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How to Promote Your Work Without Sounding Like a Total Jerk

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Photo: Chaay_Tee (Shutterstock)

One of the worst ways to promote your work online is by exhibiting a god complex. Sure, it pays to celebrate what makes your work valuable. At the same time, you don’t want to annoy your potential (or existing) audience along the way. On the other end of the spectrum, some talented artists struggle with the inherent egotism that comes with posting about your own work.

So how can you avoid both of these pitfalls? The key to self-promotion is balancing confidence and cockiness. Here are our tips to help you do so, and promote your work online without coming off as a giant asshole.

Aim for authenticity

All self-promotion is curation. Posting about yourself and your work online feels antithetical to being “real.” Once you accept that fact, you can work toward a base social media version of authenticity. One of the best ways to achieve this is by telling stories in your social posts so that you are a known quantity when it comes time to promote your work.

Incorporate slices of your life into all your posts. This might mean details like your town, community, or some cute pet pics from time to time. All in all, it helps to have a distinct voice that makes you stand out and seem more personable.

One word of caution: Most users are highly critical and scrutinizing of brand voices online. If you don’t spend a lot of time scrolling through the apps you’re trying to post on, then it’ll be obvious that you don’t really speak their language.

Highlight your best stuff

As a standup comedian, I’ve watched other performers get booked on shows and grow a fanbase not because their material is so much better than that of others, but because they’re especially strategic at promoting their best stuff.

Although you want to beat social media algorithms as a user, you want to use them to your advantage as the one doing the posting. Some basics: Post early in the day, post at least once a week, use relevant hashtags, and take care to make sure your posts are visually appealing. This is anecdotal, but posts with someone’s face in them seem to do better than posts without any people at all. Major social media platforms reward frequency, so don’t be scared if not all your posts perform at the same level. It’s not a meritocracy online.

Connect with your audience

My family’s restaurant survived the pandemic in part thanks to efforts to channel energy into our social media presence, consistently posting stories with the restaurant’s hours and menu additions. During that same time, I worked at a documentary production company that managed to stay at the top of clients’ minds by sending out monthly newsletters.

The key here is to be focused. Find your niche instead of trying to reach the widest audience possible at all times. Try incorporating interactive polls or questions in your captions—anything that encourages your followers to engage with you. Then, respond—the more you can connect with your audience (assuming you treat them with kindness), the easier it will be to prove that you’re not some asshole, and that your work is worth their time and consideration.

Get involved in an online community

In the early days of Twitter and Instagram, the sites had a “follow for follow” culture. The basic idea was that by mutually following one another and sharing your respective content, you and random strangers could mutually grow your follower count. The same quid-pro-quo exists today, but for the most part, it’s more subtle and sincere.

When you join an industry-specific online community, you should connect and collaborate with peers who are also in the self-promotion game. You can grow your network and following by engaging with your peers’ content and sharing their work with your own audience. Plus, you might connect with new people who can share their own industry-specific advice about how to promote work.

Let your work speak for itself

The self-promotion hustle is real, but at the end of the day, the quality of your work needs to live up to your hype. Don’t put the cart (your ego) before the horse (your work). And in no instance should you ever call yourself a “guru.”

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