Warning: Online Marketing Shortcuts That Blow Up in Your Face

This post was written by Jason Kong, who helps fiction authors combine online tools and smart strategy to create a better platform. Enjoy!


Image by Beat Küng

What do the following activities have in common?

These are examples of gaming the system. They’re tactics to boost promotional efforts by circumventing the spirit of a tool’s intended usage.

And make no mistake, they do work.
In addition to being quick and easy to use, the marketing benefits are obvious. With a little time and effort, anyone can get more clicks and more sales.

The appeal of these gimmicks is understandable. With the popularity of self-publishing at an all-time high, the competition for attention is fiercer than ever. Indie authors are on the constant lookout for new ways to get noticed.

Perhaps you’ve used similar shortcuts yourself, and everything was rosy. That may be true in the short run. The truth is, there’s also a cost to these approaches, one that hurts you down the line.

They all have the tendency to violate trust.

The currency of the internet

It’s a sad story. You probably know it quite well.

It involves being ripped off, deceived, or scammed online. It’s having expectations dashed and hopes crushed. The ability of poseurs to twist our perceptions behind a computer screen is unfortunate, but real. Negative experiences have caused us to become more wary, more apprehensive to believe anything we see and hear through our internet connections.

Trust is more valuable than ever.

Marketing is nothing more than a promise. You’re broadcasting an idea or story that leads to whatever it is you sell. Gaming the system may not be breaking any laws, but eventually you’ll break someone’s trust.

Once that happens, the interaction is over. No trust means no sale. Not now, not ever.

What’s more, your online activities have a lasting footprint. A damaged brand or reputation isn’t easily forgotten, when a Google search can instantly pull that history to the surface.

Using shortcuts that damage trust is a form of debt. Maybe it doesn’t hurt your life today or tomorrow, but eventually you’ll have to pay up. And you’ll do it with interest.

Why take that risk if you don’t have to?

A marketing approach that works (and feels) better

If all you did was keep your promises, you’d be trustworthy. But not necessarily noteworthy.

To be deserving of conversations that spread, those promises must also be compelling. And the best word-of-mouth for an indie author is caused by the demonstrated value of her work.

Try focusing on marketing activities that get you attention because of your writing – writing that directly ties to your published books. Examples include:

I call this getting related attention. Not attention just for the sake of getting noticed, but attention specific to the content of your books. Your marketing is relevant to the value you offer, which means you’re not only respecting the people you attract, but you’re also directing your energies where they’ll do the most good.

Unlike gaming the system, marketing through remarkable writing is only about connecting with the right people. These are the ones that care about what you do and will support your efforts given the chance. You’re choosing to stand for your work, not clever manipulation of the system. People recognize authenticity.

There are a million ways to pump up your social media following through tricks and hacks. The bigger numbers may give the appearance of popularity, but how much does that really matter? How many of those subscribers really care about what you’re doing? You need real fans, not fake ones.

Trust comes in many forms. There’s the kind of trust when you treat someone fairly and with respect. Then there’s the type forged by meeting or exceeding expectations. That’s just as important.

When the bar is set high and you come through, that’s worth noticing. When the people who notice are readers who care about the work you do, you’ve earned attention that lasts.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Trust takes time to build, but can be destroyed in an instant.

That’s what makes it so hard. You need patience and consistency and the inclination to invest for the future. The temptation of instant gratification will never go away.

But the payoff? A solid reputation. Loyal fans. Repeat customers.

If you’re working for the long haul, then trust matters. Gaming the system has a compelling hook (who doesn’t want more results in less time?) but it’s also a ticking time bomb that can’t be diffused.

If you’re looking for a career that lasts, don’t take the risk of blowing it up with a shortsighted gambit.

Embrace the value of trust. If you have it, you’ll spread your ideas, attract supporters, and make sales. If you don’t, nothing else you do will help you or your books.

When it comes to trust, the best shortcut is no shortcut at all.

