Self-Promotion And Self-Loathing In The Digital Age

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I’m going to make a confession: I don’t like the digital me all that much anymore.

I’m going to make another confession: I don’t like the digital you all that much, either. I have two loves in social media:

  1. This blog.
  2. My podcast.

I also love reading the blogs of others and I’m a fond follower of certain audio and video podcasts. I feel like there is nothing more fascinating than the human condition, and when it is coupled with a niche interest and person who is passionate about creating content, I marvel at the power of social media and these connected channels. The problem comes in the self-promotion and pimping of that content. The problem comes when I follow others (and look at my own self-promotion) and it becomes abundantly obvious that – for the most part – all of the stuff we post on Facebook and Twitter can be summed up in two ways:

  1. We publish things in the hopes that people will think our lives are more interesting than theirs.
  2. We publish things in the hopes that people will think that our lives are actually more interesting than they really are.

It’s time for courage.

The other day, I was watching my Facebook newsfeed. I was reading what people were posting, I was watching the online discourse and all I could think to myself was this: "I wish I had the courage to delete my Facebook account." That’s no slight against Facebook. It could have been any of the online social networking channels. My friend – who has teenage children – recently remarked to me that, "social media is the most amazing thing in the world, until you have teenagers… then, social media is the worst thing in the world."

It’s something to think about.

Some people are so great at social media. They curate, edit and create. They point you in the direction of wonderful and magnificent pieces of obscure content. They’re excellent at sharing and caring. Then, there are people who are busy doing one thing: beating their chest and trying to create the most noise. I have the humility to look back and realize that while I would love to be more like the person who curates, edits and creates, it is often heavily unbalanced by my desire to get you to read my blog, listen to a podcast, check out something we’re working on Twist Image or join me at an event I’m speaking at. I’m also pretty good at letting you know when I make some kind of media appearance. Ick. It’s icky.

There is no shame.

Some may argue that if you don’t toot your own horn, nobody else will. And, to a certain degree, this is true. But there’s something happening in the social media channels that is making all of this narcissism just a little bit too much to handle. Andy Warhol would blush. Now, comes the challenge: how do we get our messages out there without being too self-promotional (while still being self-promotional)? Recently, I conducted a minor/innocent experiment. My typical routine is that I publish a blog post and then self-promote it on Twitter, on Facebook and on LinkedIn. In a few instances, I decided to write some blog posts and not self-promote them at all. They didn’t get the same level of traction as the self-promoted posts got. So, what’s a boy to do? And – by the way – did RSS die? Do we only find out about new blog posts and podcast episodes via Twitter and Facebook?

The Internet is a thing of beauty.

Don’t get me wrong. While I can loathe my own Twitter feed or snarl at those who spend the majority of their time trying to look cool instead of trying to be real, I’m still willing to take it all in because of the vast wealth of amazing and independent content that is created with each and every passing day. I read Geoff Livingston‘s recent blog post, It’s Not OK, and it gave me pause to self-reflect. Not only on my own self-promotional content, but the prism that I view the random musings of others. I can be overly cynical, sarcastic and downright rude in how I react to individual posts (I just don’t express it publicly). I took a couple of days to back away from the feeds, take a deep breath, center myself and come back. No, I haven’t embraced enlightenment or taken on a monk’s like perspective, but I am going to hold myself -and others – to a higher standard. Yes, we each have to toot our own horns, but I’m going to do my best to focus on those who are adding to the collective, instead of those simply trying to add to their own ego.

Is this thing on? Am I alone in this thinking? Where are you at? 


  1. I think this is an inherent – and perhaps inherently limiting – issue for social media and its co-dependent sibling, content marketing. Mark Schaefer reasonably speaks of the need to be “authentically helpful” on Twitter, for instance… but how “authentic” can we be in our helpfulness if our underlying intent is to enhance our business, stature or ego? Partly, I think that we all need to just get over ourselves – all of us meaning the current social media leaders and the rest of us breathing heavily in the wings, hoping to join your ranks. We need to admit that we are wielding great new tools, but that they, in and of their newness and shocking power and reach, don’t create greatness. We need to be mindful that our influence, our clout or Klout is, as ever through history, transitory. In short, social media and all who attach to it are in need of… how uncool is this… a little humility.
    Your (sort of) Humble Servant,
    Chuck Kent

