Making Peace with Self-Promotion

In this featured guest post from the COMPASS blog*, author Liz Neeley (current Executive Director of The Story Collider) breaks down the most common arguments scientists use against self-promotion. Storytellers and those with trepidations about putting themselves “out there” will benefit from this well-researched piece.

I prepare for writing projects as if they are adventures, so when I sat down to write a book chapter this spring, I was excited. The topic was self-promotion in social media, for the forthcoming The Complete Guide to Science Blogging, made possible by an NASW Ideas Grant. My coffee was hot, my playlist was inspired, and my background research had me buzzing… but before I started writing, I first saved the tweet I would post when I submitted:

self promotion tweet_liz

Those of you who knew Steve Schneider may find the cadence to be a familiar one. He wrote, “In my view, staying out of the fray is not taking the “high ground”; it is just passing the buck.” These are deliberately provocative soundbites designed to question countervailing norms: they are fighting words. I like this approach, but – as we teach in our workshops – advocacy for yourself or your science – online or off – is a deeply personal decision with lasting consequences.

In the chapter, I write that there seems to be “a deep-seated belief that while the work of content creation is noble, the work of drawing attention to that content is distasteful if not in fact degrading. It’s an emotional reaction, exacerbated by the suspicion that the usual advice for increasing traffic—repetition, jumping into comment threads to mention your post, direct requests to retweet—can indeed annoy the very people you hope to impress, particularly if you are female. In the past five years, I’ve taught social media to hundreds of researchers in dozens of workshops, and have never had a discussion about self-promotion that didn’t feel at least a little uncomfortable.” Consider it to be a professional skill – you need to learn how to do it well, despite feeling awkward at the outset. The three most common arguments I hear are:

1) But I don’t want to annoy people 

  • Soundbite version: Thank you for being a decent human being!
  • But seriously: Thank you. Fortunately, bad behavior is not inextricable from self-promotion. I enjoyed reading this paper: titled “Self Praise in Microblogging,” it distinguishes between bragging (associated with inflated ego and deceit) and positive disclosure (associated with healthy self-confidence). Hint: it’s not using the word “I” instead of “we” that’s the problem. Bragging is aggressive, competitive, and often exaggerated. Positive disclosure shares true information, is modest in scope, and is often moderated by praise of others. The former annoys people, and there are studies of exactly how and why. It’s a false dichotomy to set up silence as the only alternative to obnoxiousness.

2) But I want my work to speak for itself

  • Soundbite: Sorry. You know better.
  • But seriously: If you are not familiar with the concept of the attention economy, I recommend reading up on it. In short, it argues that conditions of information superabundance have shifted the historical dynamic and made undivided attention a precious commodity. Furthermore, we do not make these decisions independently, but are strongly influenced by our networks. I am reminded of what Noshir Contractor presented at the 2013 Sackler Colloquium: it’s definitely not just what you know, nor even who you know (social networks), but also who they think you know (cognitive social networks) and what who you know knows (knowledge networks). Wishful thinking about meritocracy ignores the abundant science about how information and attention flow in human societies.

3) But I don’t want to overpromise

  • Soundbite: Ok… so don’t do that then?
  • But seriously: I struggled with the name of this one, because unlike the other two, this concern is more amorphous. It goes something like, “Well, I wrote a post/made something/have a project but it’s not the best thing ever and I don’t want to jack up expectations.” Fair enough. Not every idea is ripe yet, and sometimes we share for feedback as much as anything else. I have two diverging thoughts here, and I don’t know which one is best suited to your needs:
  • Be critical…: Exercise your best judgment and calibrate your efforts accordingly. Don’t cheapen your superlatives with overuse. In graphic form, Jay Rosen nails the #1 rule of being influential on social media: “[if] you say it’s good, it’s actually good”
  • …but be fair: There is a wonderful discussion of the impostor syndromehappening online. This entire enterprise is contingent on your own conviction that you have something important to say: don’t let doubt and disbelief sabotage you.

As I say in ending the chapter, “Done well, self-promotion is acting in service of your ideas, not just clamoring for affirmation. Finding your voice, focusing on great content, and positioning it effectively can create positive spirals to benefit your work and your career. You have great ideas. Get over yourself, get out there, and help us discover them.” You’re not asking for favors, you’re doing us a favor when you share relevant people and material, and that absolutely includes you and your work.

We always want to know what you are working on and excited about so please, shake the awkward feeling and use the comment section to tell us about yourself or a project you’d like to share!

Papers I reference (for easy access):

Moss-Racusin, C. a., & Rudman, L. a. (2010). Disruptions in women’s self-promotion: the backlash avoidance model. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34(2), 186–202. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2010.01561.x

Dayter, D. (2014). Self-praise in microblogging. Journal of Pragmatics, 61, 91–102. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2013.11.021

Hoorens, V., Pandelaere, M., Oldersma, F., & Sedikides, C. (2012). The hubris hypothesis: you can self-enhance, but you’d better not show it. Journal of Personality, 80(5), 1237–74. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2011.00759.x

Other good sources on self-promotion in the sciences:

*This article was originally published on May 30, 2014. It has been reposted with the permission of COMPASS Science Communication, Inc., a non-profit, non-advocacy organization whose vision is to see more scientists engage effectively in the public discourse about the environment.

