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Blogging, Outreach

The notion of self-promotion

**YOUR OPINION ON THIS MATTERS TO ME** and you’ve probably been directed here through my experimentation with specifically notifying you about this blogpost (sorry, I don’t normally do that, but you’ll read why I have very soon).  So, before you close down this window, please spare a few minutes and let me know what you think.

A little background first:

Last weekend I attended the SpotOn London event about Science Policy, Outreach and Tools ONline, and it was so great to chat with old friends, make some new ones, get involved in some fascinating discussions about each day’s topics, and of course grab myself a goody bag and some decent swag from the trade stalls.  For those of you who couldn’t attend, you can catch all the sessions and workshops on YouTube by clicking on whichever topic takes your fancy, here: Policy, Outreach and Tools.  I was, personally, mostly interested in outreach but I found myself sitting in on some others, too.


The purpose of this blogpost, however, is to investigate a little bit into one particular point that’s been reverberating around my head since the advice was dispensed at the conference, and it’s this whole thing about increasing and improving our online presence and profile through self-promotion.

Whenever I write a blogpost, the extent of my self-promotion is this: tweet my blog-link about 3 or 4 times in the same day it’s published and once or twice on Google+, but never on Facebook.  I notice many of the people I follow do the same, but amongst posting on Facebook and a number of other social networking sites, some people, so I’ve observed, actually tag influential twitter users into their blog-link tweet, some also send me messages (email, DMs etc) telling me that they’ve blogged and I’ve also read some tweets that simply just say “please RT”.

I don’t do any of those things because they make me feel awkward and, well, I guess I just fear rejection.  But, according to a few people at SpotOn London, apparently these approaches are the types we need to be taking to build up an audience.  After I tweeted about this during the conference, a short conversation came about between @eperlste, @AkshatRathi and @artologica, in which it was mentioned that it is OK to tag people and repeat your promotions because that’s how it works.  But there was a concern that some may be afraid of looking like an “attention hoarder”, to which a reply was “most people survive”.  Which is a great point because I don’t think anyone’s died from not being retweeted.

Another good point was that if you expect others to share your work, you should also be generous to them and share theirs, too.

Also mentioned was that when you do tag influential people into your post, apparently, the worst thing that could happen is that they ignore you. But I’m not so sure that that is the worst thing.

Earn your audience

Personally, I feel that directing people to my bIogpost by me specifically tagging them in tweets etc, rather than them finding it purely by happenstance, would be rather irritating for them.  If you irritate people you don’t actually know in this way, especially if you repeatedly do this, I worry that it could come across as being a little arrogant, if not aggressive, and they will be more disinclined to share your work and it may even damage your reputation a little. I think to nudge a few friends towards your blogposts is absolutely fine, if I’m honest, but I do realise I can’t expect them to be as fascinated by my topics as I am. If people just so happen to read my blog-link tweet/post (minus any tagging) and feel a pinch of interest, then it’s there for the reading, and I’m happy with that.  I feel that’s a much better way to earn an audience.

What do you think about self-promotion?

I’m interested in what the wider audience thinks.  I’d be so grateful if you would please take part in this short poll – please remember to click “vote” to register each of your answers:

Now, by “tagging” I am referring to literally *any* notification you have been directly sent about an article/blogpost etc, so that’s either being tagged in a tweet, a Facebook post, email, DM, text message….you get the idea.

The first three questions, by the way, refer to you being tagged by real people and do not refer to situations involving spam.


Thank you for participating.

So, let’s see how popular and effective (or not) this self-promotion is as I end this by asking you to please share this post (argh!! *cringes a little inside – but thanks you in advance*).


About Della Thomas

Hello, my name is Della and I'm a Specialist Scientific Lead in histological dissection working for the NHS in England.


