How Much Self-Promotion Is Too Much?

Posted: June 19, 2013 in Professionalism
Tags: , , , ,

Tooting HornI remember a former pastor from 30 years ago smiling while giving the following advice: “He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.”  This friend was anything but self-promoting.  He was a humble, gentle leader I greatly admired and from whom I learned much.  I’m not even sure of the context of the comment this many years later, but the phrase has stuck with me.

In our current media-heavy world, individuals are now faced with the opportunity and challenges of promoting their personal brand – a phrase unheard of in the not-too-distant past (although the concept surely isn’t new).  As one who spends most of my work hours and many of my personal hours immersed in social media, I often battle inwardly with where to draw the line between tweets and posts that are in some way self-promoting versus shying away from doing so because I don’t want to seem too cocky, arrogant or self-absorbed.  I tilt my head in wonder at those who post pictures of themselves on a near daily basis.

Occasionally, I am amused by people constantly re-posting/retweeting compliments they receive from others, especially if the one complimented adds something like “humbled” to the tweet they send out about it.  I can’t help but think that if they were that humble they would’ve kept the compliment to themselves in the first place.  I am equally amused and annoyed by anyone who describes himself in a social media profile as a “thought leader.”  If other people want to call you a thought leader, that’s fine, but never call yourself that.  I refuse to follow people who describe themselves that way.  Don’t do that.

If one’s professional life requires ongoing efforts to increase awareness of and confidence in what one has to offer, then it is right and good to put that information out there.  It is part of being a good salesperson.  Still, we all have been irritated by that occasional party goer who can’t seem to do anything but talk about himself all the time.  If you’re that person, chill out and let others talk about themselves for a while.  Ask their opinions.  Listen.  You will be considered a far better conversationalist as a result of listening than you will by talking.

Do I promote my personal brand?  Absolutely.  I post about all of my blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and usually on my company’s enterprise social network, Buzz.  On those occasions when I get some positive press in a news article or as a result of speaking at a conference, I pass that along as well – not every one of them, but a few scattered here and there.  Just this week I updated the About page of this blog with a host of specifics from the past 2.5 years chronicling the Buzz success story because it’s a significant part of who I am professionally and I want others to know that detail if they are curious.  Heck, even linking to all of those things in this paragraph and on the About page is self-promotion!  I’ll let you decide if it’s appropriate or not.

Some self-promotion is OK, especially when it is done in the context of establishing yourself and your expertise in your chosen field of influence.  There is a line, however, that you shouldn’t cross, and you need to have enough sensitivity to grasp where that line is, especially if others don’t clearly warn you about it.  In my completely unscientific way, I know in my gut when my motives are pure and when they aren’t.  The line appears in my mind and I usually follow the sage advice of “When in doubt, don’t.”

I can’t tell you where that line between appropriate personal branding and annoying self-promotion exists for you, but I suspect you have a sense of when you’re getting close.  Wherever it is, try not to cross it.

  1. Kay H-H says:

    I lost a job promotion once because I didn’t ‘toot my own horn’ enough. The interviewers feedback was that she knew I could do the job, but didn’t talk enough about my strengths in the interview. Being raised in the deep South, we were taught that you NEVER promoted yourself. That doesn’t work now that women are in the business world and this early interview taught me quickly that I do have to sell myself in the working world. I can be humble in my private life.

    • Jeff Ross says:

      I completely understand what you’re saying, Kay. From another angle which I failed to mention in the article. I think it’s also difficult for introverts in general to do a lot of self-promotion.

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