How to Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul: An Interview With Michael Stelzner

Today I have a great pleasure and honor to share with you an interview with Michael Stelzner, author of the new book Launch, and founder of Social Media Examiner, one of the most popular blogs on social media marketing today.

If you don’t know Michael, you can think of it this way: if social media marketing was a college at a university, Michael would be the Dean of that university. That’s how groundbreaking and cutting edge Social Media Examiner is when it comes to social media marketing.

If you ever want to be updated with everything new that’s going on in the world of social media, just visit his site, and Michael and his team are not only on top of it, but they’ve probably already done a total 360° view of any new tool that’s out there—and all of your questions would be answered in a jiffy.

So, without further ado, here’s the interview:

The Interview

Ollin: First of all, thank you so much for doing this interview. It’s a special honor and pleasure to have one of the most highly respected social media experts on the Internet today visiting the C2C.

Michael:  Thank you for having me!

Ollin: Your wildly popular site, Social Media Examiner, teaches people how to utilize social media marketing strategies to promote themselves and sell their products online. Can you give us a working definition for “social media marketing,” and what it entails, so that we’re all on the same page?

Michael: Social media marketing is the process of promoting and engaging with your ideal audience in a social context.

So, in the case of novelists, social media marketing involves trying to connect with readers, potential readers of your book, or the buyers of your book, using social mediums such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google + and all the other networks that are out there.

The “social component” of it means that it’s more about connecting with people and less about pitching products and services.

Ollin: Recently you’ve had people in the mainstream media dismiss social media marketing and social media experts. Why all the haters suddenly?

Michael: Well, here’s the deal. There’s a lot of people out there—there’s just a handful of people, frankly—the Scott Stratton’s of the world and the Peter Shankman’s of the world—that say there’s no such thing as a social media expert.

Their argument is that you can’t be a social media expert unless you have years and years and years of experience.

However, my argument would be that social media moves much faster than other industries. All you have to do is look at Facebook today and look at it three months from now and it will be completely different.  It’s always changing. Same with Google and Twitter.

So, the speed of innovation in social media is so radical that it is possible for someone to very quickly become very experienced with utilizing social tools.

So, on one hand, I can understand how people can get frustrated with others labeling themselves as “experts” (which is the crux of the argument with Scott and Peter) however, there are indeed experts out there and they don’t need to label themselves as experts. They typically are the people who have been working in the trenches, understanding intimate details of the social tools that are out there, are often the people who are contacted by others when they want to get their social media questions answered and want to understand social media marketing more.

These social media “haters” are in the miniscule minority. 90% of the world understands the importance of social media and are jumping on the bandwagon every single day.

A quick statistic: 10,000 websites are integrating Facebook functionality every day.

That’s a big number, man.

Ollin: It seems like people’s experience with marketing has made them largely numb to “marketing” of all types. It’s no surprise to me why: we’re practically drowning in advertisements everywhere we look. (They’ve even gone as far as putting TV screens that play commercials at gas pumps where I live.)  So, how do we sell our product, or market ourselves without making people feel like they’re being stalked by a sales pitch everywhere they go?

Michael: Well, first of all, I have those very same gas stations where I live. I even see the advertisements in bathroom stalls.

So it’s true that people are numb to marketing.

As a novelist, this is a big challenge because if you’re trying to get your book to stand out in this noisy noisy world it can seem almost impossible.

But if you want to stand out, when no one is paying attention, the best thing that you can do is give people gifts. Give people genuine gifts. 

The way you go about doing this is you create content that serves the needs of people.

So, what I did with my recent book, Launch, was I gave away the first chapter of my book as a PDF file. No registration required. And everybody loved it. And that was my gift to my audience.

A pretty significant amount of people who read the first chapter of Launch wanted more and went out and bought it. I didn’t hide the book behind a registration form.

These are the kinds of things that you can do to stand out without making it seem like you’re bombarding your readers with sales pitches.

By the way, when you create great content that everybody loves, they’re going to want to share it in their social media circles. So they’ll retweet it, they’ll put it up on Facebook, etc.

All these things will end up driving more traffic back to your website and, through that process, give you more attention because of that network.  As a result, you’ll stand out.

