Always a shy child, my mother approached me during my high school career and informed me that I was to send in an application to the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership seminar.
“I don’t want to go to that,” I informed her. “There will be lots of people I don’t know there.”
“That’s precisely why you should go,” she said. And I did go.
My mother knows half of the state of North Dakota, and is completely unafraid to approach them for a chat. I look down at the ground when I walk and hope no one will try to start a conversation. Clearly, we are different creatures. Back then, I was both introverted and shy, though I have (mostly) outgrown shyness through such things as…youth leadership seminars. However, the introversion—the desire to be alone much of the time—remains. And that’s perfectly OK.
Introversion kind of took on a life of its own in recent years, partly thanks to the book “The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking” and its associated TED talk by Susan Cain. Social media feeds were flooded with people proud to lay claim to their introversion, glad to have found a spokesperson so they didn’t have to say it. There’s even a website dedicated to the “Quiet Revolution”, people who aren’t much for talking who live in a world where noise and constant speech is both common and rewarded.
“Why are all the introverts on social media?” my friend asked, when I pointed out this trend wave. “Wouldn’t that be the last place to be?”
“That’s a good question.”
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Being introverted is not the same as being shy. When my mom encouraged me to attend youth events, do public speaking in 4-H, and anything to get me used to communicating with people, she was trying to help me get over being shy. Shyness can be a crippling problem, but introversion is not.
Introverts aren’t weird, awkward, social nerds, too serious, shy—those are all negatives. Introverts simply need and are energized by being alone. Introversion is, in the most pared down definition, getting more energy by not being around people.
Introverts have a limited energy account when it comes to being around people, and when it’s used up, they are exhausted on all levels. They need to go away and be by themselves and recharge.
According to Psychology Today, if you...
- Like being by yourself.
- Think and create better by yourself and not in groups.
- Lead best when your followers are self-starters.
- Are reluctant to volunteer or get involved in groups and be in the spotlight. (People looking at you, talking to and about you? Just no.)
- Are constantly being asked what your opinion is. (Because you seldom volunteer it, unlike extroverts who specialize in sharing their opinion.)
- Wear headphones or create barriers between you and others when out in public. (If you’re like me, you carry a book around to read because you like to read, and it also keeps people from talking to you most of the time.)
- Avoid angry or upset people. (Confrontation? Just no.)
- Get way more calls and emails than you receive. (Unless your job forces you to participate).
- Don’t initiate small talk and don’t want to chat casually when encountering other people.
...you are an introvert. More or less. There are always exceptions to how people shake out, but it’s a good general list of introverted qualities.
Not everyone is an extrovert or an introvert; some of you are ambiverts. You have a bit of both going on.
The Requirements Of Content Marketing For Introverts
What does the world of content marketing require, particularly from the vantage point of an introvert?
1. There will be marketing.
I can never sell my own stuff.
“That’s a nice painting, Julie. Is it for sale? I’d like to buy it.”
And then I somehow manage to apologize for the painting existing and apologize for it being for sale. If the silence is sufficiently awkward, I may apologize for apologizing.
Marketing is not second nature to me. I want Magic Sales, whose unicorn customers buy silently and with neither pursuit nor question of the seller, crossing my palm with silver and going on their way without trying to extrapolate a pound of conversation from me.
Magic Sales are not marketing. Even blue moons whisper of their rarity.
Traditional marketing means you have to go out and find people, talk to them to figure out what they want, and then figure out how to sell based on that. Or, if it is inbound marketing, you must start the conversation on your blog or social account, and then be prepared to talk and sell when people come to you.
Either way, there’s going to be people, talking, and selling. Hard stuff for introverts.
2. There may be teams.
Unfortunately, introverts don’t shine in these kinds of group settings. Being surrounded by people tires them, much less people talking. They don’t fight for their right to be heard, because they are working hard at conserving their energy instead of burning through it, and just being in a room with other people is sapping it.
Brainstorming, in particular, can be frustrating because introverts often fall silent as extroverts run roughshod over the room. For this reason, I tend to use individual brainstorming techniques more in my own work than in groups.
But teamwork, unless you are a solo blogger, is inevitable. I usually tried to take a break after a meeting, or get off by myself to recharge so I could process the discussion I just heard. Or, if you know the meeting is about brainstorming ideas, for example, do your own brainstorming ahead of time, write it down, and bring it with you.
In other words, you can’t get away from working in teams, but you can make the most of your alone time both by taking advantage of when you’re creatively best and by planning in alone time to recharge. Some people will see you as unfriendly, weird, or “not a team player” but you are not responsible for that. Lock an extrovert in a room by themselves constantly, and see how well they produce. It’s the same thing.
You know your strengths. Find ways to sneak them in, even between group activities.
3. There will be questions.
Content marketing is about conversation, and that’s tough for introverts.
It’s not that introverts are bumbling and inept conversationalists. On the contrary, introverts often have many good things to say because they spend a lot of time thinking instead of talking all the time. So introversion and being slow or less inclined to talk instantly should never be taken as a sign of a lack of intelligence.
I love to have deep conversations with a limited handful of friends during specific settings and times after which I will go home and become quiet. Introverts seem as if they aren’t always “on” even though the truth is that we’re “on” but sometimes turn down the volume.
But when you are successful with your content marketing, there is a steady flow of conversation coming your way, from readers and fans. And not all of them are forgiving if you take a day or week to respond. This is tough for introverts. We know what we have to do (instant response!) and we know what we can do (delayed response, and not all at once).
I don’t always hop in and answer social media and blog comments instantaneously. It’s not that I don’t want to thank people, or answer questions, but I can’t always handle it. I have to set aside time, and then mentally prepare myself to dive in for a short while before I’m worn out.
