Self-Promotion for People Who Hate Self-Promotion

“If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” — common PR saying
Even this billboard is curious about building its brand. ;)

The whole popular concept of “building a personal brand” — especially online — can be a real bummer for people who enjoy doing great work but get uncomfortable when pushed to talk about themselves.

If you’re like me, you’ve asked yourself: Can’t I just be great at my job and let people notice it naturally? Unfortunately, I’ve found that the answer is NO… so in the past half-decade, I’ve read up on it a TON, and I’m happy to share a few of the gems that have worked for me with my fellow “quiet ones”.

And while we do have to learn to promote ourselves, thankfully, there are ways to do it without squirming to death.

In an ironic turn of events, I was put in charge of our “team branding initiative” for the Community team here at Health Union. This meant finding ways to make a group of people who happen to loathe self-promotion start doing some self-promotion.

What we had in our corner, though, was the knowledge and passion for what we do. So, first tip is a paradigm shift: once we started thinking of this initiative as sharing the stuff we loved to think and talk about, and stuff that would likely help others — as opposed to bragging about ourselves — it became a heck of a lot easier.

We’ve had a couple of big wins as a result of the ideas we’ve implemented. Here’s the rundown so you can implement it, however reluctantly, to your own personal-branding efforts.

Figure out “your thing”. What do you want your story to be? An easier way to think of it is: what are some of your favorite things about yourself? That might sound equally nauseating, but, if you’re online in today’s world, just know: you’re going to get put into some kind of box, so you might as well build the box yourself! You do that by crafting a little summary of yourself.

Here’s an example: Are you a community professional who brings pizazz to your role based on your hobby of studying early 20th Century Jazz Lit? I’m just making this up but you get the drift. The point here being: combining different passions can set you apart and be your unique ‘thing’.

If you’re really stuck, get help! One way to do so is to ask a close friend or two for a list of a few of their favorite things about you, which also might make you cringe, so alternatively you could just ask them to describe you in 1–2 sentences. Being as objective as possible about yourself by getting someone’s outside opinion can enable you to hit the ground running.

Create a plan of attack. Before jumping in and attempting to go from zero to writing a blog post real quick — take a step back and think about these questions:

  • What’s realistic?
  • What will give you the biggest bang for your buck?
  • What will you despise the least?

For our team, this meant having: a presence on Twitter, updated LinkedIn profiles, and one person from our team writing one article for Medium per month (ahem).

Optimize how you will execute on those platforms. Since you’re focusing on only the platforms where you’ll have a consistent presence, you might as well make the most of them! For twitter, that could mean hashtagging (more on that in a moment). For Medium, it could be creating your own “channel” by making a recognizable tag for your stuff (for instance, ours is “Health Union Community”). Regardless of what platform(s) you choose, a general best practice is to read up on it first, which will likely yield both time-saving and people-reaching ideas. (If you’re at a loss for where to start — I recommend Gary Vaynerchuk’s quite comprehensive Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.)

Freakin’ bios. I used to hate even the thought of having to write a tiny bio that’s somehow supposed to sum up all you do while making you alluring and follow-worthy… so it helped to take it down a notch, by using a specific structure. I checked out what other people were doing, turned it into a formula, and used that. Here’s what I got:

  • Name (obvi)
  • Role at work (can also include any special things you do on the side)
  • Bullet points of your interests.
Here’s my (formulaic) example.

Is it the easy way out? Yes. Can you spice it up any way you like? Yes! Is it better than the alternative — a blank bio? Hell yes.

Start off simple. You don’t have to be the BEST at posting intriguing articles on Linkedin or saying THE most profound things on Twitter. You can simply share articles, observations, or even quotes that you a) find interesting, and/or b) genuinely think will help others — even if you have no followers yet! (The old Field of Dreams quote “if you build it, they will come” totally applies here!)

Chances are, if something is helpful, powerful, or poignant to you, it will be to someone else as well. Plus, this helps people get to know you in a more passive way — they get a feel for what you’re interested in just by seeing what you deem worthy of sharing.

Hashtags! This may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning, as I was surprised by how many people who want a Twitter following don’t use hashtags. Including them in your tweets — or even just using them to find and “like” others’ tweets — is a relatively low-stakes way to connect with people who have similar interests/are in similar industries. For community managers, specifically, I’ve found the #cmgr one (and #cmgrhangout, especially on Fridays!) is hugely helpful!

You know — and are — enough! If you’re like my teammates, you’re an overachiever who is hesitant to speak on anything unless you have the utmost level of expertise in it. A lesson we learned, though, is that all you really need is a useful nugget that most other people don’t have, and could benefit from. Share that ish! If it’s useful to you, it will be useful to someone else.

Use every small victory as positive reinforcement. Even if it’s “just” watching your tweet count go up, relish in the early wins — and use that momentum to keep going!

In addition to helping others get to know us (people we may be recruiting to become part of our community’s patient advocates teams), one of my other favorite benefits we’ve reaped from doing this is the satisfaction and usefulness of having an online presence. You’re Google-able regardless, so taking the (search) results into your own hands is empowering as well as helpful!

For instance, hiring managers now regularly skim social media profiles (mine did before hiring me!), so having tweets that show your personality and expertise is an easy way to show how awesome you are — before you even know the person. Even if very few people actually follow you on Twitter/Medium/wherever, it’s likely that someone is checking out your info and formulating an opinion based on what’s out there. You deserve to be the one holding the reigns on that!

How do you know you’re doing well?

Instead of focusing on followers as a measure of success (though feel free to do so) — maybe Google yourself once in a while to check out the impact of your efforts, instead! It’s rewarding to see your work pile up in nice, shiny search results in front of you!

The bottom line is this: You don’t have to go shouting from the rooftops about how great you are to help people see and understand your worth. Doing the little things I mentioned here will make a big difference, and believe it or not, may actually help you realize how awesome you are, too. :)