Ollin: There’s also another thing people generally feel about marketing: they mistrust it. For instance: most people equate the term “branding” with the practice of large corporations manipulating, lying, and brainwashing a customer into buying a product that is actually bad for them.  So, can you please give us a better definition of “branding” than a practice that lies and manipulates?  Oh, and while you’re at it, can you give us an example of a popular branding strategy that successfully sold a product that was actually good for the consumer?

Michael: Well, first of all, I think that the word “branding” is an old marketing word that we should stop using.

“Branding” is term that was typically used by “big marketing” to mean putting television advertisements on TV and radio spots on the radio to try to make their company “brand” look favorable in the eyes of people. Thus, if these companies look favorable, people will want to shop with them.

It was a consumer mentality.

I don’t think that stuff works anymore.

I think the new mantra is about establishing rapport and relationships with people.  The way you establish rapport and relationships with people is actually very easy: it’s by allowing your readers access to you.

For example, I’m an author of two books. I’ve got a Facebook page for my book, and I answer my fans questions whenever they have any questions about my book. I answer every single e-mail that comes in. I also go out of my way to make sure that, if I don’t have the answer, I’ll help my reader find the answer.

That is something that your readers can do as well.

Social Media Examiner is a great case study of a successful “non-branding” marketing strategy.

Social Media Examiner is only 20 months old and we have 92,000 e-mail subscribers that get e-mails 6 days a week in their inbox. We have 51,000 fans and these are some of the most loyal people in the world.

We haven’t done any “branding.” We’ve just taken the mentality of producing outstanding content and helping people for free.

Stop thinking about “branding,” instead figure out what people need and then provide it to them for free.

That’s the new mantra. That’s the new “branding.”

Ollin:  Some writers might feel afraid about putting themselves out there and selling their book, or selling themselves to become more popular online. I think that, for writers, this hesitation is largely due to the fear of “selling out.” Any tips on how people can sell themselves without selling their soul?

That’s a wonderful question. And, believe it or not, I wrote the book Launch specifically to help people figure out how to do this.

Here’s how to do it:

Great Content + Other People – Marketing Messages

This is the crux of what I talk about in my book, and it’s called the “Elevation Principle.”

And basically what it says is this:  if you want to reach people you give them great content.

Great Content could be interviews with other authors of SciFi novels, or it could be reviews of other people’s books. It could be tips on events. It could be all sorts of cool stuff that you know your fan base is really interested in.

That’s great content. That’s part of the equation.

The other part of the equation is Other People.

You have to reach outside your normal sphere of influence and connect with experts (people who have access to your audience) and bring those experts to your audience.

Those experts are the people who are often speaking at trade shows. These are the successful people in their industry that are working in corporate America, or people who have already written books and have done a really spectacular job with their books.

Everybody knows who these people are, typically, so if you can bring them to your audience via an interview, or even go to a trader show and bring a camera crew with you and video interview all these people—you got great content.

These experts, when you write about them, will often link back to what you’ve written about them.

So, not only are these experts a source of greater content, they’re also a source of great traffic to your website.

The last thing in the equation is to throw away all of your Marketing Messages.

If you know everybody hates marketing messages then create content that doesn’t have any marketing messages.

The end result is you’re going to attract masses of people to your website.

And the way that you monetize this, Ollin, is that you figure out how to get people to come back for more.

So, for example, maybe you have a little box on the side of your website that encourages people to sign up to get your regular daily updates whenever you release a new post. That becomes a secondary back channel through which you can begin marketing and selling without selling your soul.

The end result is that you’ll grow rapidly, everybody will love sharing your content, you won’t be perceived to be as some sort of competitive threat, and instead you’ll be perceived as a movement.

Ollin: I always like to end with this question:  what do you do to keep your head up when the going gets tough? Any last words of encouragement or inspiration you can give my readers as they pursue their dreams—writing dreams or otherwise?

Well, first and foremost, you need to have role models. It’s very important to look to other people—not just in your industry, but in different industries—that are successful.

And you need to ask yourself: what are they doing? How do they roll with the punches? What do they do when things don’t go their way?

And try to find inspiration from these people.

