Self-Promoting Sabotage: Can You Market Yourself Without Bragging?
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
The Fine Line of “Self-Promotion”
Do you have a hard time saying how good you are at your job? Or do you lean a little too far into the bragging territory?
I know. It’s tricky. There’s such a fine line between self-promoting and boasting.
But if you run a service-based business - you are your product. If you find self-promoting hard, you have a real marketing problem.
But I get it. Saying, “look how awesome I am” goes against all the programming we had from birth.
So - what’s the sweet spot?
Can you self-promote without seeming like a horse’s ass?
Can you say “yay me” without saying “SUCK IT LOSERS!”
The answer is - of course, you can.
If you want to be taken seriously as a business, you have to learn to celebrate your accomplishments with confidence and with tact.
In this blog, we’re going to go over a bunch of ways to self-promote, the gross and the good. In the end, it comes down to context, authenticity, and generosity - with others and yourself.
Why Does Self-Promoting Feel So Icky?
So why does self-promoting feel so gross? A lot of it comes out of sloppy social norms.
We’re given really mixed messages from childhood that you should be proud of yourself but for god’s sake don’t talk about it!
Women especially are served this super weird cocktail of ideas.
But really it's just a mix of fears - fear of exposure, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being ostracized. In other words, fear of scrutiny - that's where our clumsy self-promoting practices are rooted.
“To promote yourself is to take a risk,” reports Verywellmind.com, “putting yourself out there for others to judge. That first step often leads to one of two outcomes: success or failure.”
By putting yourself out in the world as “good” you’re likely to draw some fire - spoken or unspoken. You’re presenting yourself to be evaluated. And we suspect the verdict will be YOU’RE A FAKE.
So what can you do?
We need to re-frame the practice of “tooting your own horn.” And we need to separate effective self-promoting from pathetic bragging. Let’s break this down.
A Few Gross Methods of Shameless Self-Promotion
So let’s start with transgressive, icky, gross kinds of self-promoting. You might know this stuff. We all recognize it in other people. But we seldom see it in ourselves. And we need to because it really backfires.
Ahhhh the Humblebrag. We’re all guilty of it sometimes.
This is a brag that we think is deftly buried in a complaint or fake humility. Stuff like, “Ugh, I’m 45. I’m practically ancient! Why am I still being carded at bars? Annoying!”
Believe it or not, the humblebrag has been scientifically studied kind of a lot! Studies show that humblebragging is rampant and way less effective than just straight-up bragging.
The studies considered both the “likability” and the "perceived competence" of braggers vs. humblebraggers. The braggers scored significantly higher in both areas.
“If you want to announce something, go with the brag,” study author Dr. Ovul Sezer told Time Magazine.”...and reap the rewards of being sincere, rather than losing in all dimensions.”
This isn’t a license to brag. But it is a reality check. This brand of self-promoting isn’t as effective as it may feel. Stay clear of the humblebrag when self-promoting online.
This is when you ask someone how they did on a test - just so you can say how well YOU did. As you can imagine, this goes over about as well as humblebragging does.
And yes, there’s actual research. Studies on ask bragging suggest it can hit your reputation pretty badly.
It may feel like a harmless and subtle bit of self-promoting, but all you’ve done is demonstrated your insincerity and self-absorption. Not exactly what you were going for.
It’s better to just say, “Oh my god! I got an A on the test! I’m so happy!” It may not go down great with your friend who got a D, but it will come across as plain joy, not creepy manipulation.
Beware of “better than” comparisons when self-promoting. If you got first prize say it with pride. But don’t lean into smack-talk.
We’re mostly communicating online these days. And indulging in internet ranking is dangerous. You’re making statements without any real-time social cues. It’s hard to know when you’re going too far.
And who wants to be known as an ungallant winner?
If you go too hard on ranking yourself against others, people are likely to identify less with you and more with the company or person you’re dumping on.
Self-promoting should be a celebration of your accomplishments - and sometimes comparison can’t be helped in order to tell the whole story.
But dancing on your competitor’s grave won’t be a celebration anyone joins in with. More likely the community will cool on you.
5 Positive Self-Promoting Strategies
The issue with the above techniques is about where they begin. In your mind. They come from fear, shame, and scarcity.
But self-promoting can be about drawing a circle around your achievements and inviting others in. So start with an idea of celebration and your self-promoting statements will likely hit the right note.
Here are some methods that are rooted in more positive vibes.
Celebrate your work and someone else’s.
Link your achievements to someone who collaborated with you.
It can be a colleague, a client, or a family member who goes unsung too often.
Don’t humblebrag. No smoke screening. Say “I’m proud of my work and I’m proud to be associated with this other superstar.”
Speak as a specialist.
You know a lot about something. A way to honestly promote yourself is to put your expertise front and center.
Create content that has - baked into it - a piece of your own wisdom and judgment, rooted in your years of experience.
This self-promoting is super effective. It shows confidence, competence, and a willingness to help out.
Link your win to a lesson learned.
Yell loudly about your win, then unpack it a little for your audience. Talk about where you started and what you learned from the whole thing.
The road to your win can be a shame-free way of saying you’re proud of yourself - while revealing that you’re a thoughtful person on a journey. And it may be a lesson someone else can learn from too.
Make a habit of generosity.
Content is a long game. You reveal yourself over time. Have faith in your own community. And be there for others in their moments of triumph.
Applaud them. Aid them in their self-promotion with no agenda other than creating a space for them to shine.
Self-promoting doesn’t have to always be on your mind. If it isn’t, you’ll discover that people will clamor to celebrate your wins.
Last but not least…
Just claim your pride. Just say it without apology.
If you have a habit of being generous online - not engaging in insincere, sneaky shenanigans - people will love your straightforward self-promoting language.
Sometimes I just say, “Hey, guess what I did! It was kind of remarkable, and I’m super proud of myself!”
Does it go down well with everyone? No.
But the generous, cool people I connect with - the people I most value - they kind of love it.
Self-promoting has a bit of a bad reputation. But it’s because we do it so badly sometimes. We falter when it comes from our uglier emotions.
But when you just say it from a place of celebration, most people find it kind of beautiful. Because you’ve now given them permission to celebrate their own wins.
If you learn to self-promote right…literally, everybody gets to win.
Marketing doesn’t have to feel gross. Join our FREE monthly coaching call - Brave Biz Lab! Learn how to ditch the ick and market more naturally.
Verywellmind.com, Fear of Self-Promotion: How It Could Be Hurting You, Lisa Fritscher
APA PsycNet, Humblebragging: A distinct—and ineffective—self-presentation strategy, Ovul Sezer, Francesca Gino, Michael I. Norton
Time Magazine, Humblebragging Makes People Dislike You, According to Science, Jamie Ducharme
International Association for Conflict Management, Ask-bragging and Ask-complaining: Feigning interest in others to elicit admiration and sympathy, Ryan Hauser, Alison Wood Brooks, Michael Norton