Jason-Kong_OpJason Kong helps fiction writers with their online marketing. Subscribe to get free insights here.

What do you think, readers? Have you tried shortcuts that haven’t worked? Are you dedicated to the long-term payoff of creating trust and delivering value? Leave a comment and share!

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to my blog and you’ll never miss my weekly posts! Your email address will NOT be sold, shared, abused, or rented – that’s a promise.

Image by Beat Küng

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30 Responses to Warning: Online Marketing Shortcuts That Blow Up in Your Face

  1. Peggy McAloon March 24, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    For the past 90 days, I have been working online for 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, to interact, add value, share knowledge. I learned a long time ago in marketing that shortcuts come back to bite you. I’ll get there with good old-fashioned effort or not at all. Integrity means more than riches!

    • Molly Greene March 24, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

      Thanks Peggy, you said it beautifully! You’re absolutely right – no way will short-term commitments grow into long-term gains. Best to you in all you do!

    • Jason Kong March 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      Peggy: You absolutely have to feel good about what you do. And as it turns out, earning trust works out better in the long run too.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  2. Belinda Pollard March 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    One word: integrity.

    It might be a slower road to success, but it’s the road I’d rather travel on.

    Having said that, we all make mistakes, and I firmly believe in second chances! 🙂

    Thanks Molly and Jason.

    • Molly Greene March 24, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

      True, true! I’ve actually learned more by the mistakes I’ve made than I have by the things I did right the first time. Darn it!

    • Jason Kong March 24, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

      Belinda: I’ll agree with you about second chances as a general principle, but there’s making mistakes with generous intent and making mistakes with more selfish intent.

      We all know which end of the spectrum gets forgiven sooner. 🙂

  3. Kimber Leigh Wheaton March 24, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    I am so sick of all the companies following me on Twitter and offering 1000+ followers. Ugh, what good will a click farm do? There are so many shortcuts. Some woman offered to review my book in exchange for my Linked In email list. Really? Like I’m just going to give away that information… Now I can’t help but wonder how many people sell my info for a review.

    • Jason Kong March 24, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

      Kimber: Those are some good examples of bad behavior. I want to believe that the percentage of people actually gaming the system is relatively small, but unfortunately it poisons the well for everybody.

  4. Stephanie Mason March 24, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Thanks for this article. It makes me feel a little better about where I stand right now. Marketing has not been my strong point and I am often disappointed at the numbers. It’s been almost one year since my first book was released and in the beginning I was feeling the pressure of not having 10K followers or “likes.” I haven’t given up though and I am trying to build what you’ve called trust with the few followers and fans I have acquired. Thanks for the affirmation that I’m on the right path!

    • Jason Kong March 24, 2014 at 4:13 pm #


      Hang in there. Building an initial readership can be a huge challenge. But what may end up happening is that getting 50 fans takes as long as your next 200 after that.

      Fans attracts fans, and it works quicker when you have more fans. It’s kind of like how compound interest makes your money grow much faster over time.

  5. Robyn Jones March 24, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    Sometimes I feel that insane restless feeling that I’m not moving fast enough, that my books are sleeping in the middle of cyberspace. Then I remember I’m in it for telling stories and I calm down.

    • Molly Greene March 24, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

      Robyn, LOVE THIS! I’m going to embroider it on a pillow … “I’m in it for the stories.” Mwah!

    • Jason Kong March 24, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

      Very well said, Robyn. 🙂

  6. Fred Barnett March 24, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Thank you. I always wondered and never trusted those people with obviously pumped up reviews and numbers.
    Thanks for the suggestions in part 2 and doing things the right way.

    • Molly Greene March 24, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

      Thanks so much, Fred!

    • Jason Kong March 24, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

      Fred: I’m glad you found the post useful!

  7. Anne R. Allen March 24, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    I’ve written on this subject this week, too. It’s amazing the response we’re getting. There have been a number of news stories this week about click farms and fake likes that have made Facebook and Twitter numbers pretty pointless.