Realize that anyone who’s been successful has failed 10 times for every 1 time they’ve been successful—or more. So, you know, it is part of the territory.

You also have to realize that everyone in the world is more interested in themselves than in you.

So, if you want to become successful, figure out how to have a “servant” mentality. Figure out how to help other people, and find the reward in helping people—not in other people “tooting your horn.”

My encouragement to writers who are at the edge of breaking out is to not give up, to continue to strive toward doing better and better work. Just look long-term and say to yourself: what can I learn from the mistakes that I made? What can I learn from the failures that I made?

And through that process of constantly improving and looking to others for inspiration, I think you’ll find great encouragement.

Ollin: Finally: you have a new book, Launch, that’s all about how to launch a blog using some of the social media marketing techniques we’ve been talking about. How can my readers learn more about the book and then purchase it if it’s something they’re interested in?

Actually, Launch is not about how to launch a blog. It’s about how to launch anything. How to launch a book. How to launch a business. How to launch a new product.

The best way to find out about the book is to visit

I got a free chapter of the book there. Just push a button—and boom—you can read it. You can get the book at any bookstore in the world. You can get it in Kindle, Nook, Google eReader every other kind of format you can ever imagine.

Ollin:  Thanks, Michael!

Michael:  No problem.

Michael Stelzner is the founder of, author of the books Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition and Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, the popular Social Media Marketing Industry Report, and the man behind large summits, such as Social Media Success Summit.

Do you have any lingering questions about marketing, social media, or launching a book for Michael? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below, and Michael will try his best to answer them!

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16 comments on “How to Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul: An Interview With Michael Stelzner

  1. Ollin says:

    Thanks so much for the fascinating interview Stelzner. I learned SO much just from our one interaction with each other. Awesome knowledge here that is incredibly valuable to my readership. Thank you!

  2. Christina says:

    Great interview! Because as a writer, it seems overwhelming when it comes down to creating a website and useful content to potential readers – especially when you’re not blogging about writing for other writers.

    What would be a good place to start when it comes to readers if you’re not connected to industry experts or other famous writers?

    • Start with your personal network and see who you can land 🙂

      • Ollin says:

        Christina, just to add to Michael here:

        I started with my fellow writers right here at WordPress. I did guests posts for them and they did guests post for me, we shared each others posts, commented on each others blogs, liked each others stuff.

        From there I gained momentum. So Michael is right–start with your immediate network and then go from there. Good luck!

  3. Wow! That was an awesome interview Ollin! I just downloaded the free chapter of “Launch” to get ready to launch my show “It’s Margarita Happy Hour” by building my social media fan base first via web-blog next month. Both your blog and Mr. Stelzner’s ideas are helping me work out the kinks in Business Marketing plan. MySpace was easy for me to work but Facebook and twitter has been challenging to acquire new fans, even as a Marketing major about to acquire my MBA, it is good to learn new things about CRM and Social Media. Thanks again!

  4. Yep, I agree with everyone else, a terrific interview. You asked great questions and Michael sounds like the sort of guy I’d like to hear more from. That’s social media working. I like his emphasis on serving others and I’d add ‘happy’ in after successful

    “if you want to become successful, [and happy] figure out how to have a “servant” mentality. Figure out how to help other people, and find the reward in helping people—not in other people “tooting your horn.”

    Interesting how he says he makes sure he answers every email. With his number of followers that deserves a medal.

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Tahlia. Yeah, I love Michael’s approach, you can go forward without compromising your morals, values and your integrity and that’s what I love about Michael. He’s not one of those shady marketer bloggers. He’s a real honest-to-goodness guy.

  5. I enjoyed this interview so much! I find social media marketing to be so overwhelming, but I like how Michael pares it down to people and quality content…looking at it from this more human, mutually supportive side of it, it seems more doable and even satisfying.

  6. Great site. I’m looking forward to browsing your suggestions. That balance between Free and paying the bills is critical. I’ve been worrying myself about it. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. This is a fantastic interview Ollin. Many thanks to Michael for participating.
    I am very interested in Michael’s take on Social Media Marketing both for my job and my blog. I am just getting back into the swing of blogging and planning to launch an all new site in September.
    I will be reading this book for sure!

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