Self-promotion has perhaps gained a brand new meaning and life with the spread of social tools. Earlier, we had limited channels to promote ourselves/ our material…and most were one-to-one. There was the odd one-to-many, like a speaking opportunity, but others were largely direct, one-on-one methods.

selfpromoNow, it is terribly easy to promote oneself to a massive audience online – or so it seems. I’m not entirely sure why the phrase ‘shameless self-promotion’ was coined – does that mean there are select ways of self-promotion that are less shameful or not shameful at all? Self-promotion, as an act, is usually seen with consternation from people who value the organic, apologetic and subtle way of promoting oneself and these may be the people who coined the ‘shameless self-promotion’ phrase out of extreme derision! The logic could be, ‘when someone does good work, it will be noticed’. Unfortunately, that sounds more like Hindu philosophy nowadays!

Personally, I used to feel extremely apologetic about self-promotion…and to think I’m in PR! But, self-promotion can be done in a way that it does not look obviously narcissistic.

Renowned mathematician Richard Hamming’s 1986 speech titled, ‘You and your research’, has an interesting take on this – he explains it from the point of view of the scientific community.

I have now come down to a topic which is very distasteful; it is not sufficient to do a job, you have to sell it. ‘Selling’ to a scientist is an awkward thing to do. It’s very ugly; you shouldn’t have to do it. The world is supposed to be waiting, and when you do something great, they should rush out and welcome it. But the fact is everyone is busy with their own work. You must present it so well that they will set aside what they are doing, look at what you’ve done, read it, and come back and say, “Yes, that was good.” I suggest that when you open a journal, as you turn the pages, you ask why you read some articles and not others. You had better write your report so when it is published in the Physical Review, or wherever else you want it, as the readers are turning the pages they won’t just turn your pages but they will stop and read yours. If they don’t stop and read it, you won’t get credit.

There’s more where it came from – a lot more. If that interests you, check this out….but (self-promotion plug)…after you finish my post!!

That begs the question – what are the methods of self-promotion and what is the limit? Is there one at all?

First, why should there be a limit?

Excessive? What is it?
Excessive self-promotion looks awkward to the perspective of promoter’s audience, but that is just a factor of either they receiving/ finding pointless updates or they being plain jealous of the promoter’s influence. If it’s the former, they can always block the updates – it’s an opt-in, in most cases, so they can opt-out. As for the latter, just grow up!

Self-promotion methods!

Twitter is perhaps the best way to communicate about yourself/ your material to a large number of people. The real life equivalent of this would be to stand in the town hall with a loudspeaker and go the ‘Hear ye hear ye…’ way. And you can promote the same material many times over! Multiple promotions, that is. I often see people promoting blog posts on twitter more than once – I do too. The practical reason for that could be time zones (reaching people in other time zones) or simply attracting the attention of people who may not be active during other promotional tweet times. In the town hall example, assume that not all the relevant people walked past you when you announced first…! While it is a perfectly valid tactic, it would sure help if you customize each promotional tweet so that your loyal audience is annoyed a bit less.

Crowd begets crowd
The other tack used is to refer to the comments as a way of saying that a blog post is particularly useful – this is mighty effective too, since it uses crowds to gain more crowds. It is, in a way, how film producers do the selling – when you read about Avatar being a massive global hit, are you really wondering about the money part of it? Nope – it is more to do with, ‘so many people have seen and enjoyed the film…perhaps I should too!’. But, do ensure that the comments are sane and useful, so that visitors from your tweet find value in both the post and the comments.

Link baiting
A very common way to attract the attention of a blog owner is to post a relevant comment, along with a link from your own blog. I have tried this earlier and have seen tangible benefits – I noticed hits from the blog post’s comments section and also the said blog owner following me on twitter/ LinkedIn. Link baiting is also prominent on LinkedIn groups and Facebook discussion forums, besides other, remotely hosted message boards. But, it sounds quite awkward in the real world scenario – your neighbors are having a garage party – you enter the party and tell them that you have a great garage too and offer them a suggestion that they should visit it either right-away (opens link the same window/ tab) or after the existing party (opens link in a new window/ tab)!

