4 things we don’t want to hear about right now (and what to write instead)
Updated: Mar 22
I have a public service announcement for content creators, marketers and self-promoters. And it’s bad news: your online content is tone deaf right now.
It's not all of you. It's not most of you. I'm talking to specific corners of the startup ecosystem.
And first of all, I get it. All of our businesses are at risk in this downturn (unless you’re Zoom). You’re trying to stay relevant, fill your pipeline, secure revenue, grow your channels. You’re hustling to stay alive. There’s no textbook that can tell any of us what to do, no marketing expert that has lived through a global pandemic.
But the racket of bad content making the rounds right now is not just tone deaf, it’s downright disheartening. It’s hurting you and your brand. At best, it’s annoying the heck out of people who are already living through some of the hardest times of their lives. At worst, it’s drowning out the content that we actually WANT to rise to the top, literally for the good of humankind.
So, if you find yourself about to hit “publish” on any of the following topics, please take a minute to reconsider.
1. Tips on how to work from home
The first article was helpful. The next five were marginally helpful. The next 500 were probably unnecessary. After that, beware. Are you adding anything to the conversation?
2. Your personal predictions about the pandemic
We are all obsessing about the pandemic right now, and data is scarce. But I am shocked at how many amateur data analysts are throwing out predictions - and how many of those are going viral. Unless you are a highly trained scientist, or a highly reputable, long standing organization; unless your conclusions are peer reviewed and vouched for by highly trained editors, please do us all a favor and keep it on the down low.
3. Spinning your startup as a COVID-related solution (especially when it’s not)
There are businesses out there that are naturally designed for moments like this - think Zoom, Peloton, Netflix - and their customers are rewarding them. Others have taken a quick pivot to deliver huge value in these hard times. Many of the companies in the Female Founders Alliance fall into this category. Give InKind is organizing meals and supply drop offs for front line health workers. Weekdays and Leg Up are helping parents find emergency childcare. FreshChalk and Intentionalist are reporting on the state of small businesses. And so many more - here's a fuller account of what 11 female founded companies have been doing to help. As weeks and months pass, and we settle into a new way of working, more opportunities to serve customers differently, and relevantly, will pop up.
What needs to be said is that, if that's not your business right now, you should know that it comes off as crass when you try to spin a pandemic into a selling point. Please. Just don’t.
4. Humble bragging or just plain bragging
Are you riding out the pandemic drinking Mai Tais at your beach house? Does your household help bring you breakfast in bed? Are you using all those hours and hours of free time to learn a new language, get “prison body”, or write your book? Think your posts about all this are going to inspire the rest of us?
While I commend you on making margaritas out of lemons, I also think you should know: Most of us are in very dramatic survival mode. People whose kids are home all day, every day, crawling up the walls with boredom. People who have lost their jobs or shut their businesses or are on a path to losing everything. People who don’t have comfortable or safe homes, or any help, or any companionship. The more you brag, the less we want to know you.
I realize we’re all human and we’re trying to do our best to save ourselves, our startups and our jobs. And we’re lonely, trying to connect with others online. I believe there’s lots of healthy, value adding ways to do that, even in the deepest moments of crisis. For example, instead of talking up your products or services, start talking up your humanity. What are you doing for your employees and contractors during these hard times? How are they organizing to give back to the world? You know how they say, take care of your employees and they’ll take care of you? That has never been truer than it is today.
If you’re working solo, there’s also lots for you to say. Write and post evergreen content about topics that have nothing to do with COVID-19 - you can acknowledge what’s happening in the world, and offer people a respite from it. Share stories on what you and your community are doing to help others through the crisis. Find moments of humor in the chaos, and share them. Reach out to people and offer to help.
If you’re drawing a blank and nothing comes to mind, I have a radical idea : don’t publish anything. Keep yourself and your brand quiet for a day or two, or even a week or two. Everything will be ok. You can get back to frequent publishing after. As our VP of Marketing Divya Kakkad told our team: in situations like this, it’s better to communicate less as long as we do it thoughtfully. There is way too much noise out there already.
And on that note, I sign out. I hope this is helpful and that I myself am not being too much of an asshole right now… and if I am, all I can say is: I am human just like you.