  2. A very frank post Mitch, well done. At the end of the day, anyone using social from a business perspective has one real aim – to improve that business. How this is carried out is down to the individual. I launched my first ever business 10 weeks ago. The Twitter feed for it curates relevant content and news for the audience I am looking to build. However, I have also used it to help point people in the direction of content that is specific to their needs – some of those have been students asking for help with projects, or local businesses asking questions around the use of social etc. Will this approach bring me direct business? We will see. What I know it does do is ensure that my consultancy is in the minds of these people, who no doubt know people that may well be customers of mine in the future. Other businesses may be more bold in pushing sales messages via social tech and it may well work for them.
    I’ve spoken about it in the past, but may of the ‘social media rockstars’ that have been wittering on for years about sharing, being helpful etc etc are the absolute worst example of this when using this technology themselves. All push and no actual social actions.
    Thanks for writing this!

  3. Mitch,
    One of my main issues at present is the whole idea of influence, how it is applied and, consequently, how this affects behaviour on social networks.
    Social is, unfortunately, very narcissistic by nature – unless we are literally only using social to connect with family and close friends as an extension of our offline lives, the idea of getting people to follow us is all about focusing attention.
    If you are a creator then it is only natural to want to promote your creations (be they blog posts, podcasts, photos, whatever) as (once you get beyond the feeling of personal achievement) a creation is worthless unless it is shared. For all the talk about advertising on social media, we have all been advertising ourselves for years – we have just been calling it “status updates”.
    You say that you would like to be more like those who “curate, edit and create” – in itself a worthy goal, but the problem is that many have realised that they can become social media stars by purely stopping at “curate”.
    This is where influence comes in.
    Wanting to share a creation is akin to an artist wanting their painting to be viewed, whereas curating without creating original content is the truly narcissistic behaviour. Wanting to share as part of your social experience is to be commended but aiming to make yourself popular and influential by ONLY curating and piggy-backing on the work of others is what frustrates me and I will refuse to follow any account that operates in this manner.
    We are all constrained by time and may, sometimes, not pay it forward as much as we would like but a healthy desire to have genuine, useful, worthwhile content seen by others is far more acceptable than influence under false pretences.
    As in all things, there needs to be balance.
    I have posted myself recently that there are two different types of people using social: those who have an ulterior motive (work, busines, promotion etc.) and those who connect “just to be social”.
    I sometimes envy those who only use social to talk to their family.

  4. It’s only “icky” when we subscribers say it is Mitch. We’ll let you know with our unsubscribe buttons but I don’t think that will happen any time soon. I certainly pay less attention to your FB posts than I would if I was not subscribed to your RSS because of the inherent duplication. It would be nice if it was possible for those dup-posts not to be shown to me. I expect that day will soon come.
    Re: possibly deleting your FB account the other day. I happened to see your post/video link that I believe caused you to step back. Some of the comments were so difficult to fathom that you would think the individual was at the least trying to commit career suicide. You have a big audience, it comes with the territory, and it’s certainly not your fault.

  5. Well, you have a new subscriber, if that answers your question. I, too, have wished to have the courage to walk (run) away from Facebook forever. Maybe the other side of the “beat your chest and make noise” coin is those of us who are voyeurs/lurkers or some other ugly-sounding word. I find enough sweet spots in the randomness that I don’t walk away.
    I also feel like the way people act on social media tells me a lot about the person, which can be helpful in face to face interactions.
    I guess what I’m saying is I don’t think the problem is the social media. The problem is being human. Maybe social media will be part of what helps us evolve. It doesn’t seem like it now, but maybe?