    And a lot of us were hit on LinkedIn this week by sock puppets offering “book reviews” in exchange for our LinkedIn contact lists, which are being offered for sale.

    Numbers mean nothing if they’re not attached to real people who actually buy your product. Great post.

    • Molly Greene March 24, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

      Thanks, Anne! It seems we’re on the same page – haven’t heard about the LinkedIn scam but I’m not surprised. The Internet is a scammer’s paradise, and we all need to stay alert to stay off their radar.

    • Jason Kong March 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

      Saw your article Anne — very nice, and we’re on the same page. I’m glad to hear other publishing professionals are discerning when it comes to evaluating a social media presence.

  8. Maureen Grenier March 24, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    Have you noticed that the people offering us thousands of followers often have less than 200 followers themselves? It’s really very funny.

    • Molly Greene March 24, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

      Maureen, you’d think they’d bulk up like they want us to!

    • Jason Kong March 24, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

      Maureen: They’re pulling a shortcut of a shortcut. Guess I didn’t cover that scenario in my post. 😉

  9. Tracey Best March 24, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    Molly and Jason, Great article and content I’ve come to expect from Molly’s blog. My struggle is in discerning which methods are okay. Selling e-mail lists are an obvious no no; however, things like a tool used to make lists of people with similar interests and pipe them into Twitter that I came across today don’t seem so black and white. Floating around the web hoping to connect with the right people can seem like sitting still. It’s sometimes hard to know what will be considered poor taste by others in the industry when you’re new and still learning.

    • Molly Greene March 24, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      Thanks, Tracey, for your lovely comment about my blog, and you bring up a great point. When is a tool a time-saver or a resource vs. when is it a scam? I’m going to defer to Jason – when he has a chance he’ll comment.

      • Kate Gifford March 24, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

        I certainly want to now the answer to that one, also. I’ve come across quite a few things that say they are a tool but I’m not sure. Would be nice to have a definitive answer – a means to judge the “tools” worthiness, if you will.

    • Jason Kong March 24, 2014 at 10:44 pm #


      Great question.

      While I do think the question of whether you’re building or destroying trust is a good litmus test, obviously the perception of any given approach isn’t universal. You have do factor in what feels right and how others feel about it, keeping in mind that worldviews can change over time. Think about what Amazon is doing when making suggestions on things you might like based on your past purchases. Not too long ago, that might have seem like an invasion of privacy. Now, it’s more widely accepted.

      One of my favorite ways to approach marketing is through permission. Have you heard about this idea? Essentially, you’re seeking permission to someone interested in what you do *before* sending directed promotional messages. I wrote about it here: http://storyrally.com/permission/. That type of marketing is very effective, a method also built on trust.

  10. MM Jaye March 24, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

    Awesome advice that, unfortunately, many choose to ignore. Thank you for putting it all out there in a consice, well-laid out way!

    • Jason Kong March 25, 2014 at 9:06 am #

      Thanks for chiming in, Maria!

  11. Heather FitzGerald March 25, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    I couldn’t live with myself if I went the “attention-at-any-cost” route. I have been making an effort to get involved in the online community (blogging and website, reading other blogs and commenting) and being a part of twitter and Instagram. I do believe it’ll begin paying off–one can’t go from being completely unknown to having a legit voice in a short period of time–but it sure does cut into valuable writing time. A necessary part of the job, it would seem!

    Not that I don’t enjoy the interaction but it easily sucks me in and becomes a distraction as well. Discipline! Discipline!

  12. Jason Kong March 26, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    Heather: You’re absolutely right that social media (and joining online communities in general) is time-consuming. I do believe that connecting with the primary goal of marketing is quite different with other reasons for connecting, however, so hopefully you’re getting value with the social media engagement you do.

    One thing to keep in mind: being trusted as a person isn’t exactly the same as being trusted for the work you do. The latter is especially critical for your writing endeavors.