I’ll admit it. I worry a lot about the balance between promoting my work and seeming tiresome or self-indulgent. I’ve spoken to many people who have struggled with this as well. We want people to recognize the quality of, and excitement we have for, our work. But how do we foster that awareness while also avoiding bragging or displays of self-importance?
As it happens, Bruce Kasanoff has an answer. I had the opportunity to read a preview copy of his forthcoming book, How to Self-Promote Without Being a Jerk, and loved the philosophy that it put forth. After all, when you open a book on self-promotion you don’t expect it to be guided by the sentence below:
“Be generous and expert, trustworthy and clean, open-minded and adaptable, persistent and present.”
These are values that I hold very closely, and was admittedly surprised to see them listed in the same breath as the phrase “self-promotion.” Initially, I couldn’t conceive of them playing well together. But after reading this book, I’m convinced that they can. I would strongly encourage anyone striving to balance awareness of their work with humility to check it out. A few of the points Kasanoff makes that resonated particularly loudly with me include:
- “Help this person.” In any dealings that you engage in with people- conversations, business transactions, even arguments, Kasanoff encourages you to enter with a mindset of how you can help the person across from you. His reason (not that he needs one)? “By first thinking help this person, you will change the way that others perceive you. There is no faster or more effective way to change your interactions and relationships. You will be viewed as a positive, constructive, helpful, and dependable person.” And in the best case, when people believe you have all of these qualities, they’ll tell others.
- Respect the authenticity condition. I’ve had this conversation with a few of our student government officers recently. They’ve lamented their lack of followers on Twitter as a sign that no one cares what they’re doing. As the “social media” person for our office, I can see the activity on their account.
My question to them: if all you do is Tweet the proceedings of weekly meetings, why should they follow you? What value are you offering them?
They, and many others, saw the numbers as the metric for success, not the quality of interaction. Kasanoff says, “‘liking’ is only powerful when people authentically like something.” Being followed by everyone on campus shouldn’t matter if no one gains anything from their content.
This is a principle that can apply to any medium in which you share your work- social media, in writing, face to face, et al. By being good at what you do, and being able to connect with people based on that, recognition of your good work will come.
- Make bold proposals. Okay, confession time. I got the opportunity to review this book by responding to a post by Bruce on LinkedIn, asking people interested in the content to do so. He made a bold proposal, putting his work out there for free in hopes that his pride in his work would translate to readers. I was drawn in by the title and contacted him wanting to read it and give him a good review. But there was a little something extra fueling that desire.
I had woken up a few hours before to nightmares about bad Amazon reviews of my own book. True story. In my email to Bruce requesting the chance to review the book, I told him this. Without realizing it, I had made a bold proposal of my own. His response? “Send it over, and I’ll read it.” And he did, with a speed that I truly didn’t expect. And it resulted in a review on Amazon that is far from the stuff of my nightmares 🙂 The lesson here? Making bold proposals (like Bruce did intentionally, and I did indirectly) takes a little humility, but ultimately pays off. Some things you can’t get without asking; if you want them badly enough, you may have to ask for it. And if you impress those who you’ve approached, the good word will spread.
I truly enjoyed Bruce’s book. It has given me a lot of good ideas- truthfully, less about getting the word out about myself, and more about making the people around me (students, colleagues, and family members) better. And in his eyes, these constructs are one and the same.