How does self-promotion actually work?
September 23, 2010 8:24 PM   Subscribe

What exactly are the mechanics of self-promotion?

Here are the projects I do:

- A weekly public radio program and podcast where I do hour-long interviews with authors, filmmakers, scientists, musicians, academics, broadcasters, etc.

- A monthly series of primers on contemporary novelists for a well-known literary site

- A monthly column on filmmakers (Jacques Rivette, Ming-liang Tsai, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) for a reasonably well-known blog

- An ongoing series of reviews of every experimental video on quite a well-known online archive of avant-garde material

- A blog where I write about a variety of topics (culture, self-improvement, aesthetics, etc.)

- A column for the web site of a nationally syndicated public radio show where I review a different podcast each week

- A blog documenting, visually and textually, the unusual features of the town in which I live (which is mostly known for its touristy pleasantness)

- A sort of "book club" podcast that discusses a variety of recent-ish novels (though it's currently on something of a hiatus)

- Field recordings, including a (freely) released album last year of field recordings I made in New Zealand

- Regular live DJing sessions, spinning material mostly on the ambient/experimental/field recording axis

- Filmmaking (completed my first short over the summer, and I'm not submitting it to festivals)

I'd assumed that, by this point, word-of-mouth would have grown any one or two or three (or however many) of these projects sufficient audience to make moving forward with them into at least part of my career. But nope, I haven't even come close to the kind of critical mass apparently necessary to earn a dime from any of this.

So how does one, er, promote one's work, anyway? The work itself seems decentishly strong enough to me; I feel self-promotion must be the missing piece of the puzzle. Yet I find myself unable to merely imagine how to promote anything, even in the most basic sense. This is a troubling problem, since, in a little over a year, either I kill my day job or my day job kills me.
posted by colinmarshall to Work & Money (26 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're over-estimating how popular these things are. For example, if I told all my friends about your great blog post on Apichatpong Weerasethakul, I doubt any of them would know who I was talking about (I don't know who you're talking about.) Word of mouth doesn't really work so well for extremely esoteric subjects.
posted by sanko at 8:29 PM on September 23, 2010

Back when I was freelancing and conceiving of projects all the time, I really enjoyed for ideas on this sort of thing. The basics generally involved guest posting, offering your time & ideas to folks with larger audiences, etc. This post in particular had some good ideas.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:35 PM on September 23, 2010

I told all my friends about your great blog post on Apichatpong Weerasethakul, I doubt any of them would know who I was talking about

Your point is well-taken, though... the dude did just win the Palme d'Or.
posted by colinmarshall at 8:43 PM on September 23, 2010

Seems as if maybe you're spread kind of thin? That is, you're trying to promote "the guy who does a lot of cool, artsy stuff," rather than narrowing your subject/activity down into something more specific.

You probably don't want to narrow your interests -- I can understand that, I have this problem myself -- but I think if you want to market yourself you need to get yourself more narrowly identified, and then pound the public with that thing.

On the other hand, is the following a Freudian slip?

"(completed my first short over the summer, and I'm not submitting it to festivals)"

If you meant to type "now" but typed "not", you might want to think about getting into psychoanalysis (KIDDING (?))

No, but seriously -- I think you should focus on promoting ONE aspect of your work, and then it might be easier to think about how to promote it.
posted by DMelanogaster at 8:55 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

"(completed my first short over the summer, and I'm not submitting it to festivals)"

AWWW CRAP. Mea culpa. I meant I'm knee-deep in the festival submission process as we speak. Thanks for bringing that to my attention sooner than later.
posted by colinmarshall at 9:01 PM on September 23, 2010

You're spreading yourself too thin. You're working in the wronng medium. (*Reviewing* podcasts? Who reads that except the people who make the podcasts?)

