asked if he could borrow my laptop to publish a story. The man was Mike Blumenthal and, at the time, I was too shy to even introduce myself. I just passed him my laptop and tried not to squeal in excitement at how big a fan I was of his work. So imagine my surprise when I read this. Or when I saw him tirelessly guilt tripping, pleading and threatening people to vote for me. And it wasn’t just Mike. People who I never knew were fans of Outspoken Media came out to encourage people to give me some love. I had no idea that the OSM community reached that far. Now I know. And that’s a pretty cool realization. It’s good to know whether the size of your community is growing, whether it’s not, and what new satellite communities you’ve become a part of when you were paying attention.

My biggest takeaway from the #SMBInfluencer awards was that the person who has the biggest issue with self-promotion is YOU. It’s your guilt, your feeling like your content doesn’t deserve the attention, and your discomfort over asking people to join your team. Your community? They actually like when you promote your stuff. Because otherwise, they might miss it. And if they love you, they don’t want that to happen.

What did you take away from the Small Business Influencer Awards?

Your Comments

  • Jim Kukral

    Ahh, the fine art of self-promotion. You nailed it. When you create great content, like you always do, you build fans. And fans WANT to support you because they like you and feel like it’s a way of giving back. But many people don’t understand that, so they don’t ask “for the sale”.

    This is what every person needs to learn how to do… how to become a marketer for yourself. But once you do, as you did, you realize that it’s easier than you think, and it works.

    For all the people who don’t like you promoting yourself. Well, they’re not “buyers”. They’re not fans really. Another lesson we all have to learn is that we need to worry about buyers, and nobody else. Everybody else is a waste of time.

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Jim. I wish we could bottle up that comment and pass it out to people on the street. It’s too true. If you’re not comfortable promoting yourself, than you’re not comfortable in your role as marketer. And, at least for many of us, that’s kind of our job. ;)

  • Josh

    You can create awesome content but if it isn’t promoted no one will ever see it. The same thing goes with promoting yourself, especially with content like this. But it goes a step further. It wasn’t like the OSM community was built over night, or your twitter followers. You give to this community every week on this blog and on twitter for a while. So when given a chance to show some appreciation for what you’ve done, it was an easy decision :)

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Josh, I appreciate that. The awards gave us a really great opportunity to see the true strength of the Outspoken Media community. It was pretty rad. :)

  • Jerry McCarthy

    We are always our own worst critics. I voted for you via Twitter because you’ve made a difference in how we (my team) approach growing our business. I’ve said it before, I don’t mean to come off like a groupie but the insight you provide is invaluable and whether you know it or not, your reach goes far beyond where you think it does. Your perspective indirectly effects the livelihoods of many because I have children as I’m sure many others do and when we can take your perspective, internalize it and make it work for us, it strengthens the foundation of our businesses which ultimately provides a better quality of life for my family and the future. Seriously, I know i’m getting a bit deep here but there’s a time and a place to cut the small talk and this is one of them. Have a great day.

  • Jill Whalen

    Yep, agree with all of that. I was glad it was you who was in the contest and not me, because I wouldn’t have promoted it as hard otherwise. It’s much, much, much easier to promote others than yourself.

    I assume that’s why many of those in the contest who were also very deserving to be there had such low numbers. They just didn’t want to do the very uncomfortable self-promoting.

    There’s definitely a fine line between being a pain in the ass and just trying to get the word out. And along those lines, those kinds of contests are really horrible. They should never go on as long as they do, nor be an every day thing. It really does force people to be a pain in the ass if they want to even have a chance of their favorites winning!

    BTW, have they officially announced the results? I think you were 3rd or 4th in the Guru category last I had checked before it ended. Which, is extremely impressive!

    • Lisa Barone

      I agree that contest dragged on about 3 weeks longer than I really hoped it would, but with any luck they’ll change that if they decide to do it again. And it’s definitely easy to promote others than it is to promote yourself, but sometimes you need to put yourself out there. Otherwise, people don’t even know it’s going on.

