You Say Self-Promotion; I Say Think Again

You Say Self-Promotion; I Say Think Again

Thanks to social media, email, and our never-ending connectivity to the internet – it is a VERY noisy and busy world out there. Self-promotion standards of etiquette are frequently shifting and vague, at best. And sometimes we can all lose sight of what is acceptable, invisible, and healthy self-promotion and creep into the arena of terrifically obnoxious.

I use, primarily, two networking | social media platforms, LinkedIn & Twitter. I love LinkedIn. I live on LinkedIn. I love networking and connecting with others in my industry and with those whom I think it would be mutually beneficial relationship. Over the last several years, I have learned a thing or two about making connections that are viable and valuable for both myself and those I connect with. It’s about quality – not quantity – for me. I love my network, I am inspired by every single person I am connected with and I have extremely robust assortment of professionals that I thoroughly enjoy interacting with, frequently.

Recently, I received a comment notification on a group post from a few days back. It was a comment that was a quote by the author of the comment with his name in ALL CAPS at the conclusion of the quote. The comment was a little off-topic and oddly positioned but…it’s LinkedIn and everything is fairly subjective, so – who am I to judge? A little bit later that same day, that person invited me to connect directly with him. He had a really interesting background in the retail industry. So, I enthusiastically accepted the invite.

Fast forward about 40-60 minutes and I receive a LinkedIn message thanking me for connecting and a few moments later another message asking “How can I access your blog?”. I found this interesting as he’d commented on my article but he was then asking how to access my blog. Now his nebulous comment made a little bit more sense as he likely had not read my content, just the title and possibly the other comments before typing his own.

This week has been an extremely busy one for me and Wednesday was no exception. I did not have a moment to respond to him but put him on my list to respond to the following day. Later that same day I received an email from him on my business email asking me if I needed content for my blog and his biography. When I finally had a moment to respond to the three messages he’d sent me within about a six hour window, I communicated that I appreciated the connection and that once a month I do enjoy and welcome having a guest post written along with the guidelines and standards I have set for both myself and the guest posts:

  • Content should be between 1300 & 1500 words
  • Any graphics you would like included, please send [typically 4-5, including a feature image]
  • Short Bio [25-40 words] with photo is needed to add to the article

He rapidly responded that he wanted to write a weekly series [for 52 weeks] and that he would write between 400 & 600 words. He sent me a sample of a post to review and though the content was not bad, it was concluded with self promotion complete with references to his book and his web address included in the very low word count. He did end his email with the caveat if this didn’t work for my blog, he understood. I quickly replied that his content and schedule did not fit the standards for the Excellence In Retail brand, wished him continued success, and thanked him for his very zealous interest in posting on my platform.

He immediately disconnected with me on LinkedIn – which I absolutely knew he would once I declined his submission request. Clearly, he found no value in my background and just wanted another medium for himself to promote…himself.

This is not the only example of shameless LinkedIn self-promotion, but it is a very recent and extreme example that was exceedingly transparent from the very first message I received from this person. It was evident that he was out for himself and wanted to use my platform to increase his visibility and book sales. Not only was not mutually beneficial in any way – it was bizarrely and blatantly one-sided.

This, along with a lot of other odd initiatives for attention and self-promotion, really started me thinking about – which then led to me researching – the topic of when and why self-promotion can backfire – sometimes in a spectacular way. This also was a catalyst for me to take some time to really review my most recent articles from the last two months to ensure they were beneficial to read and tools for learning and development. Did the content have merit and was it helpful or was it “fluff” writing done just simply to publish another post? I deleted one of the articles.

The Problem With Over-The-Top Self-Promotion

According to research on “Miscalibrated Predictions of Emotional Responses to Self-Promotion” conducted in 2015 by , , and ; “People engage in self-promotional behavior because they want others to hold favorable images of them. Self-promotion, however, entails a trade-off between conveying one’s positive attributes and being seen as bragging. We propose that people get this trade-off wrong because they erroneously project their own feelings onto their interaction partners. As a consequence, people overestimate the extent to which recipients of their self-promotion will feel proud of and happy for them, and underestimate the extent to which recipients will feel annoyed. Because people tend to promote themselves excessively when trying to make a favorable impression on others, such efforts often backfire, causing targets of self-promotion to view self-promoters as less likeable and as braggarts.

