April 8, 2016

Creative professionals are inundated with information on an hourly basis. So how can journalists and their colleagues promote their work so it stands out from all the noise?

Self-promotion is a skill, like writing, that takes time and conscious practice to improve. Here are a few ways to become a better advocate for yourself.

Champion other people’s work and ask them to share yours.

“Writers all have different audiences, and new audiences matter,” says Meredith Fineman, a freelance writer and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm FinePoint. Fineman works with clients across industries to build professional brands, but is particularly passionate about “teaching women to brag about themselves” and proving that self-promotion is an essential skill to building writers’ careers.

It’s easy to feel jealous of fellow writers who seem like they’re doing well, Fineman said, but it’s critical to focus on is collaboration, not competition.

“If you promote other people’s great writing and ask them to promote yours, you have more visibility.”

Don’t worry — you will mess up

“Or you will say something you wish you hadn’t said and that you might change your mind on later.” said Andrea Garcia-Vargas, a longtime writer and digital strategist. She recalled a sex column she penned for the Columbia Daily Spectator, Columbia University’s daily newspaper and wishes she would have used it as a platform to call out gender power imbalances. She also remembers with chagrin columns in which she voiced an opinion that didn’t reflect the education and life experience she has today.

“It’s okay,” Garcia-Vargas said. “You evolve. If you make a mistake or change your ways, own up, learn and evolve.”

Recognize that you’re not doing anything wrong or weird by sharing your work.

Kronda Adair, who owns the technical consulting company Karvel Digital, has been promoting her work for a long time in different ways: emails to close friends, blogging, then finding her niche in WordPress writing and development.

But the level of promotion involved in something like a fundraising campaign, where self-promotion is essential for company visibility, can be exhausting for even the most outgoing of people, she said. In feedback from her supporters, she’s earned a lot of kudos for having the capability to promote her company. “Lots of people are afraid to put themselves out there, or their business ideas or writing,” she says. “But everyone wants to do things or start projects that they should just do. You shouldn’t hide what you have to offer.”

The nervousness around promoting yourself is mostly self-imposed, Fineman said.

“If you’ve done the work, there’s nothing wrong with talking about facts.” That self-promotion sheepishness sometimes affects the way that people talk about their work and has unintended consequences. “If I see a post with ‘I hate to promote this’ or ‘I don’t like to plug my work,’ you’re attaching a negative message to work you’re proud of. Say ‘this is something I wrote, I’d proud of it, I would love it if you shared it.’” That short and simple messaging can make all the difference in the way people perceive stories, she said.

Online harassment is not the writer’s fault.

One of the questions I had for everyone was about an issue that I see at every media company: How can writers who belong to historically marginalized groups, whose diverse experiences and voices are desperately needed in media, deal with a disproportionate amount of blowback from trolls? Adair, who writes about social justice issues and technical advice, didn’t mince words:

“Block early and block often,” she said. “I used to spend time on Twitter fights, but it was a waste of time. I’m not trying to change anyone’s minds.” On Twitter, she notices if an “egghead,” or person with a default Twitter egg avatar who might have just created a new account, follows her and preemptively blocks the account to avoid possible anonymous harassment. “I know the deal,” she said.

Garcia-Vargas has a lot of empathy for writers who go through this. “I’m not a fan of the ‘advice’ I’ve often heard that ranges from ‘grow a thicker skin’ (thank you not at all for blaming us for reacting naturally to harmful comments) to ‘if they’re not yelling at you, you’re not making a difference’ — controversy is one thing, abuse is another and shouldn’t be a metric for how successful you are,” she said. Targeted abuse and harassment is never a writer’s fault, and Garcia-Vargas recommends engaging less if needed. “Take a social media break. It’s absolutely okay to take a break from the public eye…if you have a community of friends and/or family, harness them.”

Automation is an option.

Adair, who has years of archived posts on varied topics, has tried to make her content timeless so it remains relevant later. “I try to be useful to my audience and find out what they need to know,” she said. She often goes back to update relevant blog posts with new information, which serves as a reminder of what she’s already written.

As she loses chunks of time to different projects, she’s enlisted the help of social media scheduling apps to promote her work automatically. “I use Edgar, which you fill up with posts and the posts rotate in cycles,” she said, noting that the social posting algorithm recycles popular updates and makes sure not to repeat updates too soon. She’s scheduled up to a month’s worth of posts and finds taking manual promotion off her plate has made it easier to stay engaged with her Twitter audience.

Use promotion to stay connected.

When she reaches out to people online, Adair always remembers to ask one question: “What’s going on with you?”

“Asking really spurs interaction,” Adair said. “People get into their silos, and it’s hard to break out of that bubble when you’re working really hard on your own stuff — but it’s good to get out of my bubble to see the amazing things my friends are working on. I can share their work out too, look at all the projects going on and get inspired.”

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Elite Truong is on the Vox Products team. She writes monthly about innovation for Poynter.
Elite Truong

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