Social Preening And The Fine Line Of Self Promotion

As the status update (Twitter, Facebook) becomes more firmly embedded into people’s professional lives, it’s interesting to watch how different people make use of this tool differently. Some use it to share good work by others. Some use it to connect. Some use it to pass along aphorisms and motivational comments. Many people appear to have made a strategic decision that they will use their status updates to burnish their reputations and grow their “personal brand.”

Male Peacock With Feathers In Full Strut by Flickr user respres
Male Peacock With Feathers In Full Strut by Flickr user respres

This is understandable. Why spend time goofing around with social media unless there is a payoff? In fact, there isn’t a good reason, so it’s important to make sure you are meeting your goals. And one legitimate goal is personal brand building.

In the compressed, 140-character world of Twitter updates, every word (literally) counts. It makes sense to make sure each one is working for you. However, a word of caution: As more and more people enter the social media space, the rules and nuances shift, and you run the risk of backlash.

There’s a fine line between brand building and bragging.

#SXSW and #fakesxsw

Here’s a case in point about the backlash. The South By Southwest Interactive conference is a tech confab that runs just before the popular music and film festival in Austin. It’s a tech Mecca (and where Twitter got its biggest boost in 2007). Throughout the year, you saw a number of people adding the “#sxsw” hashtag to their Twitter updates as they talked about it — for instance, there was a period where people could vote on what panels they wanted to see at the conference so you’d see a lot of “Vote for my panel at #sxsw!” updates. The hashtag helps people find what they are looking for.

But it also serves a reputational purpose. It says, “Hey, everybody, guess what? I am going to South By Southwest!” Certainly, if I am going, I want people to know about it. But this year, with so many new users of Twitter — it seemed everyone was adding the hashtag, getting on the bandwagon. It became silly enough that a facetious anti-hashtag was born: #fakesxsw. The non-attenders began adding the antitag to tongue-in-cheek descriptions of panels that never existed.

The cool tag of 2009 became the wannabe tag of 2010. (And lest you think this is just me being cranky, I’m an offender myself — used the #sxsw hashtag to promote a panel I was trying to get accepted and used #fakesxsw to poke some fun at those who were attending.)

The lesson? Be judicious when latching onto popular and prestigious events. There’s a fine line between what will come off as legitimate discourse and just plain preening.

The Fine Line

That fine line is the one professionals who are using Twitter and Facebook have to walk all the time. You want people to know about the cool things you are doing, but you do not want to go overboard. No one likes a braggart — and the temptations are all around in Twitter and Facebook-land.

Here are just a few areas to watch.

  • Keynote. Are you giving a talk? You might be tempted to call it a “keynote.” Scanning people’s Twitter updates, you get the feeling that everyone’s “keynoting.” People are beginning to see through this, and it’s not so cool to be keynoting anymore. Save the term for when you really are keynoting — that is, opening or closing the main plenary session of your event.
  • RT @aplusk @me. Has someone praised you on Twitter? Or “retweeted” you? Is that someone influential? (@aplusk is Ashton Kutcher.) It’s quite tempting to retweet their update so everyone knows they noticed you. I’ve done it. One time Craig Newmark linked to one of my articles. I was excited and wanted to share. But it’s a fine line between sharing and looking silly.
  • False interactions. It’s also tempting to try to engage in conversation with the cool kids on Twitter, responding with “@” replies to their updates. “Hey @aplusk, I agree.” This applies to retweeting famous people too. If you really think you have something to add, then OK. But too much of this comes off as desperate.
  • Follower goals. If you are near some milestone in followers, it might seem like a great idea to let people know, and challenge them to get you “over the top.” “I’m at 498 followers — who will push me to 500?” Once in a great while, this can be a good idea. However, choose numbers that all would recognize as real milestones: 100, 1,000, 5,000. Doing this every hundred or two hundred followers is the opposite of cool.

I know there are lots more similar strategies. What are your favorite “self-promotion in disguise” Twitter  and Facebook techniques?

More important: How do you stay on the right side of the line? Let me know in the comments!

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