During a photography workshop I went to years ago, a section of the course was run by a renowned photographer whose work I’ve personally admired for years. He asked if one person out of the group would like to be used as his test subject. You’d get to keep the print afterwards, he promised. This opportunity would probably never arise again. Yet no one stepped forward, even though it was clear we were all itching to do it. None of us wanted to be the person who might appear selfish or bolshy.
Then one of the men who was working on the set (who hadn’t paid to be on the course) stepped forward and said, “I’ll do it!” We all watched on, silently stewing. We’d missed out. Getting what you want, in premise, seems to be quite simple – you just need to be unafraid of putting yourself out there. But raising your hand and saying, “Me!” often doesn’t always seem like the most likeable trait, and so we stop ourselves.
I’ve now gone the other way. I’m one of those shameless self-promoters, posting on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram about my work and achievements. It helps that I love my work and am often in control of what I create – a book, a podcast, a blog post, a video. And it’s not as shallow (I promise) as just constantly putting the “me me me” in social media – I believe in seeking out opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise just fall into my lap. As Dawn O'Porter recently said on my podcast: “I've built my business on social media... without Twitter, I don't think BOB would be as successful as it is.”
I simply don’t believe the work will always “speak for itself” and I don't think we can expect a reader or a consumer to just stumble across us when browsing through millions of other things online. We have to put it out there in the first place. It’s worth noting too that self-promoting yourself can also help you help others – through Twitter, O’Porter has helped launch a charity, Help Refugees.
But, yes, self-promotion still often gets a bad rap. Whenever I ask people their thoughts on self-promotion, some agree that it’s crucial, but many think it’s crass. We read multiple articles stating that “girls should blow their own trumpet more often” and yet, when we do, you can immediately visualise a sea of people raising their eyebrows at you.
We all know how noisy the internet can be and, if you don’t holler into the crowds, you simply will be ignored
In all honesty, I do believe in striking the right balance and not turning into human internet spam. Anne T Donahue, an online writer who is very good at promoting her own work on social media, says, “It’s a case of peppering your feed as opposed to pouring salt on it.” There is something icky and off-putting about someone plugging their “thing” 24/7 a day – it’s boring and starts to become background noise – but, as someone who has worked in, and has a growing fascination with, the marketing industry, I believe there’s never been a better time to try and market yourself. Every single job I’ve ever had has come via my blog or my social media. For example, I received a DM from a magazine editor that got me my first online column in 2011, after a blog post I wrote attracted semi-viral attention. Self-promoting myself online has probably won me most of my greatest opportunities.
The workforce is changing rapidly and your only real security is yourself. In a world where you are simply one internet user out of billions, it’s never been more important to be “visible”.
I’m basically the online equivalent of that person who tries to grab you in the street, waving a clipboard, when you’re on an urgent last-minute dash to Boots and don’t have time to talk, in the hope you might care even for just two seconds. Because that’s all we have: two seconds in someone’s Twitter feed to catch someone’s attention. We all know how noisy the internet can be and, if you don’t holler into the crowds, you simply will be ignored.
Louise O’Neill, best-selling author of Asking For It and prolific tweeter, says, “I used to have this real Irish self-deprecation thing, saying things like, ‘Oh, no, I can’t do that’ or ‘I’d be terrible at that’, but then people take you at face value. They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s fine; in that case, we’ll give that job to… Angela.’” This is a really important message – if you keep putting yourself down, or denying yourself key opportunities by staying quiet on social media, then of course you can’t expect employers to want to go out of their way to give you the job.
My inspiration is the pitch monologue Andy Sachs gives Miranda Priestly in her office, which unconventionally scores her the job in The Devil Wears Prada. Go all in. Let's shout about our achievements and other people’s. Let’s get rid of the shame that still exists around shameless self-promotion.
Emma Gannon's book Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online is published by Ebury