But after a point, I felt bad about it (entirely personal decision) and assumed that I may win the confidence of the blog owner better by categorically mentioning that I do not intend to link bait but that I still have a relevant post to add value to the discussion. This helps find the level of interest my comment has generated – if there’s a specific query about the link, I give it out. As for link baiting in a discussion forum, it sure helps if you take the effort to customize the reason (in a summary) as to why the forum’s members should invest time to read your material – this part is as important as your blog post itself. In fact, I use some of the best lines from my material as a hook – I’ve seen it help really well!

Tweet-baits are explicit call-outs on twitter, with a @<username> and a contextual tweet. Done right, this could work well, but make sure you cover the basics first – do you know the person being baited? Yes? Go ahead with a relevant tweet after the bait. No? Try building a bridge first and use the bait after the relationship gains a certain level of comfort. Not doing this is exactly like telling your brand new neighbor, ‘Hey, I’ve recently painted my house! What do you think?’. Cold, lost stares is all you will get.

Cross-posting accentuates the reach – particularly cross-posting instances of contribution in other, mainstream media, in an online format, can help build a profile. It can also potentially backfire if the blog has a series of cross-posts and only the occasional value-adding material. After all, cross-posting adds value to self and based solely on the content, adds value to the audience. Adding a context to such cross-posts and thinking through the post from the audience’s point of view could help make it look more useful than it is.

Yes, blogrolls are, in a way, tactics to gain attention from others – particularly influential ones. Over a period of time the linked blog owners may see traffic (if yours is doing well, that is) from your blog and may land up to read your material. It’s a long drawn process, but also adds value to your readers in the way it points out to other, relevant resources and makes your blog seem comprehensive.

The blast
Tools like TweetDeck help you blast a single message across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. So, should you? You know your audiences better in each of these tools – are your twitter followers similar to your friends on Facebook? Good for you. No? Good luck. It really does not matter since all your friends may end up doing is simply ignore your update on say, Facebook, if they find it irrelevant. But you could sure customize it according to your target groups. If you’ve your school/ college mates on Facebook and you write something about marketing, there is no reason to assume that they may not understand/ appreciate that post. Try changing the status update based on something that is likely to resonate with that group – should help broad-base the reach. You could also tag specific people within your Facebook friends list so that you avoid the generic spam route.

The old fashioned way
One-on-one methods like mass emails, direct messages on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn are seen as spam these days. If you want to be noticed, you better select the most relevant targets and explain why they should spend time reading your material. Nothing like plain old relevant context. Offline methods like networking help too, but they work slower than online methods, where the result is usually an instantaneous click.

There are other minor ways too, like adding your latest blog post, along with a contextual pitch as a status update on instant messengers. And, for the sake of decency, I did not mention retweeting your own tweet – sounds incredibly lame. But hey, everything is fair in love, war and self-promotion – what works for you and irritates the least number of people is perhaps right!

So, what works for you? And, how do you deal with annoyed reactions to things like multiple tweets or perceived-excessive self-promotion?

Picture courtesy: jenniferkuhn via Flickr.

Related reads from this blog – not on self-promotion, but on client plugs!

  1. To plug or not to plug
  2. The plug thingy – part 2. Scott Montied.



5 thoughts on “The self-promotion conundrum

  1. The example of the scientist is a case where something genuine is being promoted, aggressively to get the attention. However it becomes shameless if at the end of all the promotion the content being promoted simply doesn’t deserve that much attention and it is being done simply to shoot the blog hits or some such.
    Its subjective of course whether the content is genuine or not etc…

  2. But Priyanka, why should we assume that a scientist is more valuable than a blogger or his blog post? The point is that everybody has something valuable to share and that depends on who finds value in it – its as simple a matter of a material finding its reader/ buyer – regardless of a general value that applies to everybody else.

    ‘Doesn’t deserve that much attention’ is an opinion. That ‘deserve’ part should be decided by its readers/ buyers.

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