14 thoughts on “The notion of self-promotion

  1. My general approach to promotion is to feel I’ll be irritating, friends will scorn me and twitter behind my back (is there a “not @” symbol, or do I just think there is?) But, I recently became involved in a crowd funding campaign for a friend who is working in the Rockaways in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Because it’s for a cause I deeply believe in, I’ve stretched more in terms of reaching out, asking people to share and post — and I’ve found people want to help, they are happy and enthusiastic to be a part of it. Now, I’ve made the decision to look at my own work in that way — do I deeply believe in what I am doing? Am I spamming people or offering them something that might be important, worthwhile, of interest to them? Unless it’s earth shattering, I still wouldn’t tag someone I don’t have a connection with or make a habit of posting to my facebook page —

    Posted by Corinne McAfee (@fisherdoc) | November 17, 2012, 6:51 pm
    • it’s a great litmus test, the whole being aware how we feel ourselves about what we write; if we’re not excited/moved by it, how can we expect our readers to show any interest? I suppose it also depends on your goals, too. Say you want to be a journalist, I bet most journalists have to write a whole bunch of articles on things they’re not interested in, just to meet quotas etc – then you may have to prove you can make topics interesting, even if your not that psyched about them yourself. Luckily, I do believe in what I write about, so I want to tell everyone about it. I just don’t want to be a nuisance.

      Concerns with self-promotion arise when what you write about is so niche. I don’t think that many people are interested in histology (which is what I write about most passionately), so I just “publish and see”, without tagging anyone and hope for the best. Most my traffic comes from search engines, which I assume are mostly students with an upcoming exam. When the world wants to know more about histology, I’ll be ready, waiting with my arsenal of blogposts LOL

      Posted by Della | November 18, 2012, 9:15 am
  2. One approach I use that you didn’t mention is to find organic ways to mention the writings or works of other people that bear on the what I’m writing about. Then that gives me an excuse to bring the post to their attention that isn’t just pure PR.

    I don’t do this with every post, only where I it makes sense given the topic.

    Posted by Tim Farley | November 17, 2012, 6:54 pm
    • I must admit, I have done this in the past when I’ve written about conferences/talks. A sort of “Here’s my views on the talk by @name”, so yes, I would definitely do that. It just wish I had the “courage” to do this with my blogposts about my work, on the off-chance that some of them may become interested.

      Posted by Della | November 18, 2012, 9:20 am
  3. Thanks for this post Della.

    This is something that’s been on my mind too, as I try to build a base of readers while climbing the greasy pole of becoming a decent science writer.

    I’ve seen people tagging other well known people in the field, and raising their profile that way, but have always shied away from it myself. I kind of feel the same way as you, I think. If I don’t get any retweets etc I just assume I need to make the ‘headline’ more engaging, or find a better topic. A couple of days tweeting about it, then on to the next thing.

    I generally hope that retweeting other peoples interesting stuff, and engaging with them will be enough to elicit the odd retweet, share or forward.

    Even taking Tim Farleys approach (above), *I* felt too awkward and didn’t. I wrote a post that legitimately mentioned Carl Zimmer and something he’s written about, but also felt awkward mentioning him on twitter, like it would be too much of a cry of “look at me!” pulling on mothers skirts for attention. Or, at least, that’s how I feared it would be seen, so didn’t.

    So, I’ll be very interested to see what people generally feel they are comfortable with. Thanks.

    Posted by Gavin | November 17, 2012, 9:22 pm
    • Scratching each other’s backs, so to speak, with the RTs, definitely won’t do any damage and I think it’s a more polite way of earning an audience because you’re saying “hey, I’m here if you want to notice me”, rather than “hey, notice me, dammit!!”.

      Posted by Della | November 18, 2012, 9:23 am
  4. I’m with the consensus that it seems a bit ‘forward’ and notice-boxing but conversely who am I to judge whether someone else is interested or not? I empathise with Corinne because it is always more comfortable advancing another’s cause than blowing your own trumpet – nice mixed metaphors but bear with the analogous vein! Educational publisher’s reps were trained to cold call and ask to be seen pronto! If one in eight got in, seven other prospects were burned and a pushy reputation established. As there were only so many schools to go round, that wasted a lot of sales opportunity. My method was to call cold and ask for an appointment. Sometimes the head or librarian was free and would see the rep straight away but it was by their invitation and not under pressure. Opponents would argue this doubled expenditure of time and travel but the sales hit rate was well over 90% – OK, it was a good product, too! What I am advocating basically is some form of invitational approach. Social media platforms are supposed to be sociable and ‘would you like to have a look at this’ is far more engaging than ‘oy, look here!’ As to how you would put it into practice, I don’t know exactly, but it’s just an idea.

