How to create a cult following on social media without selling your soul

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Image: julia tim/ shutterstock

Few things are as heretical in branding as saying No to the question of monetization. After all, moneys the point, right?

Well, yes and no.

Obviously, adopting a just-do-awesome-stuff-and-the-money-will-follow approach is dangerous. Equally dangerous, nonetheless, is the monetize-everything-you-and-your-business-do mentality. Why? Because people dislike it, especially on social media.

In other terms, with most brands theres a painful disconnection between the words social and social media. That disconnect is the reason a mere 5 percent of all branded content reports for 90 percent of engagement. And its the same underlying reason that induced Worlds Worst Person Decides to Run into Marketing one of The Onions most popular headlines.

Whats the solution?

Two tips-off: the first, theological, and the second, about an unlikely savior cookies.

Dont sell your being

As humen, were all naturally self-centered. Biologically, its about survival. And in business, its the same. Thankfully, self-centeredness drives a host of wonderful outcomes like development, innovation, and success itself.

Unfortunately, theres a dark side. As The Guardian reported last year in I, narcissist vanity, social media, and the human condition 😛 TAGEND

Numerous analyzes claim to have induced direct links between the increase in narcissistic personality disorder( NPD) and the ubiquity of social media. Behaviours such as attempting to attract more followers, wanting to tell followers about your life, and the need to programme a positive image at all times have been described by researchers as examples of exhibiting narcissistic personality traits on social media.

This individual narcissism easily hemorrhages its way into business. On the marketing front, verification bias our predisposition to filter and interpret knowledge in ways that show what we already belief leads to all kinds of me-centered pitfalls like imaginary audiences, discounting proof, and overgeneralizing best practices. On social media, commandments like Thou shalt not hog the conversation and Thou shalt not be indifferent to the voice of thy customer show just how prevalent the problem is.

The real issue, nonetheless, comes down understanding, dividing, and prioritizing branded content from genuinely social content. The former, as Robert Rose describes it, middles on the value of your brand as the hero . Such content isnt bad and should, of course, be a part of your social-media mix. But simply a part.

Genuinely social content is content that constructs your audience the hero . It augments me-centered posts with content thats meant to pleasure, teach, celebrate, and entertain not sell .

One antidote to this dilemma is user-generated content( UGC ). Pura Vida Bracelets, for instance as well as a host of other millennial brands have induced UGC a cornerstone of their social media by actively striving out and promoting their audiences own positions and shares 😛 TAGEND

Image: Aaron Orendorff

The bottom-line results of UGC are powerful. Yotpos The Future of User-Generated Content analyzed over 500 million online shoppers and found that people who viewed UGC on were 161 percent more likely to purchase than people who didnt.

Nonetheless, its a dangerous game. Even with the best of intentions, any of us can end up selling our social-media being. We take what should be the social side the human, relational, people-centric side and constructing it overtly about us.

So how do we save ourselves? The answer comes from an unlikely source.

Dont sell cookies

Like most great minds, Sol Orwell stumbled into #cookielife on collision.

As the founder of Examine.com a nutritional research website with two million monthly visitors and a man whose claims to renown include chronicling the loss of 50 pounds in Mens Health, mentoring at two1 2 alongside 4-Hour Body author Tim Ferriss, and has become a digital adviser to Arnold Schwarzenegger cookies dont sound like an obvious choice.

Its a weird narrative, Orwell told me after we connected, but it started at the end of 2015 when I told some pals I was gonna bringing the best damn cookies theyd ever savoured in “peoples lives” to a meetup. That statement was transformed into a challenge, and the challenge into a social-media cult. Over the past year, Orwells received hundreds of unsolicited cookie gifts at meetings, events, and through the mail.

Image: Aaron orendorff

In many ways, #cookielife is an extension of the same non-soul-selling ethos that governs Orwells networking itself: It doesnt have a hidden agenda. Its only this ridiculous thing, and people recollect ridiculousness.

But dont be clowned, ridiculous doesnt intend disorganized. To prove this, Orwell keeps an Evernote list of everyone whos send or promised to send him cookies, which he works through every couple of weeks.

Sol Orwells cookie listing contacts.

Image: Aaron Orendorff

In addition, over the last few months, #cookielife has been picked up by a host of news outlets: most notably, Inc ., Entrepreneur, and BroBible( all results of Orwells intentional online connects ). In January, the first annual Chocolate Chip Cookie Off was held. Afterwards, he dropped a 2,700 -word blog post How I got 27 professional chef& bakers to construct cookies that outlined the research phase, social-media imagery, his email outreach and follow-up scheme, as well as a postmortem detailing every little flaw or blunder we committed so that next time is 10x smoother 😛 TAGEND

Image: Sol Orwell/ Facebook

In all of that, one point stands out: With #cookielife and my other food feasts, Ive defied all recommendations to make a website, an Instagram account, or even an official brand . The #cookielife was never about any of that. It wasnt even about me. Its about people having fun. Selling cookies would kill everything.

Well stated. But the question remains: Can #cookielife be engineered by brands?

Orwell mentions absolutely.

Its not about get emotional and oversharing; its more about allows users and your business weird thing, your cause, your desire, what constructs you smile not despite but because of its ridiculousness to shine. Naturally, thats easier for personal brands. But large-scale brands can create the same effects: think Lego, Harley Davidson, Apple, LaCroix, Dollar Shave Club, CrossFit, and more.

When it comes to social media, most business are quick to sell their beings in exchange for a few more clicks and short-term profitability. What unites Orwell and all the instances only listing is not great products but great stories and a relentless focus to make it about the person or persons they serve not themselves .

Thats how you build a cult. And thats how you save your soul.

Aaron Orendorff is the founder of iconiContent and a regular benefactor at Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, Business Insider and more. Connect with him about content marketing( and bunnies) on Facebook or Twitter .

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