This Headline Should Be Catchier, And Other Advice For Building Brand You

What it’s like to take the advice of a “social media expert” seriously.

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Sometimes I feel like a supermarket made up of veins and bones. As a freelancer, I know I must self-promote, blog, tweet, Facebook. I realize I should have a decent photo of myself, because people like to see the face behind words. I am clear that when someone comments on my post or tweet or status, I should reply back. All in the name of community, right? Maybe. But ultimately I’m in the business of shilling my self. A penny for my RT.

It can make a girl downright giddy: look! I can get people to send me money for stuff! And it can make her blue: have I monetized my self? Bottom line my ass? Meet the new boss, Brand Anne, always busking for my Friends.

So these days I find myself switchbacking between 3.0 entrepreneurial zeal and longing for a punch clock and a pension. In comes Michael Hyatt’s Platform: How To Get Noticed In A Noisy World, a tour de force of social media wizardry. Platform begins with twenty seven blurbs. The Table of Contents lists 60 chapters, including Bake in the Wow; Assemble Your Pit Crew; Forget About Metrics (For Now), Keep From Being Unfollowed; Employ Consistent Branding, and the money shot, Monetize Your Blog. Within each chapter are sub-headings, each with a list of suggestions, adding up to approximately 319 tips to increase your reach.

Michael Hyatt is good at selling himself, apparently: With a simple tweak to his book’s landing page on his website, he doubled his sales, and went from passively bringing in 40K to passively bringing in 80K per year for his e-books Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal and Writing A Winning Fiction Proposal.

In the twelve months ending August 31, 2011, I sold 1,097 copies of these e-books for total revenue of $24,730.64. Since the e-books went on sale in October 2009…,I have sold a total of 2,239 units for total revenue of $44,681.45. My only costs have been copyediting, typesetting, cover design, and the ongoing payment processing fees. ….Then I decided to analyze the landing page to see if I could improve the conversion. I thought, If this can generate two thousand dollars a month from a fairly lame landing page, what could it do if I optimized it?

After I read that story, I jumped up, clicked on my blog, and looked at my landing page (though I’m not even sure I even have one). I moved something from the bottom center to the upper right, the action spot, he tells me. Then I kept reading. Hyatt provides seven characteristics of a good landing page: Headline, Sales Copy, Product Photos, Testimonials, Guarantee, An Offer, Call To Action. My energy lagged. I got sad. And when I found myself wondering if I should offer 30 percent off myself, I slouched back onto the couch.

Wait, so who is this guy?This Michael Hyatt, with all the success and suggestions? “His blog, MichaelHyatt.com, is ranked by Google in the top one-half percent of all blogs with more than 300,000 unique visitors a month. He also has more than 120,000 followers on Twitter,” says his Amazon.com biography. The book jacket tells us that “He is a professional blogger, author, and speaker whose blog is consistently ranked in the top three for Productivity, Leadership, Publishing, and Social Media Marketing.”

In other words, he is a professional person-who-others-follow, a Paris Hilton of social media, known for being known. Like other businessmen-turned-lecture circuit standbys such as Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk, Hyatt supernova’d into this transhuman trafficker in personal identity only after having a very old-school day job: he was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, where he is now chair. Also, he lives outside Nashville with his wife, Gail, to whom he has been married over 10 years.

Platform’s 564 tips for how to increase your visibility run the gamut: hire a bookkeeper, forget about your Alexa Rank, have a calendar upcoming speaking events, assemble a collection of video clips, have a colophon for your blog, write in a conversational tone (lots of subheadings and bullet points are good), check your blog posts for search engine optimization, get a good lawyer, forget about proofreading, set a timer for writing, keep sentences short (crap!), build your tribe and — this is very important — don’t hire a ghostwriter. People want you, not your assistant. Be Authentic says the bullet point.

I started making checkmarks. Or, should I say, touched the words to make them glow yellow on my iPad. Turns out Brand Anne has adopted about 14 of Hyatt’s 685 tips. She reluctantly agrees that should probably stop playing Spell Tower and do about another 14, and the book is very helpful and simple in telling her how to do so. For instance, Hyatt advises I blog three times a week — less than that and people won’t continue to read. More than that and it’d be annoying. He also recommends using programs like Anti-Social to block out the distractions of the internet. He offers great suggestions for protecting one’s intellectual property (i.e., I will come after you if you repost this on your Tumblr).

#Winning Brand Anne knows that whining about it being really hard is lame. But it is also a valid critique. The sheer quantity of things one must do to be heard in our noisy world is overwhelming: I think there are something like 792 suggestions in Platform, all very action-oriented (Hyatt always begins his tips, like his chapter titles, with verbs).

But Direct Message Anne (let’s keep this just between us) wonders: why become a start-up of one’s own, only to lock yourself inside a room of self-consuming marketing? Why turn oneself into some Kafkaesque DIY administrator? Scratch the touch screen and you find behind Hyatt’s energy a lot of the old school: It’s bureaucracy in the guise of start-up.

But there’s another troubling, ethical issue at stake in this book and others like them. By helping others build their platforms — or self-publish their novel, or start their successful business — authors like Hyatt create false hopes. He knows how few of his tribe, followers and fans, succeed at making money off their blogs, books, tweets, even if they follow all 1,053 tips. In the book business, 80 percent of print titles lose money; the number for self-publishing is higher than that. Long odds.

So is it it an act of bad faith? Despite my carping, Hyatt comes off as a likeable guy. Brand Anne, I think, would certainly benefit from being a bit less desultory and a bit more professional in her approach to her job of being Anne. I do not rue the $10.99 I gave the Kindle store for the Product. Still, I do not want to be one of Hyatt’s tribe, because if this PowerPoint of a book is what makes Hyatt authentic, personal and real, I am a bit worried about the future of inner depth, after all. I’m wondering if it might more of a zero-sum game than I thought. What if every click I hustle up, every copy I sell, is a bit of blood and gristle, and I can’t get it back, even if I offer a return policty?

Bartleby the Scrivener, that character from Herman Melville’s story, was stuck in a bureaucracy of someone else’s making, and simply chose “not to.” You gotta wonder, then, what happens if I “prefer not to” do those 1,542 tips when my job is my self?

Anne Trubek is a writer, professor and rustbelter. She’ll be writing about things filled with lots of words and pages every week for FWD.

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