Hashtag Tensions: #obnoxious? #inauthentic? #effective? Wrestling with Marketing & "Authenticity"

June 03, 2015

Whenever I meet a customer in person, or chat about my job at a party, people always ask me, “How did you get into this?”

When I tell them the story of dignify’s beginnings, I always include that my background was in marketing. That after the initial idea seed was planted (“Shelley, you should think about selling these blankets…”), what began to excite me as I lay in bed at night was thinking about what I would call it, how the logo would look, what the site would be like… etc.

Having adequate-to-good skills in a variety of marketing capacities (writing, photography, graphic design, ad-copy, etc.) has allowed me to do a lotwith dignify while spending almost nothing on outside sources. dignify most definitely would not have grown as it has without these skills (or without some serious $$$ borrowing). So, I am certainly not opposed to marketing as a tool or discipline.

And yet… I do still struggle with certain methods, tactics, and devices used in marketing. I really don’t believe that ends justify means, and some marketing means are just not… good.

When I began using instagram, I scoffed at hashtags used as anything other than as a literary device. They’re trendy, they’re annoying, they create rabbitholes of time-wasting, they’re shamelessly self-promoting… they’re also, as it turns out, tremendously effective at gaining exposure to your business.

A commonality I’ve seen among a number of “fair trade” or social justice-related businesses is a tendency to do great work that not enough people know about. As illustrated by this Joey Roth poster, they would fall into the second category:

Or, as described by Chris Guillebeau in my go-to book, The $100 Startup:

Substance without style = unknown
(Everyone who knows these people respects them, but not many people know them.)

Sometimes this is simply by a lack of experience or affinity: these businesses are often helmed by someone more passionate about the cause than the business. But in other cases (as it has been often in mine), it is an issue of reluctance. Strategic marketing just doesn’t feel… authentic.

I wrestle often with this concept of “authenticity” and what it means for my business.

Popular bloggers like Oh Joy and Oh Happy Day and Cup of Jo have a thoroughly authentic feel, which is why people love them! But, I had to admit at last that they have teams working for them and sponsorships and are bona fide brands; if I conflated “authentic” with “unplanned”, I was seriously naïve.

Ultimately, I want dignify to grow and grow, gaining more exposure, more sales, more work for women with dignity. This desire is 100% authentic!

It is undeniable that using hashtags on instagram increases exposure. Just like running ads on facebook to certain groups is very effective at finding new fans & customers.

So, I'm giving it a go. It's more important to me to grow this project into something that is sensible, sustainable, and impactful than for me to worry about seeming salesy. 'Cause guess what? The only way that vision will come to fruition is by selling! 

Just as I manage through the tensions of shopping good, I will continue to wrestle with marketing good- hopefully finding some "authentic" success along the way.

 


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