  6. Mitch,
    Man, you said exactly what I’m thinking. There’s definitely a tension there, but I’m with you in thinking that though our impulse might be to swing wildly in response by doing things like deleting our Facebook page (I, too, have felt that I’m-not-brave-enough-to-delete feeling), a slower, subtler course of action is probably more appropriate. That’s life, anyway, isn’t it? Living with unresolvable tensions and contradictions?
    Anyway, I was amazed to read this in my feed this morning, because some of the ways you’re expressing the struggle are uncannily similar to how I did a while back in a reboot blog post at my personal page (here: I even noted that I don’t especially like “digital Chris.” I was writing specifically about the role sketchbooks play (or used to play) in the artist’s life, but got into this issue a bit toward the end. I’ll save you from having to read the whole thing and just share this paragraph:
    “Back in college (art school, remember) most of us were never separated from our books. We carried them wherever we went. When we met someone new, there was almost always an obligatory exchange of sketchbooks; it was a social ritual peculiar to artists who must have thought that the open sketchbook was a window into the soul. There was, of course, a sizing-up going on. As you flipped through the pages of an acquaintance’s book, you would ride an emotional roller coaster of neurosis and narcissism. Is he a better artist? More productive? Is she deeper? In hindsight, it’s clear that the social conditions that made the sketchbook an enthusiastically shared artifact of the self are the same that drive the way we use our Facebooks, Tumblrs, and Pinterests today. They are all avatars, and they are all aspirational. I’ve reached a point of personal saturation with this sort of thing. I systematically deleted everything from my Facebook and Tumblr accounts—clean slated them—not because I’m “over it,” “bored,” or any other fashionable derivative of jaded when it comes to the internet or social media, but because one can cross over from aspirational to acceptance by looking back upon those avatars and not liking what one sees. I’ve done this. I don’t especially like Digital Chris. He’s a thin veneer of arrogance, contrivance, slickness and lies—one that has always been buckling under the pressure of a thick, gurgling center of insecurity, anxiety, doubt and shame just waiting to burst. Thankfully, life circumstances put enough pressure on that shell to crack it wide open. What a relief. I want to keep it that way and I’m glad I want to. That makes it possible for me to keep going with these books—and anything else I do—without caring in the slightest what someone who looked at them might think of them or of me. That’s acceptance.”
    So, no, you’re not alone, and I’m glad to know I’m not either. Thanks for writing this!

  7. This is a really thoughtful post, Mitch. And yes, I agree, I do see a lot of this. Yet is the curse of the infovore to be hopelessly addicted to these vast stores of information as well. While I get that creeping icky feeling when people high-jack an online exchange to shout “look at me! look at me!” I am also glad that the people I follow on twitter do post their new content. It’s a fine balancing act, and some do it well. The Oatmeal had a wonderful cartoon about this a while back- why is it that people say disgustingly self-promoting things online that they would not dare say in person? For the most part, it comes off as desperate and just makes me feel poorly for the person. It makes me concerned about their self-worth, but perhaps that is just the teacher in me.

  8. Here’s the thing, Mitch. You’re one of the good guys. I have a Facebook friend who is so overtly self-promotional that there is an entire group of people who do nothing but make fun of him. While that’s not my style, I did have a private conversation with him about the perception he faces and then it got worse. What’s a girl to do?
    But, in the big scheme of things, I don’t perceive you as narcissistic or self-promotional. At all. I perceive you as providing really good content and one of very few who point me to obscure content on a regular basis.
    Perhaps it’s because you’re so self-aware. But don’t be too hard on yourself.

  9. When someone follows me on twitter, I do a couple of things to determine whether or not I want to follow back. I read their bio. Does it sound like ad copy or an actual human? Do they refer to themselves as an “expert” in anything? That’s a red flag. Do they refer to themselves as a “social media expert”? That’s a gigantic red flag. Then I read a few tweets. In their last 10-15 tweets, is there anything funny, any human side of their personality, any interaction with others, anything that isn’t a shameless ad for their latest project? If not, I don’t follow back.

  10. Leading us all, as usual, Mitch, with your brave insights. I’ve felt the same for perhaps the past year: social media is not living up to its promise and has become simply a high-tech billboard.
    But the problem lies, as @Andrea Hernandez suggests, in our selfish human-ness more than in SM. The tools represent an awesome opportunity to share, learn, and grow in compassion: but we’re mostly not mature enough to use them that way. We’re interested in WIIFM, and that egotism is as aggressive and blind as ever.
    Seems like dialog dominated the web back when I first explored the internet some seven years ago. Where’s it gone?

  11. I have to agree with you for the most part. It does seem that most people are just “beating their chest” (great way to describe it), which is one of the reasons I tend to stay away from everything social media for a few days out of a month. I really think before I post anything online, while most people feel a sudden urge or emotion and they think “everyone has to know this,” while in reality it adds to the noise. Yet, I have learned so much since school through the blogs and feeds I follow that it is hard for me to let the clutter deter my excitement for all the great content I find online.

