Is 'no self-promotion' the great unwritten rule of social media?

Last Friday I was lucky enough to appear on Paul Chaney's User Friendly Thinking show on Blog Talk Radio(You can listen to the show and download it here). On the show we talked about how companies and small businesses can use social media to better connect with their customers, especially in tough economic times. Part of the interview also involved my talking a bit about the social media consulting/training services I provide.

Paul tells me that there was a surprisingly high number of listeners to the show (and if you listened to it live, thanks so much for your interest. I made a point to give a shout-out to my Twitter peeps ;)), and that it went exceptionally well.

But afterward, the most common question I got from people that heard the episode was "Wait, you mean you do social media consulting?"

Yep, I fear I've never been very good at promoting myself (notice I forgot to blog about my appearing on Paul's show prior to Friday), and my guess is I'm not alone. Lisa Hoffmann left an interesting post about Matt Bacak recently, and I left this comment:
For whatever reason, many of us are horrible when it comes to promoting ourselves. And I am the world’s worst about it. My guess is that many of us view our ‘followers’ and blog readers as friends, and don’t feel right ‘promoting’ ourselves to our friends. But that’s just a guess.

A few months ago I made some changes to my The Viral Garden and added sections spelling out the consulting, training and speaking services I provide. Before I did so, I spent a lot of time reviewing the blogs of other people who I knew provided similar services. What I found was that most offered little to no mention of this on their blog. I found a few solid examples, such as Amber Naslund and Chris Brogan, who I think do a fine job of promoting their consulting and speaking services on their blog. But most people seemed to almost have made a conscious choice not to promote themselves.

I've talked to some pretty influential people in the social media space about this, and have gotten conflicting answers. Some seem to think that the less promotion the better, as the best promotion is in creating value and helping others. And others told me that they didn't understand why consultants didn't promote their services more, as they felt their friends/readers/followers would want to know about them.

What do you think? I almost always err on the side of less promotion being better, but I'm beginning to wonder if I might sometimes be overreacting. If you offer similar services, what's your stance on promoting yourself on your blog, and how do your readers take it?


Pic via Flickr user ehnmark


posted by Mack Collier @ 8:26 PM,

24 Comments:

At 5:47 AM, Anonymous Steve Woodruff said...

There is stupid, overbearing self-promotion (always to be avoided), and there is simple, straightforward, tell-the-truth-about-what-I-do promotion. Absolutely no problem with the latter; in fact, I would venture to say that if your services truly provide value, then you are ROBBING your audience by not letting them know who you are and what you do. Why deprive them and yourself of mutual business benefit, or of valuable referrals, by being overly deferential?

 
At 7:42 AM, OpenID peterkim said...

There's a fine line between promotion/information and it lies within the eye of the beholder. For the people who didn't know you were a consultant - what did they assume that you did for a living?

 
At 8:22 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Thanks for the input, Steve. And this brings up another point about self-promotion; I am constantly emailing friends that I know are doing similar work, and asking them to tell me more about what they are looking for, so I can properly refer them. I think that many of us are so scared of being 'that guy' when it comes to 'pimping' ourselves, that we err on the side of less being better when it comes to self-promotion.

Pete it's funny because I've heard more than once that 'well I thought you made money from blogging'. I guess people assume if you blog regularly, that you wouldn't do so if you weren't getting paid for it? ;)

 
At 8:53 AM, Blogger Andrea Hill said...

Great question. I think many of us tend to downplay our expertise.. but to what benefit? Of course we don't want to oversell ourselves or be obnoxious, but I don't think there is anything wrong with 'owning your power'.

Think about it this way: how can you help people if they don't know to ask? Letting people know you are available to guide them in something you're passionate about isn't a bad thing.

Look at it this way: how many famous {actors, sports stars} didn't bother showing up to auditions and tryouts? When you're blessed with a gift, you should share it!

 
At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Danny Brown said...

I agree with all the comments here - it is a very fine line to tread. On the one hand, we're constantly saying/hearing that social media is about the "we", not the "me". Yet on the other, we have to make a living as well.

My spin? Probably stave off the overly obvious self-promotion (every other Tweet is an affiliate link, for instance). Have an About Me page on your blog, and have your email signature/Twitter bio/business card describe your role.

