The Fine Art of the Soft Sell and Social Media

I’m a huge fan of the Corporate Curmudgeon, a syndicated columnist who appears locally in our Arizona Daily Star doling out wry advice to the green, unsophisticated or just plain clueless employee. Yesterday’s column touches on an art form that, to me, is highly underrated:The fine art of the “soft sell.”

Why, might you ask, should a marketer/copywriter/pr practitioner/social media guru/flack/hack/car salesmen care to know what a “soft sell” is? Well, my dears, because we as a society are burned out. And when audiences burn out, they shut their ears.

We’re burned out on out-of-touch car ads telling us the latest model will put us in that oh-so-untouchable class of gated communities. We’re burned out on banks who direct mail us 12-24 credit card applications or offers to transfer balances a week. And we’re sick and tired and burned out on cell phone salesmen and perfume spritzers who accost us in shopping malls when we’re just trying to relax and do a little window shopping.

Any of those scenarios got you nodding your head in disgust?

So why, oh why, oh why, oh why (sorry to interject drama and emphasis here) are some of you tweeting things like:

“Increase the number of your followers by 10,000 in 24 hours!”

“Make $1 million in just five days!”

“Get whiter teeth in five minutes!”

To those of you who treat my Twitter stream like a telephone line linking you directly to my dinner table at 7 p.m. – STOP! It’s annoying. It’s aggravating. It’s clogging up my Twitter account.

And, most importantly, I’m “unfollowing” you! For you Twitter newbies, here’s the translation: You just lost a potential customer!

Social media is not a telephone. It’s not a television set. It’s not a newspaper. This is NOT where businesses should place “hard sell” advertisements making grandiose promises of zero-calorie wine and chocolate in heaven.

Here, on Social Media Island, your audiences have the choice of turning off our message. And if they’re not listening, you’re not selling. Period. Exclamation point. You get the idea.

So let’s go back to school and learn the art of the “soft sell.” It means quite simply: giving something of value to your customers. That’s it. No promises. No pleas.

Whether you’re using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or some other form of social media, you’re interacting – conversing – with your potential customers. By giving them something of value – i.e., insight from your industry, advice on how to use your products/services, how to handle problems when they arise, you’re buildingĀ  credibility with your audience.

Now you’re no longer that annoying guy who called and interrupted my carefully burned, I mean crafted, dinner. You’re the dude who showed me how to troubleshoot my wireless Internet connection, saving me an hour on hold with my Internet provider. You’re the rock star who helped me figure out how to cut my own bangs in between those impossible to schedule hair appointments.

Now I’m loyal. You helped me. You must be cool. And I’m going to come back to you when I do need your services because in this economy of unsavory hard sells, you swept me off my feet.

You sweet-talking soft sell, you. ; )


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