    Posted by Jay Ramella | November 18, 2012, 9:30 am
    • I guess a tweet in itself is like an invitation, but then your audience is limited to those who only follow you and you may want to get the attention of people who don’t. It’s definitely tricky, so hopefully it can be solved in a way that removes the awkwardness – and borderline-aggressiveness – of the “cold calling” approach.

      Posted by Della | November 18, 2012, 9:39 am
  5. This is a topic I’ve thought a lot about being a fairly new science blogger in a niche field like you. I’ve settled on doing the 2-3 tweets at different times, 1 facebook post, and relying on search engines for the rest. I have a google+ account but don’t really use it. I’ve never tagged anyone specifically but what I think I would do is – for strangers/acquaintances, I guess I would do so in the post only, and hope they would see it in their analytics, but for friends/people I have already talked to that I think would like the post, then maybe tag them on the social network they use most, but only once.

    I wonder if there also might be a cultural component to the general comfort level of self-promotion. Brits are generally less outwardly promotional than the typical USian (I’m somewhere between the 2 extremes being a shy Brit but being in the US for the last ~10yrs). Would’ve been a nice extra question for your poll, but too late now that you have over 100 responses!

    Posted by thecancergeek | November 18, 2012, 11:07 am
    • I hadn’t thought of culture differences. There were actually a few more questions I thought would have been useful but because the polldaddy doesn’t match up the answers to the person from question to question, it would render the info pretty redundant.

      I’ve also been reading about views on multiple RTs (see http://telescoper.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/to-hype-or-not-to-hype/), which have really surprised me, actually. In that blogpost he doesn’t seem to accept that most people do this to consider different timezones for their different audiences. It’s the one form of self-promotion that people just about to have the courage to do and even that’s irritating to him – but then again, he does only follow a small number of people so he sees everyone’s tweets and if they RT their blogpost apparently that’s enough to annoy him to stop reading the articles. I think that’s really unreasonable. So much for being generous to others in this blogging network world.

      Posted by Della | November 18, 2012, 10:51 pm
  6. I think the way to think about this is to map any behaviour onto the physical world (henceforth to be inaccurately described as “real life” for lack of a better term). Twitter’s just an extension of that and despite the weird RTs, hashtags etc., it’s just another social arena.

    So, would I tweet about something I wrote. Yes. That is basically telling friends about something I did that I’m proud of. Who wouldn’t do that in real life?

    Would I tweet about something I wrote multiple times? Yes. In the same way that I would tell the same anecdote to different groups of friends. Different people are online at different times. If the same person happens to hear the same anecdote, who cares?

    Would I tag friends into tweets, or DM them about it? Rarely, but sure, why not? Same thing. This is just specifically going up to someone and telling them about something I did that I’m proud of. I’d wouldn’t do this for everyone, but for people I have an established relationship with, why not? I wouldn’t rankle if someone did it to me.

    Would I tag strangers into tweets? Probably not unless under exceptional circumstances.

    Would I tag a group of influencers into a tweet, many of whom I’ve never spoken to before or follow? No. Hell no. That would make me the guy at the party who only goes up to the famous people and shouts loudly about themselves. Who wants to be, or speak to, that guy?

    Would I reply to the tweet of someone I follow but have never spoken to, alerting them about a post I wrote that was related to what they tweeted about? Absolutely. What, you’ve never started a conversation with a stranger riffing off of what they said?

    I really think people overthink this stuff. It’s *social* media. Same social rules as with anything else.

    Posted by Ed Yong | November 19, 2012, 10:40 am

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Della Thomas

Della Thomas

Hello, my name is Della and I'm a Specialist Scientific Lead in histological dissection working for the NHS in England.

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