Offer value and the inquiries will come, and use "normal" marketing methods to get your name and services out there.

 
At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Ian Schafer said...

I follow a simple rule: promote yourself by sharing wisdom. People want to work with people that are intelligent and experienced. If your blogging, twittering, etc. can demonstrate that, THAT'S how you should be promoting.

And if you're going to be blatant? Call it out.

My blog has a category for 'self-promotion', and it's got a lot of posts. But I share them for a reason...

 
At 9:13 AM, Blogger Sean said...

Telling the world "this is what I do, this is what I love, this is who I am" is a big part of being real and authentic and transparent. Shilling (to be a shill) about yourself, your business, your clients or your magic promotional powers isn't such a fine line.

My blog has been a big part of clients finding me - it shows my thinking and efforts in the spaces I believe in and opens doors. Could I do a better job marketing myself? Sure. If I put an autofollow together that asked all to "view my blog to find out more" it would feel too much like a bad MLM marketing "plan".

If I believe in Mack as a voice that I get value from (ideas, direction, opinions), then he gets a pass from me to toot his own horn.

 
At 9:16 AM, Blogger Amber said...

I think a lot of it has to do with context. Are you pimping mercilessly all the time? Ick. Are you responding to people's inquiries with intelligent, low key information? That's great and necessary. Like Steve, I think you're shortchanging people if you're not letting them know that you can help them. But it's all about HOW you deliver that information.

I think just making the information tacitly available is an important start. I rarely say "hey! I'm a consultant!" But I'm chatting with people ALL the time, which means that inevitably it comes up in conversation, or they find it when they're on my site. It's a natural evolution of our relationship, I suppose.

But there's no one right answer. I actually think you can go too far in the direction of humility, too. If you're constantly saying "aw, shucks", you not only lose valuable attention, but I think you lose credibility because people don't see that you take yourself seriously.

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Sean that has always been my stance toward promotion; that creating valuable content for others is the best promotion. Use your blog as a way to bring important and valuable ideas to your readers, spark intelligent discussions, and THAT becomes a tool to promote your worth to others.

But lately I am having more and more people that I have known for a while online, that tell me they had no idea what I do for a living. That makes me think that maybe my efforts need to be tweaked a bit.

Great discussion you guys are creating, thanks for the comments!

 
At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Tamera Kremer said...

I think this is a very timely post Mack. I struggle with this myself constantly. By nature I am very sensitive to how my community views me, and feel if I just promote the hell out of what I'm doing and my expertise I'm not adding value to them... it might also have something to do with the real life/ online community I am a part of - they know what I do so if I'm constantly pushing my services to those outside that circle, will my friends take offense?

It's also contrary to my personality - business is always second to my life in my world and most of the time, when I'm not thinking of how others would view the promos, I just don't think about doing it. I'd rather have you get to know *me* and how I think, which translates organically into how I view business, marketing and communications.

But you have challenged those assumptions on my part and I think I will update my site at the very least to provide more robust and prominent info on what I *do* for a living.

I draw the line though at the barrage of "hey look at me" posts on social networks. It's easy enough to promote without being annoying I think.

 
At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Chris Prakoso said...

The difference between helping your friends 'discretely' and a 'formal' self-promotion, is that the latter carries somekind of 'responsibility', because it's like telling to the world that you are an expert in a particular niche, and that people can count on you to solve their problem, in this case they choose you. This is different to when you are on the 'Good Samaritan' mode, when you are helping because you want to help, or not when you don't want to, in this case you choose what you want to do. Both are fine, just different set of mind.

 
At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Gennefer Snowfield said...

I agree with Ian on this one. You 'promote' yourself by sharing wisdom and providing information of value to the community. In doing so, your expertise becomes readily apparent and the natural evolution of those interactions segues into talking about your business/services.

I would say that if people don't realize what you do based on your daily interactions that perhaps you should take a step back to evaluate the content of your messages, and tailor accordingly to be a better representation of your skills and knowledgebase.

This is often referred to as a consultative approach to sales, whereby rather than overtly promoting your business, you actively demonstrate your thinking and the expertise you possess in applicable subject areas.

