How to not lose friends and alienate people when selling via social media

Many of us worry that selling stuff in any way on social media is sleazy and bad.

Others promote and sell too much without much thought over how they’re affecting others online.

Promoting your wares is absolutely ok on social media. When I talk about ‘promotion’, I’m referring to a direct call to action or ‘pitch’ for some product or service that you wish people to hear about.

About 97% of the world gets it wrong to various degrees, and I’m still learning. We’ll all be continually learning as long as social media evolves, as it will continue to do so at quickening pace.

Despite the changes, I’ll endeavour to share with you solid insight I’ve gathered through personal experience and learning from others, on how best to sell stuff through social networks like Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

Know this: it’s not about how much you promote, it’s about how subtle and targeted you make your promotions that will lead to the results you want.

This is not about being manipulative, but about being effective without being annoying and without online tact. If you’re annoying, you will lose followers, fans and customers, which you don’t want.

So how to get it right on social media?

You need to firstly be giving your audience a lot of value to complement (and dilute) what you promote (1). Secondly, you need to craft what you promote to be as relevant as possible to that particular audience and platform (2).

1. Dilute your promo

Be careful about tipping the ratio of promoting something over 10% of the valuable stuff you share on social media (and elsewhere for that matter).

People are more likely to appreciate any promotional shares when they feel they have already received plenty of value in some form from you over time.

This is why it’s important to prioritise bringing plenty of useful, interesting, helpful and ultimately valuable stuff to your followers, no matter the network. Simply being funny and sarcastic is a form of value (as long as you aren’t being insulting) that will attract people to you.

When most of what you share is of real value, then sharing a small portion of more promotional stuff is much more warranted and much more subtle, but not without an awareness of the second point:

2. Target your promo

Subtlety isn’t just restricted to the ratio of value to promo that you do.

How you promote your stuff online, be you an independent artist or a large corporation, totally depends on the people you are targeting your promotion towards, as well as the context in which you attempt to sell something. I.e. which site, platform or network you are on will dictate the nature of how you share anything.

Be aware of who is following you and how they like to be spoken to, as well as the actual platform you are engaging on. Both will influence each other.

On Twitter, for example, there is a culture (a way of doing things according to unspoken social rules) that exists there, so you need to be careful about how you treat that particular environment.

Irony and even sarcasm go down very well on Twitter. The same goes for sharing something topical, visual, fascinating and highly useful.

Outright selling doesn’t work well on Twitter unless it highlights a real benefit to your targeted followers and when most of what you share (including ideally the promotion itself) is of real value or real interest to people.

Keep tweets on Twitter about particular products you wish to sell down to a minimum in the context of wider value-sharing, and make those tweets look as little like a sales pitch as possible.

On Instagram, you’d be booed offstage if you shared ugly images of stuff you sell. But you’d do well to build up a nice portfolio of beautiful images there with a link in your bio perhaps that goes to your website and shop.

Like with Instagram, Pinterest users expect some finesse and an understanding of how things work there when it comes to sharing images on that platform.

The more targeted and relevant the promotional material you share online, the better response you will get, and the less likely you are to piss people off.

I hope that helps clarify a few things about mixing promotion, fun and engagement on social media. As always add your thoughts in the comments area below.



  1. Happy earlier mornings to you! best part of the day. And thank you, Alex, for the continued incisive, perfectly pitched posts.

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