      They haven’t announced the final results. I believe it’s later this week. :)

  • Ben Cook

    I guess I’m in the minority here but I found the constant tweets incredibly annoying and said so. I don’t mind self promotion if there’s a point to it but these sorts of contests are exactly like becoming prom queen of the Internet.

    While I didn’t unfollow you and I will continue to read your content, I definitely have a more negative view of the site that caused me to be bombarded daily for weeks on end.

    Self promotion is fine, but make it worthwhile, don’t burn your “dry powder” or good will that you’ve built up on something that’s worthless and annoying to even your fans.

    • Lisa Barone

      Did you tell me you found me annoying? I don’t remember. I could be wrong.

      You bring up a REALLY good point about not burning your goodwill for something that’s worthless. To me, the SMBInfluencers wasn’t worthless and there was value there from a company standpoint. I definitely think you have to pick your battles and pick your promotional opportunities. Not everything you do is going to be worthy of calling in your army for. It’s up to you to determine what is and what’s worth “spending” some of the brand karma you earned. Because you’re right, you do spend a little of it each time you call in that favor.

      Thanks for adding that and I’m sorry for annoying you for a month straight. :D

  • Chris Miller

    Ha! I didn’t know you were pulling a Graywolf :P I actually unfollowed you, and just happened to stumble upon this post because, well, it’s part of my morning grind for too many years now to totally -1 Outspoken Media. I was that annoyed, and insulted that you’d stoop to that level, especially for something so silly *ducks*

    So, there you go, there’s my feedback.

  • Lisa Barone

    This made me laugh because I just saw the [Chris Miller is now following you…] email and was like, WTF, that dude follows/unfollows me like its his job. ;)

    You’ve followed (and unfollowed and followed and unfollowed ;)) me long enough that you know I don’t promote things like that very often, so there was probably a reason behind my madness with this one. It wasn’t silly for me, but I could understand how it’d look silly to you. It’s your right to unfollow and mine to promote what I think needs to be promoted. ;)

    • Chris Miller

      It *is* my job! I’m your biggest troll! <3

      Maybe those two points are one of the same, and come back to my love/hate for marketing in general. I was kinda serious about the IM pic though, a little fan-prize-love could have made it more of a game… if Lisa gets 1k votes, new IM pic. 2k votes, another hash chat on twitter, 3k votes and Lisa donates a full SM service to a charity / non-profit website. Just asking for votes though – I still stand by my anti-iBegging policy :P

  • Pam

    I am not in the industry or fully understand SMB, but I am a blogger and I understand the importance of finding out that you reach people in other areas that you may never know.
    I remember one time I got a facebook friend request from someone I didn’t know. I really have intently been more careful about just friending anyone, because even though its social media, I like to at least have some kind of “real” connection.
    I responded back to this person and said I didn’t recall meeting her, and could she refresh my memory. She said she certainly knew who I was. She runs a program in Portugal, teaching teachers how to interact with kids who stutter.
    She has been using a video that featured me talking to middle school kids about stuttering, teasing and bullying. Imagine my surprise when she sent me the link. She had invested the time to translate it into Portugese, and it had subtitles on it. I was shocked – and secretly proud as well.
    I never would have known this had she not incidentally found my name through a friend of a friend on facebook.
    We never do know our reach, you are right. And I am not one to be too good at self-promotion. I was raised to believe that’s bragging and not cool. But I am changing and try to get better at tooting my own horn when warrnated.
    You are a good example of how this works, and you always grab my attention, which is meaningful, since I am not in the biz.
    Keep up the great work. I hope you win!

  • Keith E. McGahey


    It was Mike Blumenthal that caused me to stumble upon your blog and your sick and twisted dry wit that kept me coming back. I’m a small business owner in a totally differernt field, and always find myself questioning what the limit is in self-promotion. It can sometimes be hard to break out of your shell, but sometimes it pays off in unexpected ways (like with Pam). Thanks for a great, insightful column, and thank you even more for putting the sarcastic bent on things.