Any successful professional knows that it's not about SELLING, its about LISTENING, and this is the methodology that I follow in all of my social media interactions. I listen to what the community is saying, and respond if I have relevant knowledge or information on the topic that could help to advance the conversation. And typically, as Amber pointed out, it leads to questions about my business, background, etc.

It's about initiating a dialogue, not beating your network over the head with your credentials. And what it boils down to is ultimately being viewed as a helpful, knowledgeable thought leader in your key area of expertise or an aggressive, self-aggrandizing salesman. The easiest way to prove value is to demonstrate value. Don't ask me to hire you; show me why I SHOULD.

 
At 10:59 AM, Blogger Jason Baer said...

Good post, Mack. This issue is more topical for social media consultants, since we're constantly preaching to give more than you take, etc. etc.

But to me, telling people what you do and how you make your living isn't self-promotion, it's business. While I suspect you and I agree that it's unbelievably good fortune that we can actually make a living doing this, it's still a business.

Plumbers who drive around with their phone number plastered on the side of their trucks is totally cool. Plumbers driving around with a PA system blaring "get your plumbing services right here" would be incredibly uncool.

You're no plumber with a PA system.

 
At 11:01 AM, Anonymous Gary Cohen said...

I believe the saying goes like this: "Any lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client!" There is a big difference in how most people represent themselves and how they represent their clients.

Part of it may be that the client pays and there is a cost benefit component. BUT it is very important in this day and age that all properties work for us. And for reasons such as time, money, capability or even a subconscious fear of having to walk the talk, doing the self branding & marketing beyond showing up and checking the boxes often gets left for tomorrow. And that leaves opportunity on the table.

Not that we do not know what to do - we would absolutely tell a client straight up what they needed to do. We just seem to prioritize it for another day.

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

I guess it's only appropriate that on a post about self-promotion, I get a spam comment ;)

 
At 4:45 PM, Anonymous The Burnman said...

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of self promotion. Discussing what we are up to is part of being social, so long as we aren't spammy or obnoxious about it.

I'm more worried about people injecting paid advertising into social networks like the whole magpie/twitter fiasco.

 
At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Dave Benjamin said...

I think sites like LinkedIn have helped with self promotion but from a 3rd party point of view. I feel as though promotion oneself is fine if done in moderation. Many have already mentioned the fine line, not sure there is a tried and true formula.

Reality is that when we provide value to our friends, clients, etc over time they will probably spread the word. I agree with Steve, not sharing your expertise and offerings are robbing your audience and potential clients.

 
At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Paul Chaney said...

You've already gotten some very good advice, but I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't chime with some based on my own experience.

Like you, I suck at self-promotion. I don't do a very good job of selling myself or my services, so I had to learn to make myself do it. Here's what I learned.

You have to promote in a manner appropriate to a given channel. Social media is content marketing, relationship marketing, informational marketing, etc. It's not promotional in the typical sense. You promote yourself by sharing your expertise and insight, something you do very, very well Mack.

However, there is this thing on the blog called a sidebar and that can be VERY promotional.

For example, take a look at Chris Baggott's new platform Compendium Blogware. (Google the URL) You'll notice built into the sidebar of their blogs (client blogs included) is a strong call-to-action. In some cases, its an invitation to subscribe to an email newsletter, in others it's an offer to download a free whitepaper or attend a webinar. In every case, there is always a clearly defined, conspicuously placed offer.

I don't see why you can't do the same thing Mack. Leave your center column for editorial absolutely, but use the sidebar for advertorial and promotional.

Thats not all...

Use email marketing for promotion, and I don't mean just the usual RSS to email Feedblitz thing either. Get a real email marketing solution like Vertical Response and market yourself and your services to subscribers via a monthly newsletter, supplemented by occasional special promotions.

It's not so dissimilar to your blog -- editorial content, supplemented by advertorial.

Email is accepted as a promotional channel, so you won't have people throwing you under the bus for using it. If they no longer want to receive your messages, they can simply unsubscribe.

Let me refer back to what Chris Baggott does by offering free whitepapers and webinars. I think that's a channel you should consider using as well Mack.

