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Tips for Effective Self-Promotion

image for BartekSzewczyk / Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk / Getty Images

Speaking highly of yourself to others might be uncomfortable, but it could benefit you and your career or business. Positive self-appraisal is a major reason many workers advance to higher positions, and it's a technique that every worker or entrepreneur should practice.

"Self-promotion is a necessary tool to help professionals elevate into the next stage of their careers, especially if they are not being properly recognized by their peers," said Vanessa Fioravante-Cuomo, principal and co-founder of ANDER & Co.

However, there's a fine line between self-promoting and bragging. You can share your success and attributions without coming off as a boaster. Here are three tips to help you master the art of self-promotion.

Self-promotion is the use of tools such as social media, marketing, and branding to make your services, expertise, interests, skills, strengths, and talents readily known to potential new clients. Self-promotion has existed for as long as businesses have – even the very first workers in the Industrial Revolution had to promote themselves to find work – and has been all around you for your entire life, even if you haven't noticed it.

Flyers that you encounter at libraries, grocery stores and community centers are self-promotion. Ads that people or small businesses take out in local newspapers are self-promotion. Most prominently these days, people posting about their career, job or services on the internet – whether on social media or classified ads sites such as Craigslist and Fiverr – is self-promotion. Even an ordinary resume could be considered a self-promotion item.

In the modern gig economy, more people are becoming entrepreneurs or freelancers. Self-promotion is vital to stand out against your plentiful competition. Potential clients could easily choose to hire someone other than you, so you'll need to promote your unique ideas, talents and strengths to the world.

Self-promotion remains important even if you have steady work or a full-time job. You never know when one of your clients will stop having much work to offer you, or maybe one day you'll want to leave your current position for a different role or change industries entirely. You'll build roads toward these changes as you educate a theoretically limitless audience about your strengths and why you stand out from the pack.

These days, people and brands promote themselves largely on social media. Whether on explicitly social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or networks more focused on career advancement such as LinkedIn and Jobcase, the internet provides a convenient, user-friendly space for you to inform a large audience about what makes you special.

Thanks to the advent of social media and the internet, even introverts who might otherwise lack the confidence to put themselves out there can easily do so. It's easy to share a post about a big project you've completed, an exciting article you've published, a class you've finished, a skill you've learned or anything else related to your career. On LinkedIn, it's not uncommon for users to write a long blog post with a focus on not just a remarkable long-term project, but the full process behind completing the project.

On the other hand, if you were to share such a post on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you would risk coming off as annoying and only interested in your work or bragging about your achievements – and that's a quick way to effectively promote not working with you. Being cognizant of which platforms you're using for which purposes is key for effective self-promotion, as is being mindful of the tone of your social media posts and the length of what you write.

Although you should feel free to go long on LinkedIn posts or blog entries on your personal or business website, posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram should just briefly state your achievement or career news and guide readers to a related link, be it an article you've written, a website you've developed or an online store you've launched. Ideally, you'll write something no longer than a standard tweet – and again, don't forget to link out.

Make sure not to post too frequently, because that too can be annoying. Limit your posts to once a day on your LinkedIn or business website, and consider posting even less frequently than this on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you find yourself needing to post on these social media platforms more frequently, you should consider starting business accounts separate from your personal account. With these accounts, constantly sharing marketing materials will be expected rather than jarring.

An overlooked practice in self-promotion is to thank and acknowledge people who have helped you (where possible and tactful). There are few self-promotion tactics more effective than showing that you're a team player, because chances are that your work will involve plenty of interactions with people.

With all the above in mind, here are three especially crucial tips for effective self-promotion.

In an article for MBA@UNC, Alison Fragale, associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that self-promotion can leave a bitter taste in people's mouths. An overconfident worker is often disliked by their peers.

You want your colleagues' support, and you want to build a positive workplace culture. Don't poison the air with arrogance. Instead, subtly mention your accomplishments without hogging your colleagues' attention or downplaying their work.

"In weekly team meetings, you can address the wins of the week, which may include spotlighting other teammates while still exerting your own achievements," said Fioravante-Cuomo.

Praising co-workers as part of your success will also show that you are a team player, which is important to any manager.

A performance review doesn't have to be a one-way conversation. Especially for shy or introverted employees, it can be used as a more private opportunity to highlight your assets.

Fioravante-Cuomo suggests crafting a list of your victories and reciting what you want to say. You might feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you practice promoting your skills and accomplishments, the more naturally it will happen, and the more confident you will feel.

"In the professional world, it's vital that we step into scenarios that take us out of our comfort zone in order to achieve personal and professional growth," said Fioravante-Cuomo.

Don't try selling yourself to just anyone, especially not co-workers or competitors.

Fragale's research found that it's best to brag to a busy boss, because they will likely repeat what you said without realizing it was you who said it – much like third-party validation. You will get credit and praise for your work without being labeled as a showoff.

If you tell your manager how great you are, they'll also be more likely to think of you when it's time for promotions.

"Although you may not think so, your bosses are always looking out for the next associate that is ready to be promoted," Fioravante-Cuomo said. "Talk to your superiors about the skills and expertise you contribute to meet the company's business goals. By addressing your potential, you're positioning yourself as a savvy problem-solver that is ready to tackle the next assignment. With strong work ethic, an optimistic can-do attitude and a hint of self-promotion, you'll be on your way to your next raise."

Sammi Caramela contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Max Freedman

Max Freedman is a freelance writer who covers best business practices for business.com and culture for publications including The A.V. Club, MTV, Paste, FLOOD, and Bandcamp. He lives in Philly and doesn't miss his native New York.