5 pieces of social media advice that trapped me


By Mars Dorian, Contributing {grow} Columnist

The most popular currency in the world is not the Dollar, Euro or Yen. It’s common advice.

Think about it: Everyone has it in mass, it’s prone to “inflation,” and you can pick it up about everywhere, even if you don’t want it.

I have received my share of “supa-doopa” advice throughout my digital career, especially in the beginning, when I was ultramarine green behind my ears.  I listened, and worse, implemented it all.

I thought, if experts say it, it must be true. If so many other people say the same online, then it has validation.

Ungh, Past Me, I want to shake some sense into you. A whole gallon of it.

I realized much later that most of the sound advice turned out to be detrimental to my success.

Without further ado, I want to show you the most common advice pitfalls that I fell into:

1) Just be yourself.

This sounds good … but is it really true?

Whenever I asked a so-called expert about being successful online, he told me not to worry and just be myself.

What if you’re an obnoxious, boring mofo with no redeeming qualities?

What if you have no people skills and are a pain to work with?

Should you still “just be yourself?”

Not necessarily.

At the beginning of my career, I probably lacked empathy and experienced trouble communicating with clients. A “mentor” told me that was just part of my personality, and that I should find a career style that wouldn’t involve customer communication. Man, what a load of toad turd. It wasn’t a personality trait – it turned out I just lacked the experience and had to learn how to address my customer’s needs. A few psychology books and coaching sessions later, I improved. Drastically.

I wasn’t being myself, but I worked harrrrd on becoming my best self.

If you’re young, learning, or maybe not an absolutely perfect person, maybe being yourself leads to more pain than gain. That’s why you should work on becoming your best version, and get rid of traits that you thought were part of your character.

2) Follow your passion and the money will follow.

Ah, ze timeless classic. I want get into a time machine, travel to the person who set that meme into the world and smack both of his cheeks. With a metal chair.

Why? Because it’s a deceptive feel-good lie.

Take me as an example: My passions are eating Asian food, playing video games, and drawing. But even though I did all of these things PASSIONATELY, I never had a money bag drop on my head. Instead, I had to use most valuable part of passions (drawing) and package it in a way that made it valuable to potential customers. This took compromise. I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do while working hard to meet customer needs. And even that part took me ages to figure out, as I drew unsuccessfully for years until I realized you have to be MARKETABLE, not just PASSIONATE.

Your passion, no matter how strong, is useless as a monetization strategy, if you can’t translate it into tangible value to your target audience.

3) You should do (insert current trend now)

In the beginning of my career, online experts told me I should focus on using video as my content creation tool, because it was popular at the time. Ungh. Headache alarm!

I did those videos but hated it, because I didn’t feel comfortable in front of a camera. I am an introvert, and recording myself on video feels as natural as jogging on nails.

After a couple of tries, I stopped doing them, because I got sick of twisting myself.

Just because a certain type of tool or style of content creation is “in” doesn’t mean you should implement it, especially if it goes against your natural tendencies.

4) Survey (potential) customers to learn about their needs.

I learned from an expert’s online course that I should survey your customers before you sell your products.

I then sent a couple of questions to my email list:

“Would you buy this eGuide?”

“Would you pay this X amount for it ?”

Most often, the answer would be an astounding “Yesss,” which made me jump into ze air. But when I finally shipped the products based on the eager answers, these eager people weren’t so eager any more.

It turned out that people say “yes” to all kinds of things without ever committing to their words. That’s why nowadays, I only ask people after they made a purchase and watch their actions instead, because it’s wayyy more reliable to gauge people by what they do, and not by what they say.

5) You must behave like a “real” business online.

Ungh, more common advice for the blog graveyard.

I remember one guy telling me: your site looks like Disneyland. People in the marketing/social media realm will never take you seriously.

Consequence? I changed my design, to make it look more serious, and … more bland. Seriously, most people confuse professional with corporate.

Professional means you take your business seriously and you deliver what you promise. Your site can look as crazy / edgy / unique as you want it to be, as long as that corresponds to your preferred target audience.


So-called common advice is often uninformed opinion regurgitated by sheep thinkers.

Most of the time, those sound wise snaps had lead me astray, because the web world is, and always will be, too specific and fast-moving for all-purpose formulas.

Which common advice pitfall did you fall into?

mars dorianMars Dorian describes himself as a creative marketeer with a moon-melting passion for human potential and technology. You can follow his adventures at www.marsdorian.com/

Original illustration by the author.

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  • LOVE the image! Hysterical!

  • So true Mars.

  • Thanks, Douglas 😉

  • Wow. True. I wish I’d listen to my gut more, trusted my own instincts. Took me a long time to learn that one.

  • C Bret Campbell

    boy howdy did you nail it!

  • Catriona

    How true – shame you only realise it when you’ve followed the advice, realised it’s wrong and then rectified it months down the line! 6 years ago I launched my own niche business in the UK and took advice from anyone willing to give it. I learnt that even those who appear to be successful (and say they are) aren’t necessarily so – there’s a lot of lies out there! One thing I did learn very quickly is that most advice comes from the US (not sure why – Americans seem to be ahead of the Brits with regards a lot of online marketing stuff) but a lot of what works in the US market doesn’t work in the UK – we’re a different species 🙂

  • Great post Mars – especially the one about ‘follow your passion’! Someone did actually say this to me and I struggled to think what I was passionate about from a business perspective. I’m passionate about eating out and I’m passionate about my cats but unfortunately neither of these things are anything to do with my business! So I guess I’m passionate about making my business work so I can continue to enjoy eating out and buying anything to do with cats 🙂

  • Great read.