Self-promoters were significantly less likely to believe recipients had experienced negative emotions than recipients reported actually having done so (28.1% vs. 71.9%).

This research team also asked participants to create a social media profile. Half were told to make themselves likable and the other half were given no guidance. Turns out that those who were encouraged toward self-promotion thought their profiles would get a better response than the those who simply followed their natural instinct on what to write, while in truth, the more self-aggrandizing profiles of the self-promoters elicited worse responses from those reading them.

The conclusion for the study authors was clear: “In general, favorable impressions may be better accomplished by means of self-presentational modesty, or even self-denigration, than by outright bragging about one’s positive qualities.

Am I Or Aren’t I?

According to Sara Konrath, assistant professor at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the 40-question Narcissistic Personality Quiz [based upon the Narcissistic Personality Inventory] is still the best way to measure the trait. [I scored a 21].

Additional research published in 2014 via PLOS ONE suggests that simply asking narcissists to “out” themselves can be surprisingly effective.

According to New York Magazine, researchers asked this question over a series of 11 studies: “To what extent do you agree with this statement: I am a narcissist.’” The participants [and there were about 2,200 of them in total] were told to answer on a scale of one to seven. As it turned out, their self-scoring results closely matched scores on the most traditional method of gauging narcissism via the Narcissistic Personality Quiz.

4 Ways To Self-Promote Without Coming Across Like An Insufferable Bore

KEEP A LIST OF REAL ACHIEVEMENTS: Words like “dynamic” and “effective” are just that…words. Most people don’t want to hear a list of quirky [and biased] adjectives when you speak about yourself. They want concise, quantifiable accomplishments. Keep a running list for yourself – whether it’s in a document you maintain and update in “the cloud” or the Notes app on your phone – review it weekly, monthly and quarterly. Be sure to include remarkable, quantifiable facts, such as saving the company money through innovation, getting published in a magazine, what date your little blog hit one million visits, or supporting the increase of the net promoter score of three organizations last quarter.

BECOME PRACTICED IN THE ART OF STORYTELLING: Reading off the above list of achievements isn’t the most digestible way to draw attention to your accomplishments. It takes practice, practice, and more practice but taking the opportunity to create a story to frame your success in narrative form, with a beginning, middle and end will support the understanding of your purpose and your accomplishment. Add in moments of reality, such as problems that you had to overcome along the way, to keep it interesting and sustain the recipient’s attention.

YOUR AGENDA SHOULD INCLUDE SERVICE TO OTHERS: People get very tired, very quickly of hearing “I” and “me”. We rarely can find true success singularly, being able to genuinely sprinkle in the term “we” and the names of other key players who supported you will absolutely make your accomplishments more palatable. Though to some it may seem counter-intuitive, helping others is surprisingly effective when it comes to getting ahead professionally. Supporting someone else could be as simple as brainstorming with your colleagues when they have hit an impediment or become lost on an important project and/or offering to make a strategic connection for someone that will benefit them. When you go out of your way to be legitimately generous it builds your reputation as a kind and resourceful business partner [and a good person] – and that sticks with people who will help sing your praises.

CELEBRATE YOUR SUCCESSES: Did your innovative idea elevate productivity? Did it save the organization money? Whenever you want to draw attention to something great you’ve done – point it out by recognizing everyone who helped you achieve that goal. Perhaps it’s a lunch for the team of people who helped you innovate|develop and implement the new process or idea; or a coffee break in the conference room for the people who helped you boost the organization’s employee and/or customer experience performance.  Regardless, this move supports giving your colleagues a morale boost and recognition they deserve. Done truly and from the heart, it can endear them to you for helping promote their successes – and make them more likely to return the favor. Consistently remember this: What you’re doing isn’t as important as what others perceive you’re doing, so be proactive in spreading good news through recognition, gratitude, and celebration.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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