  12. Mitch – As others have commented you tapped into a raw nerve for many of us. Social remains a way for us to build our brands – professional and personal – so we blog, tweet, share, update, like in a mad rush to build our profile and our visibility. As a solo freelance strategist (not expert!!) it becomes a tool to scale in a way that no other “networking” can do. In some ways it is inescapable because it has become so pervasive and ubiquitous.
    I do wonder what anthropologists will make of this period in human evolution 50 years from now. Will we be seen as the most connected or most self-absorbed generation?
    Perhaps Friedrich Nietzsche said it best; “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.”
    Thanks again for surfacing such a personal POV. A POV which, I fear, many of us are struggling with.

  13. Glad to see the goal of a higher standard. Sort of reaffirms my subscription here. Really liked the link to Geoff Livingston’s post.
    What’s better than blogs that hook up to blogs that leave you feeling smarter than when you started?
    Feeling like a genius for the next few minutes. Thanks for the bump.

  14. I disagree with part of your premise. My life is uninteresting and this fact is made clear in most of my Facebook and Twitter posts. Honestly, I post because thoughts come into my head and I want to put them somewhere. I post because I am a natural-born cynic and I like the fact that I have outlets to express myself. I post because I occasionally like to stir up the dirt, so to speak. I post because I want people to know what I am thinking, not because I want them to think my life is interesting. It’s not, and I like it that way.
    I HATE self-promoters and humble braggers.

  15. My bald brother of another mother!
    I would agree with my esteemed colleague that you have never struck me as over promotional.
    So, 1) thank you. I am glad the post had a profound impact.
    2) I was very careful to focus on myself and me in that post. The reason why is that no one call tell anyone else what they should or should not do. So for me it’s not OK.
    I noted when I started this comment what my impression of you online was. But the only person who’s opinion matters is you. If you felt something, it’s because you may (or may not) want to do something else. Follow your heart in this matter, Mitch. YOU cannot go wrong.
    Best wishes,

  16. Haven’t commented in a while because I’ve been busy creating and curating stuff about historical fiction ๐Ÿ™‚ I used to have a blog called One Writer’s Voice (still there but not active). My new blog, is designed to reach people in the historical fiction community and I began by conducting a survey of readers (800 of them). Why? Because I’m writing historical fiction so it made sense to me to find out what readers think, how they purchase, where they find recommendations and so on. The fascinating thing is that the survey has spun into several other avenues.
    What’s my point? You’re right! I’ve done some promotion via Twitter and FB but each post, like yours, is solid content. They take time to create, a lot of time in many cases. The good news is that I’m learning as I curate, create and blog.
    At the same time as my new blog I decided to try Twitter. In seven months of tweeting I still don’t get it. How can anyone follow more than 9000 people? The answer – they can’t. As you suggest it’s just self-promotion.

  17. Great point. There is one antidote, and one only… VULNERABILITY. Everything real starts with letting go of looking good. Share what’s not working, share your fears, share what’s real.

  18. The problem with things that are great for discovery (search, social media) is this: once people figure out that they’re great for discovery, they start using them to push the stuff that they want you to discover. And then I find myself desperate to discover an exit from them.

  19. I finished reading your book ‘Six Pixels of Seperation’ while I was vacationing on the California coast. Thank you for writing such a beautiful book.
    I feel what you are saying in this blog post. I self promote myself because of my own ego. I beef up my Likedin profile and produce content on my blog. I do it because I want to be respected and frankly Mitch, I want to be like Mitch Joel.
    Your book taught me that contributing to others content is the best way of being authentic and joining the community. You also taught me that if I’m creating content to just be famous than I should stop. You changed my perspective and I really am going to try to be more authentic than try to just sell myself. Thanks for the mentorship Mitch. : )

  20. Well Mitch,
    First of all congrats once again, this time for your sincerity. As you well said, lots of people would like to be curators and/or remove their FB accounts but they don’t have the courage.
    In some word, is like people(u included) want or would like to remove the account and the big amount of junk data posted but at the same time you know you cannot do it as behind that are lots of people following you who really care about you and your posts.
    Is also true and as recently uncovered that there are lots of fake followers(I don’t believe is in your case) and those are the one making the noise you well describe.
    I think same way as you and to sum it up or be more precise: I’m one of those who doesn’t even have a Facebook account! What for? If something I use Linkedin for business or twitter for catching up latest news.
    I fully trust and believe in myself and capabilities and in the near future I believe I will gain lots of followers in the new trend of being more precise and honest in the social world/life or tools in the media being where you want to be and not where everyone is ex: Facebook(just because everyone is there, you need to be!)
    why again???
    Cheers and keep moving forward looking the future with hope,

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