    I have heard all these things as well. It’s true to do what you love, but use your skills in a useful way. You have to find out what other people are doing in the field and then decide how you want to get your message or product out to them.

    Aren’t we suppose to copy and then adapt to find a new way to give it to your customers.

  • Hey Catriona,

    yeah, the US is pretty much leader in everything technical and online related. And you’re spot on, what most people claim online and what actually happens behind the scenes is often different. Probably because it’s still easy to hide and come up with good sounding opinions and statements that can not be backed up.

    I believe only more knowledge and reading-behind-the-lines is necessary to understand the true value from mindless chatter advice 😉

  • Heh, or you can find a biz model that either involves eating out or something with your cats 😉

  • well, your gut gets more accurate by experiencing failure, so maybe you needed all these lessons to sharpen your instincts 😉

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  • Mars! It has been a LONG time buddy!! Hope all is well, and I can see from your post, yeah, it is 😉 I agree with each piece of advice and most specifically, 5 jumps out at me like a sore thumb.

    Most people want to fit in. Even people with serious drive and belief in their abilities are terrified about sullying their reputation, or standing out from the crowd, or being criticized for being different. This crowd typically criticizes the creative, growing and soon to be wildly successful entrepreneur because the lack the cajones to do the same brave thing.

    Bravo dude. Happy to run across your work again my man 😉


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  • Sarah

    Yup, got super stuck with #2. Your business needs to fill a need in order for someone to want to give you money. Just being passionate about a thing doesn’t give anyone anything, people don’t pay for you to feel good about that thing. And what happens when you’re not passionate about doing your accounts? If you can’t afford to hire an accountant, should you not do those at all? Great way to screw yourself over right there.

  • Ryan !
    Long time no speak, I’m glad you’re still alive 😉

    The hard thing about standing out is the emotional pressure for me.
    Yeah, it’s easy to say : be remarkable ! Stand out !
    But actually doing it, and ignoring so-called popular advice, is still a huge challenge.

  • “Follow your passion”

    the ultimate nonsense phrase, if standing by itself 😉
    Heh, and talking about accounting – that’s one of the things I totally neglected in my early creative career, and it has caused me trouble.
    That is one of the pain points you have to go through, and shows : a lot of things need to be done that you’re not passionate about.

    Good to see you here, Sarah 😉

  • Thanks for writing this, Mars. So much of social media “advice” is tactical and completely ignores the fact that you have to develop a strategy FIRST and determine who, where and when your audience is online and what they want/need from you.

    My favorite piece of advice then is the general “You have to be on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest/Vine (insert newest social network) or you’re killing all of your online hopes and dreams and leaving millions on the table”.

    That can be overwhelming and discouraging for someone just starting out. I see so much of it that I’m thinking of doing some mini case studies of successful businesses online who aren’t on all the major social networks.

  • GREAT article, Mars, I can totally relate to that. Number 1 is something I struggle with because there are so many different aspects to “me”. The others I have not struggled with but sometimes struggled to explain them to others bc they just don’t get it.

    In many of my speaking gigs I have shared that the “follow you passion” advice is a crock. I love having sex – does that mean I should be a prostitute?

    I want to keep my passions as passions, sometimes throwing money into the mix just ruins it.

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  • heh, luv the sex example, it clarifies the point. Yeah, sometimes a passion should stay a passion, as the “marriage” with the need to make money doesn’t combine. But I decided to mix the right part of my passion with making money, as I want to do it full-time and not just as a hobby.

  • One word: AMEN!

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  • Think 1 and 2 are big peeves; sometimes myself sucks so that’s not marketable, nor is my passion to do nothing but travel, drink wine and nap all the time. New pennies are shiny, alas can’t even buy a gum ball. Surveys do have value — if done well, done correctly, smartly. But you are right on the money, there’s a huge difference in what people say they’ll do vs. what they’ll actually do, pay for. The ‘real’ business thing; even ‘corporate’ gets that wrong sometimes. Sigh..

    Think the biggest trap that’s gotten me: “Just Do It.” More of that ‘if you build, they will come’ b.s., you have to ‘give away’ value blah blah; everyone dishing the DO IT advice but not a peep on the HOW to get IT DONE. Like hitting publish or retweeting a few links, pinning pictures or churning out some ho-hum freebie download is all it takes for the masses to run to you, $$ in hand. Does not work that way. Not at all. FWIW.

  • I wholeheartedly agree that the word “passion” is overused; however, based on your decision to refocus your efforts onto sci-fi writing, I think the attitude we have toward point #2 could be appropriately revised if we consider that, as artists, we may have no choice about our passions taking over our work and contributing toward our success. It depends on how you define passion. I don’t consider a love of wine a passion unless it’s, for example, waking you up at night, sending you scurrying to find your notebook so you don’t forget what you want to share with others. Perhaps substitute “talent,” “craziness,” “commitment,” “drive,” etc. for the word “passion.” Like it or not, your enthusiasm is going to show through and influence those monetizing opportunities.

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