Janet Silbernagel: The Calling of the Cranes

Dr. Janet Silbernagel‘s personal and professional worlds collide in China, where cranes begin to stretch her perception of connections across landscapes.

 

Janet Silbernagel is a landscape ecologist with a design background, specializing in landscape conservation strategies, applying landscape ecological theory, scenario modeling, and geospatial analyses.  Silbernagel started her career as a landscape architect with the US. Forest Service before receiving her PhD in Forest Science from Michigan Technological University. Previously, Silbernagel served on the faculty of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Washington State University. She has been on the faculty at UW-Madison since 1999, where she directs the Professional Master’s program in Environmental Conservation within the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, designed to train conservation leaders internationally. Through these roles and her research, Dr. Silbernagel travels between the Great Lakes, Europe, and China.

Recently she has worked on scenarios of forest conservation effectiveness in a changing climate (with The Nature Conservancy); citizen engagement and spatial literacy in Great Lakes coastal communities (with NOAA Sea Grant); landscape connectivity of conservation subdivisions (in WI); and studies to understand dynamics of wetland systems for crane conservation in both China and Wisconsin (with the International Crane Foundation).

Etienne Hirsch: The Curious Boy in the Garden/Le garçon curieux dans le jardin

French neurobiologist Etienne Hirsch recollects his use of Claude Bernard’s scientific methodology from boyhood to adulthood in his journey to alleviate Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.

Etienne Hirsch is a neurobiologist involved in research on Parkinson’s disease and related disorders. He obtained his PhD in 1988 from the University of Paris VI (Pierre et Marie Curie). He is currently the director of the Insitute for Neurosciences, Cognitive sciences, Neurology and Psychiatry at INSERM and the French alliance for life and health science Aviesan, the associate director of the research center of the Institute of Brain and spinal cord (ICM), head of “Experimental therapeutics of  Parkinson disease” at the ICM at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris and since November 2015 in charge of the research aspects of French national plan on neurodegenerative disorders . His work is aimed at understanding the cause of neuronal degeneration in Parkinson’s disease and is focused on the role of the glial cells, the inflammatory cytokines and apoptosis but also on the consequences of neuronal degeneration in the circuitries downstream to the lesions. He is member of several advisory boards including, French Society for Neuroscience (past-President), Scientific Advisory board at INSERM. He obtained several prizes including Tourette Syndrome Association Award in1986, Young researcher Award, European Society for Neurochemistry in 1990, Grand Prix de l’Académie de Sciences, Prix de la Fondation pour la recherche biomédicale « Prix François Lhermitte » in 1999, Chevalier de l’ordre des palmes académiques in 2009, Prix Raymond et Aimée Mande of the French National academy of Medicine in 2011, Member of the French National Academy of Pharmacy in 2011. He is author of more than 200 peer reviewed articles.

Virginia Dale: The Model of a Question

Dr. Virginia Dale realizes that the value of a question lies equally in the asking as well as the answering, while on a trip to the rainforest to conduct ecological models on land-use change.

Virginia H. Dale, PhD is a mathematical ecologist who uses a landscape perspective to understand patterns and processes. Her research interests include environmental decision making, forest succession, effects of climate change, land-use change, landscape ecology, ecological modeling, and sustainability of bioenergy systems.  She is a Corporate Fellow in theEnvironmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee and was selected as the 2006 Distinguished Scientist for the Laboratory, where she is currently Director of the Center for BioEnergy Sustainability.  She was among the members of the science community that contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Scientific Assessment that in 2007 received the Nobel Peace Prize. Virginia completed her PhD at the University Washington just in time to be able to join the first group on ecologists entering the “Red Zone” after the eruption of Mount St. Helens. She continues to monitor vegetation reestablishment on permanent plots she established there more than three decades ago. She often refers to herself as a disturbance ecologist, for she studies natural and human changes on many landscapes. Virginia has enjoyed sharing her expertise by service on national scientific advisory boards for five federal agencies (the Environmental Protection Agency and US Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, and Interior) and on several committees of the US National Research Council. For thirteen years, Virginia was Editor-in-Chief of the journal Environmental Management and still serves on the editorial board of several journals. Virginia has been active in her community as a scout leader, soccer coach, and protecting ecosystem services and was selected as a Top Citizen of Oak Ridge. Her son is an aerospace engineer, and her daughter works on environmental policy and is mother to a vivacious girl and has a second child due in July.  Virginia enjoys traveling to visit family and to explore new areas and swims wherever the water is warm.

Michael Feuerstein: It’s in Your Brain

After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Dr. Michael Feuerstein learns that surviving and thriving post-cancer requires more than medical treatments.

Michael FeuersteinPhD, MPH, is professor of medical and clinical psychology and public health and biometrics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.  After his recovery from a life-threatening brain tumor he has devoted his life’s work to improving the quality of health care survivors receive through research and by disseminating scientifically informed knowledge  to health care providers and cancer patients following treatment.

Dr. Feuerstein has published a book for Cancer Survivors and their families and has edited three textbooks for diverse health care providers on the challenges experienced by these patients. In 2007, he launched a peer- reviewed multidisciplinary journal, the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, whose mission is to improve evidence- based health care in those living with a unique history of cancer and cancer treatment. He lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland with his wife Michele. They have 3 grown children (Sara, Andrew, Erica) and 3 grandchildren (Kiran, Maya, Zain).