A Call to Creatives: Market Yourself with Humility
One of the dangers of growing up in today’s world is the frightfully narrow slip-and-slide into a narcissistic frame of mind. Thanks in part to the “you”-centric movements of today—the ego-boosting self-help bestsellers and social media-driven digital shrines to ourselves—staying humble seemingly takes more effort today than it ever has before. I’m not pointing fingers; I fall prey to the trends, too. But over the last couple years, I’ve grown exhausted with the never-ending push to be more successful, more connected, and generally more “followed” than the next person. At the end of the day, I don’t care that much. I know my value has nothing to do with the opinions of others, especially those I only interact with behind a glass screen.
I read a commentary on this phenomenon recently that likened social media to a “digital echo-chamber where everyone agrees with you.” The thought of that frightened me, that the Internet platforms on which many of us spend the majority of our time do little to challenge our understanding of the world, build character, or expand our hearts to the plights of others. Moreover, the thought that these are the tools with which we are meant to market ourselves, our work, or both, is disconcerting, to say the least. But there has to be a way to promote yourself or brand without deferring to your ego to do the heavy-lifting. Below I’ve listed a few ideas that have helped me rework my own perspective on what it means to market with humility.
When it comes to sharing, determine the balance that’s right for you.
When it comes to marketing yourself—be it your personal brand or business—showing a spectrum of the good and bad has its benefits; letting your “following,” or network, in on not just your successes but your failures as well can have the powerful effect of humanizing you in the eyes of others. No one relates to perfection. But depending on what and how much you’re sharing, it can also have the potential to alienate your audience. It’s a fine balance, one only you can determine for your work. For example, through my use of social media over the years, I’ve discovered something important about myself: I’m extremely private. Marketing my personal “brand” as a writer feels necessary, in order to get my work out there so it can help people the way I desire it to, but at the cost of my privacy, it oftentimes doesn’t feel right. I’m still searching for my balance; I often take breaks from certain platforms and have abandoned others altogether in order to figure out what I’m comfortable with. In doing this, I’ve realized there are other ways to market your work aside from social media: good ‘ole fashioned email.
while it’s the frontrunner, social media is not the only marketing avenue.
Something I’ve come to treasure in the slow-but-steady building of my career is the newsletter subscriber list: a sign-up of people who want to hear, straight from you, all the updates on your work projects or life in general. Most people don’t realize that no matter how many “followers” they have on social media, any number of those could disappear one day since they’re owned by the app’s company. That specific network could collapse with a simple shift in the app world; you just never know. Gathering those who truly care about you and what you do onto a digital spreadsheet through which you can update them about your work on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis is crucial to anyone looking to expand their influence in a certain field. But if email isn’t your thing, there’s always the more traditional paper newsletter, which, at this point in the digital realm, might be the more impressive route, especially if it’s handwritten.
Focus on the meaning and impact of your work.
Whether you’re advertising your personal brand or helping promote a business, the most important thing to establish for yourself, in my opinion, is the meaning of your work. Why do you do what you do? What do you contribute to the world? A successful venture is one whose impact will long outlast its pioneers. And while you’re considering the meaning and impact of your work, it’s also a worthwhile idea to think about how you could contribute to a cause your work could effect positive change for. Personally, I’ve always taken issue with the on-the-nose push to sell that drives most marketing campaigns and tactics. If I know I’m being encouraged to buy something, I’m less likely to buy it, unless the person or brand that’s desiring me to buy their product is advocating for a cause larger than themselves. It’s not always about the money, influence, or fame—those things are ephemeral. But helping change others’ lives? That’s forever.
Give a leg-up to others in your field.
On the note of charity, try being an advocate for someone else. Offer what you’ve learned along the way; don’t be stingy with the information you had to hustle for alone. It’s not going to give you an advantage, but making friends will. The truth is, you never know who might be in front of you in the line of success one day, or who they might be acquainted with. We’ve all heard the saying , “it’s who you know,” and that’s still, unfortunately, true today. But if you could be the person someone “knows,” the individual that could help them get ahead, take the time. Even if it doesn’t seem worth it at the start, you’ll know you didn’t stride through your career selfishly. You’ll know you helped people when you had the ability to, and there’s no telling who they’re helping now. A domino effect of positive influence could occur from one decision on your part, and if it’s to the betterment of your chosen field, nothing you do would be more significant.
Build a network that believes in what you do.
For those like me who have a hard time touting their expertise or successes, sometimes the best thing you can have on your side is a reliable network of people who will do all the bragging for you. Yes, your parents count, so don’t give them a hard time when they talk about your latest achievement to everyone who will listen. That’s free marketing right there! You’d be surprised at the number of people in your life, even those you don’t speak to as often anymore, who would love to tell others about you, your brand, or both. Everyone loves to tell the story of “I knew them when…,” and it could be anyone from your old church group leader to your most recent college professor. Get curious about the people on your Facebook or the contacts in your phone you never contact and invest in them, genuinely. It’s not about what they can do for you, but it also doesn’t hurt to have a safety net of good opinions. Word of mouth is a tool of wonder.
Regardless of what your chosen profession has mandated you market, remember this: behind every target audience statistic, behind every “like” or “follow” on social media, there’s a person, not unlike you, who has insecurities, doubts, struggles, and desires. It’s to them that you’re reaching out, and it’s for them that you should be carefully considering the impact of your work and how you go about promoting it to the world. There are a lot of easy ways to get others’ attention, but in order to hold it, you have to show them something worth believing in.