Oh, and there's Internet radio, that's a great channel. And, you could always write a book. I'm sure there's one inside you just waiting to get out.

I think, by using a channel marketing approach, you can more than adequately market yourself and your services without appearing obnoxious or overbearing.

Oh, and we were delighted to have you on the show and even more delighted to tout your services to all that listened. I hope you got some business out of it.

 
At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Wendy said...

I think promoting yourself to your network to an extent is a good practice. When I began my web design company, my first 10 customers were all friends and family also starting companies. It's been almost 2 years and I'm still relying on word of mouth (aka social media!). I'm not plugging my services every time I'm talking to them, but I do talk about what I'm doing, or share some anecdotes that come up. People want to know: 'What are you doing?' Hence why Twitter is so popular. Talking about what you do is just another way to let people know another side to you, its a soft promotion that I don't think is intrusive when your network is genuinely interested in what you do.

 
At 7:31 PM, Blogger Deb Brown said...

It's a fine line we travel. I think part of who we are is what we do. I'm lucky in that I'm doing many things, some paid some not. And I LOVE the job I get paid for.

I do a lot of interviews on my blog, interspersed with things I consider interesting. I intend, very occasionally, to talk some about what I do. In an interesting way. Hopefully!

I believe we need to provide value to our friends/clients - and create an opportunity for them to ask "what is it you do? can you help me?".

And every once in a blue moon - a little shameless self aggrandizing can be fun!

 
At 8:27 PM, OpenID Ken Burbary said...

I agree with both sides of the argument: it's ok to promote but only in the appropriate time/place. And I think the determining factor is something that has been overlooked, largely because most of us here are all inside the same social media fishbowl.

Remember. your. audience. As Jay Baer pointed out, it's good business to tell people who you are, and what do you for a living. How else are you going to gain customers?

But inside the fish bowl, we're acutely sensitive to this practice, because the essence of social media has been about we, not me. So, any hint of self-promotion inside the fish bowl is usually picked up and admonished as a faux pas.

Let's face it, inside the fish bowl it is pretty clear (to most folks at least) what each and every one of us does/is doing for a living. Much of it falls into the "no duhhh" category, so we feel there is no need to "promote" our own services.

Outside the fish bowl, this isn't the case. People don't understand these things as clearly. They need someone to step up and tell them what the heck social media, blogging, social networks, etc.. is all about. This is where the self promotion is not only ok, but needed. This is the appropriate, and necessary, audience for promotion (and education). Both parties benefit. What's not to like about this?

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger Words For Hire said...

Mack, I think part of the problem is in the language we use. Our sites, blogs and profiles should clearly spell out what we do and how we help people (and yes I need to take my own advice). I have also been made painfully aware lately that I am not doing a good enough job of sharing the solutions I offer. Steve, Amber and others articulated it well. Being a pushy, overbearing jerk who constantly looks to "take" from others is not an example of bad self promotion it's just bad behavior. However, sharing your work life and offering your help when it's needed just makes good sense.

 
At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Christine Mantych said...

I am probably guilty of not doing enough self-promotion (to be rectify after this post). Let's face it, we all are in the social media arena to build our businesses so it follows that there has to be some self-promotion. I keep reminding myself - "marketer promote thyself".

That being said, I think there is a fine line to walk. The blatant-hit-them-over-the-head kind of promotion is bad form. It turns me off and I am sure it turns off any potential clients.

I think the key to social media is authenticity and transparency and it should be applied to us as marketers first. If I can't promote myself, what makes a client think I can do it for them. And people don't know to ask if you don't tell them what you can do for them.

 
At 11:13 PM, Blogger Chris Brogan said...

If people don't know what you're selling, they're not usually going to buy.

Jump right up and over that weird feeling in your belly and get into the real side of things.

I buy things every day. Every day, I choose something that I need to make my day better. Might be a diet Coke, or it might be a Jawbone Bluetooth headset, or it might be the design services of my friends at CoffeeHouse Ideas. But I buy.

Thing is, everyone is selling something, even if it's God. Just make it clear what the offer is, what you do, and how they can engage you, and then, as Steve Woodruff says early on, don't be really scary-crazy about it. Just be clear.

You're a star. Be it.

 

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