A Content Marketer Commits Heresy: Why I Won’t Tweet for all of My Clients

This amazing work of art by me

It was a rainy night in Center City Philadelphia, and I was a freaking celebrity.

At least, I felt like one. I went to one of those Meetup networking things for content marketers, where the founder of [startup I’d never heard of] was moderating a panel discussion on [how to tweet gifs of cats on Roombas] to [sell oil changes, or something] and why infographics showing the ROI are so important to convince your client that social media campaigns are worth the freelancing dollars. People were feverishly jotting down notes in their leather unlined journals, and I was looking around the room, trying to read the faces and see if anyone was thinking what I was thinking. A few people were asking intelligent sounding questions about just how infographical their ROI data needed to be, and were getting almost-answers. As usual, I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I raised my hand.

“So, have any of you had the exact opposite problem? I have never had to convince any of my clients to start a social media campaign. I keep having people ask me to ‘do the Twitter’ for them. They don’t even know how to log on to see what I’m tweeting for them, but they want it done anyway.”

Silence.

And then the room exploded.

Hands shot into the air, and suddenly the whole room was sharing stories confiding about how their clients, with varying levels of internet-literacy, wanted to start blogs, twitter campaigns, even Pinterest boards without really knowing why, and how weird it is to want to tell them they’re wasting their time while not being able to turn down their money.

I wasn’t the only one feeling this frustration at all. Turns out, it’s so easy to fall into the trap, as a person who makes their living writing online. I’m good at blogging. I learn quick, research well, and brainstorm like a champ. But for my clients, blogging, social media, newsletter campaigns — they’re all rolled up into one big nebulous thing on a Google doc titled “Marketing??” and, as their Marketing person, they expect me to do it all. I work primarily with clients small enough that they have no dedicated marketing team, just me, and they need me to help them navigate online.

They don’t know what a bot is or what #follow4follow means, but they know that more followers = more profit (somehow.) They don’t know that Instagram is more or less mobile-only, but they heard on a podcast once that you need 11 hashtags on an Instagram post to get maximum engagement. My clients will tell me they are too busy for so much as a phone call to do regular housekeeping on their existing marketing campaigns, but will forward me a 2K word blog post that they read and three new apps (the kind with letters missing in the name) that they researched, breathless with excitement about the new thing they want to try. This, surely this will be the key to going viral and growing the audience and increasing engagement and once that happens, as everyone knows, the money will roll in. Somehow.

Comic by Kris Straub at chainsawsuit

If you were thinking by now that maybe this whole schtick isn’t sustainable, you’d be right. As quickly and with as much enthusiasm as these clients brought me on, they had all pushed me back out the door less than a year later. Never with anything so formal as a good-bye email, but overnight the work just seemed to evaporate. Clients asked to go from month-to-month to project-to-project, and then stopped returning emails. Clients that had me booked up for weekly maintenance asked me “not to worry about it this week”, and pushed the projects onto their regular employees. And then stopped returning my emails. You get the picture. Most bafflingly, when asked for feedback, all of them expressed delight with the quality of my work and value of my insight. The wind had just gone out of their sails for these projects — and sometimes, their budgets.

So what does a Content Marketer do? Or, more specifically, what does a blogger who is routinely offered work running Twitter accounts do? Do we keep taking a paycheck (or a PayPal deposit) from a revolving parade of uninformed clients who just haven’t figured out yet that not everyone has any business being on Twitter? Do we do the work they ask for, and just shrug when we’re asked why there aren’t any real results six months later? Or do we sabotage ourselves by essentially talking them out of hiring us? The correct answer is D, none of these. You put your big girl pants on, and you tell them that the strategies they want won’t work, and why. And then you tell them what will work, and how you’ll do it for them.

I certainly never tried to screw anyone out of their tiny marketing budgets by duping them into paying for services they didn’t need. I was green as hell, and willing to tackle anything that someone offered to pay me to do. (Okay, anything on the computer.) (Okay, anything on the computer with my clothes on.) I was always upfront about my experience, and when necessary, lack thereof — I can’t count how many times I’ve told clients “Now, as I’ve told you, I’m not a social media person. But what I can do for you…” And you know what? Sometimes they don’t care. One person told me that they preferred working with someone who had never done content marketing work before. (Pro tip: if a client ever tells you that with a straight face, run.)

As a newbie on the scene, I was still getting amateur rates from single-shingle businesses while I built up my clips, learned my industry and flexed my negotiating muscles. These guys didn’t know how to do what I do. They had often never worked with a freelancer before. And their marketing budgets began and ended with what they were paying me. And, hard as it is, my job has often become to take the wind out of their sails now that I’m a freelancing grownup. That company that wants you to tweet out coupon codes to the ten thousand bots they have in their followers? What they might actually need is a consistent blogging schedule of original posts on LinkedIn, and an affiliate marketing campaign. That’s not fun or sexy — and it’s expensive. But to hold on to clients for the long term as a trusted ally, I’m learning that the customer is not always right, and that we both make a lot more money from an initial disappointment than an abandoned blog with a six-month long run. Now matter how many gifs and hashtags are crammed into it.

I have been assured by our marketing team that this image will make us a billion dollars. #catsharkforever