Photo: Farknot Architect (Shutterstock)
How do you promote yourself on social media without sounding insufferable, arrogant, or needy? The question was posed to me recently, and I didn’t immediately have an answer. Candidly, I’ve often wondered this myself: What’s the best way to promote my work?
Self-promotion is about putting yourself out there so that others recognize your success and offer recognition for your work. (The focus here is on individual promotion of self, not social media marketing strategies or which platforms are best.) There are lots of ways to do it, and you’ve probably felt some emotional reactions to them.
Humble brags are always transparent
Humble-brags are self-deprecating statements intended to highlight something to be proud of—for example, “I was just asked to present at the annual conference. I can’t believe it either!” or “I’m so tired of being the one my boss goes to for presentations. It’s like I’m the only one on the team who can do it.” They’re meant to feign modesty, but the reality is that humble brags are rarely as subtle as we like to think. You won’t be surprised to hear that humble brags don’t work and put people off.
Sincere bragging doesn’t work, either
What about honest, well-intentioned efforts to let people know who you are and what you do, with the goal of others respecting or admiring your work? Does that work? The short answer is “no, probably not,” and that even with good intentions, people can view you as less likable for doing it. For example, these researchers asked participants in their study to create social media profiles, and half were told to share five things about themselves, and the other group was told to do the same plus “do it in a way that will make people like you.” The more braggy profiles elicited worse responses. They found that “more self-promotion did not change others’ perceptions of success nor their interest in meeting the self-promoter but decreased others’ liking of them and increased others’ perceptions of them as a braggart.”
Self-promotion is different from influence
The bottom-line here is that self-promotion will not make people like you, see you as hard-working and successful, or generate respect. It may indeed do the opposite and cause people to not like you.
Ultimately, we’re talking about here is influencing: to cause people to think, feel, or do something we want them to think, feel, or do. (It’s not manipulation, which involves involves tricking people and is different.) Like it or not, influencing is an important skill to have in our careers—we need to be able to influence others to support our ideas or decide we’re the best person for the job. When we go to social media to promote ourselves, we’re really trying to influence others to see us in a positive light.
Focus on your audience, not yourself
I spoke with Matt Kohut, managing partner of KNP Communications and co-author of the book Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential. “Pay careful attention to the ratio of audience-oriented versus self-oriented posts,” he told Lifehacker. “People know the difference.” That means spend more time posting about what your audience will find meaningful or useful, and making your posts about them, not you. Think about what matters to your audience and share information, connect people, and learn based on what they find important. As a result, people will be more likely to see you as humble, resourceful, and sincere.
“People want to know that we’re both competent (able to deliver) and warm (we understand their concerns, interests, and emotions),” Kohut says. This approach achieves both.
Despite knowing that self-promotion likely won’t give you the acknowledgement you hope, you still might wonder, “Don’t I deserve some recognition for my hard work and results?” And, of course, we all do. But that’s where our friends, family, and trusted colleagues come in. These are the folks who are most likely to cheer us on, sharing in our success, and offer encouragement to keep going. Just don’t go overboard with them either, or they’ll eventually feel put off too.
Most importantly: Be sure to ask others what successes they’ve had, so that you can cheer them on. Wouldn’t that be an interesting turn? Social media platforms filled with people promoting and supporting each other.