Some people just can’t seem to stop themselves from showing up at lunch with a stack of business cards to pass around. Don’t they realize how annoying everyone thinks that is?

Online, it’s the same thing when you use Indiana Mesothelioma Lawyer or Fancypants Legal Marketing instead of your real name — or a made-up handle, at least — to identify yourself in blog comments or on forums. It’s ineffective, it has negative SEO value (especially after Google’s recent updates), and it makes you look like a douche.

Be yourself. Or make up an interesting persona, at least.

Don’t shove your marketing in people’s faces

Do you think anyone would have put Eric Turkewitz’s picture on buses, billboards, and magazines if he went around calling himself New York Personal Injury Lawyer all the time? No, they would have thought he looked like a self-aggrandizing jerk and found somebody else.

If you want to derive any benefit from your online presence (whatever form that may take), you have to do it by being yourself. After all, networking is just getting out and meeting people to make friends, and it’s hard to reach your drink while wearing a Georgia Bankruptcy Lawyer sandwich board.

Will being yourself get you clients? Maybe so, maybe not. I doubt Turkewitz’s practice is taking off now that he’s in a running shoe ad. (I bet his clients get a kick out of it, at least.) But being genuine and adding value to the world is far more likely to get you a client or two (or some earned media) than if you put everyone off by shoving your marketing in their faces.

Be genuine and add value

Being “genuine” is not what most marketers would like you to believe. Neither is “adding value.” Being genuine means being the same, real person online that you are offline. Adding value means producing interesting, awesome stuff that people want to read or watch or do or listen to, without worrying about whether it will get you clients or optimize for search engine results.

When I’m asked how to get clients from a blog, I start by pointing out that the natural result of writing a publication is getting readers — if the publication is good — not getting clients. Expecting clients from blogging is like a newspaper expecting to generate donut sales from an article about the donut industry, instead of subscriptions. Writing a blog that attracts readers will sometimes have the side effect of bringing in clients, especially if it is a niche blog, but it won’t work if that is your goal.

The same is true on a social network or in a forum. The natural result of participating in a social network is socializing — more e-friends (maybe even real friends!). Friends often become great referral sources, but it rarely works to try to shortcut from strangers to referral sources.

In other words, you have to focus on writing interesting stuff or being an interesting person so people will want to be e-friends with you, not on getting clients. You can call that adding value, if you like. On a blog, the value you have to give is your knowledge and insight. On a social network or forum, it is the LOLcats image macros you post, or a well-timed link to this GIF. (It’s obviously shallower than what you might do offline — the jokes you tell over coffee or the lasagna you drop off at a friends’ house when they have a baby — but roughly analogous.)

You can’t do that while you are hidden behind a keyword phrase like Phoenix Ambulance Chasers. (Actually, that one might be funny enough to work.)

Go forth and be yourself (or pretend to be someone else)

If your goal is to sell your services by participating online, wise up. Nobody gets any real business from throwing business cards at strangers, and nobody gets business from calling themselves Get Rich Marketing online. Anyone who gets business from anywhere does so by being genuine and having something of value to contribute. And it starts by literally being yourself, instead of using your firm name or a bundle of keywords to identify yourself.