There will always be people who want instant response, and those introverts may not be able to please all the time. However, you can make up for that by always being genuine and real in your responses, using first names of people, answering their questions, encouraging or sincerely complimenting their ideas. I like to think that delayed sincerity is better than instant insincerity. And if an introvert is forced to respond instantly, the depleted energy means insincerity will quite often surface.
4. There is a need for written words.
Introverts often (not always, but often) excel at the written word.
If you’re like me, you don’t talk much, but instead live a life inside your head, finding that writing is your chosen method of communicating. You can clearly articulate your thoughts much better in the written word than in the spoken word. Writing, after all, is a solitary activity. It doesn’t matter if you’re surrounded by people; when it comes to making it happen, it’s you and the blank page.
Good news: Content marketing needs written words.
Sometimes I am amazed by the need to help people clarify ideas and show them how to make written blog posts happen. If you’re used to being alone, and you’re familiar with that time being the point when your mind kicks into highest gear, such issues don’t exist. Yes, there are the mechanics of it to deal with (editing, grammar, logic, etc.), but the struggle to come up with the ideas that fuel the words is much less.
If you’re an introvert by struggling with writing, go with freeform and stream of consciousness approaches to your writing, simply typing out whatever it is you’re thinking. Because you are thinking. You can clean the randomness out of the copy later.
What’s An Introvert To Do?
You can’t change the expected norms for content marketing, a realm that seems to be filled with lots of energetic extroverted folks, but you can find a way to exist and not burn out. Extroverts may not appreciate your approach, but if you want to do content marketing for the long haul, you can’t run yourself into the ground.
1. Recharge regularly.
You have to recharge. Go offline, get off of social media. Do something. Get away from the conversation and get some quiet time alone to recharge.
I’m particularly absent from my clients and professional social media accounts during the weekend. I periodically remove social apps from my phone. I go for walks, and set aside a day to do “analog” projects like art or reading. That’s how I get through the week.
2. Do the math.
If you blog more and post on social media more, you get more conversation back. That’s the goal of content marketing, isn’t it? That’s the formula you hear about, right? That’s what success is?
Maybe. Unless you can’t handle it.
You’d be better off writing and generating content with a return you can handle than not. Don’t publish two blog posts a day if you can’t handle the conversational upkeep. Don’t post 15 times a day on social media if you can’t handle the engagement.
3. Write when you’re alone.
Writing when you’re being interrupted by team members or other people will be reflected in your final copy. Write when you’re alone. Try to arrange the option to have a room for yourself (if you’re in an open office) or some hours to work from home. You have a legitimate reason: You do your best work alone. Don’t they want your best work?
4. Inject time into conversation.
Introverts aren’t slow-witted, but some of us prefer to slow communication down to allow for thought. Those who thrive on fast-talking, instant communication are not going to like you for doing it, but that is not the concern. Do what you can do. Responding quickly in an energy deficit is a dangerous policy, and can lead to rash or formulaic responses.
One of the reasons I like paper snail mail is that it forces time into the conversation equation. Writing, mailing, waiting, opening, responding—these all take time. Weeks, often. I can write long letters, and don’t even mind letters from people I don’t know, because I can communicate in writing and use the large time gaps to recoup energy for the next round.
Email, text messages, social messages, phone calls—these demand immediate response. If you don’t respond right away, all kinds of social interpretations and anxiety seems to happen.
- “Are you angry with me?”
- “Are you ignoring me?!”
- “You can’t stick your head in the sand.”
- “You’re being unprofessional.”
- “This is a high speed world. I need you to respond.”
- “Why aren’t you interested in what I have to say?”
- “Please return my call ASAP. This is important.” (Important to whom?)
How fun it is to get an email or message, and then another in an hour, and then the next day...soon the whole thing has escalated and I don’t even know how to respond at this point when the only reason I didn’t respond initially wasn’t to be a jerk, but because I was recouping my energy and thinking of what I would say.
If you meet an aggressive person demanding response, perhaps you might consider a couple I use:
- “I am thinking about this and will get back to you later.”
- “Thanks for the email. I am not interested at this time.”
- “I won’t commit to anything on the phone. I need to think about it. What is your email address?”
In this way, I acknowledge the communication, but I don’t have to respond until I’m able.
I don’t answer emails for work on the weekend. I don’t answer an email before thinking about the answer for at least a day or so, particularly if it is for business or professional reasons and it is a new client I am not familiar with. I don’t pick up the phone if I don’t recognize the number, using voicemail to slow that conversation down. If someone is pushy on the phone, I end the conversation and transfer it to a written medium (often email) where I can think and communicate clearly and slow things down.
In other words, I’m injecting time into conversations because it’s what I need. I refuse to be wrangled into someone else’s preferred communication style if they are asking me for a response. My response comes wrapped in its own style, just as their request was wrapped in their style.
Blog posts and articles that purport to tell you how to force people to respond in a timely manner make my skin crawl. I shudder to think of a world where the demand to respond has to be instant or you’ll face an onslaught of follow-up emails, calls, and other sorts of pestering or accusations.
Inject time into conversations if you feel your stress level rising and your energy depleting.
Make Content Marketing Work For An Introvert Like You
This may sound a bit harsh, particularly if you’re not firmly in the introvert camp. But if you are, you know the weariness that you feel at the end of a day of being around and talking to people. If it is OK for extroverts to constantly recharge, the same should be said of introverts.
You introverts have great skills, and in some ways are well-suited to content marketing. By simply protecting your time, energy, and creative core, you will be able to do well for a long time in this industry instead of suffering from burnout.
There are more extroverts in the world, but you belong in that world, too. No apologies.