Maybe I'm too old school, old media, but I don't think there's much money in blogging -- for most people. Either you really make it big, or you write for a site that has, or no one reads it. There's no career for the "pay me $1500 for this article" kind of freelancer on the sort of sites you list.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:17 PM on September 23, 2010

Colin, you seem like an interesting guy, but I don't know how I would describe you to my friends: he's a interviewer/reviewer/commentator/creator/curator? Also, the media you work in are too varied: music, film, books, town (?). It's a bit random.

If you could only talk about or do one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Pick it then concentrate on that.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:07 PM on September 23, 2010

I don't know how I would describe you to my friends: he's a interviewer/reviewer/commentator/creator/curator?

You make a solid point. I think about this in terms of Seth Godin (whom I've interviewed on my radio show, actually) and what he writes about "remarkability," i.e. you have to make a product people can and will want to talk about. One sticking point is that I'm not sure I'd could summon the motivation to work in just one medium; doing a variety of things at once keeps me going, but any single one of those doesn't. But that may just be my own sheee-it to deal with -- or maybe other people experience the same problem. Can't say as I know.

(I also happen to think that interviewer/reviewer/commentator/creator/curator is a totally choice job title.)
posted by colinmarshall at 10:11 PM on September 23, 2010

There's definitely a somewhat scientific goal oriented way of looking at this that will help you out. If your goal is to take on or more of these projects, and use it to generate cash flow of some kind, you should approach it with goals and numbers in mind, instead of something vague like 'critical mass'.

Let's take your blog for your an example. Suppose the 'tipping point' for this to be worthwile financially enough for you to continue is an income of $1,000 usd a month. What are the ways you can generate revenue via a blog?
1. Hosting PPC ads
2. Hosting Individual Ads (ie you deal directly with a company in your market and sell them ad space on a 1 to 1 basis)
3. Paid Reviews (A company pays you to review their product/service)
4. You use your blog to establish yourself as an 'expert' in that field, and market yourself as a paid speaker on those topics
5. Curated Shopping Cart (You pick and sell very specific products that would interest your readers)

Those are your basic revenue stream options on a blog. You can choose 1, all or any combination of the above. Break down how much each of these revenue streams brings in (ie I get x dollars every time someone clicks on ad, I get x dollars every time I am booked as a speaker). Then you can assess how many visitors to your site you need to generate your target revenue.

Next, you get friendly with one or more analytics programs (Google analytics is free, and a great place to start). You religiously look at your analytics - see which posts, or other activity on your blog causes the most action in your revenues streams. If you write a post on topic x, and you see that topic x generates a lot of sales of a certain product, or gets you a lot of clicks on your ads, zero in on that topic. Tweak that post to attract more of those readers who purchase things, click on your ads. If you see that person x retweeted a link to your site, which brought in a lot of traffic to your ads, then get friendly with person x, and share more of yoru work with them. Using the analytics, you won't be shooting in the dark. You can drill down, and get very specific, and instead of waiting for 'critical mass' you will actively be creating content that creates revenue. You eliminate the actions, posts etc. that don't generate revenue (even if you like them - there's only so many hours in a day).

If the end goal is to make one or more of these projects a business, you have to think of it like one. This mindset is a bit different than just doing fun, cool projects you enjoy, and hoping they catch on and generate money.

This is a pretty condensed version of how this works, but this basic model can be really successful. It takes a LOT of work to get something like this off the ground. It's not impossible by any means, and if you enjoy the various aspects of creation (the writing, the dj'ing, watching films to review) it should be fun. The most important thing though is to have specific goals, and go with the numbers.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 10:27 PM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

Every minute you spend self-promoting is a minute not spent doing. Do something well enough and others will handle the promotion for you. Or, pay them to.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 10:34 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Personally, I think you're spreading yourself too thin. And I hate to be a cynic, but I have a bias against jacks-of-all-trades. Even if someone is a certified genius, I always get the feeling that they're doing themselves a disservice by not picking one thing and being the world's best at it. Even if you're good, there are so many hours in the day, and the person with millions of blogs is going to update them once a week, at best. Unless you're already well-known, that's not really enough to gain a loyal audience.

By the way you describe the projects, they're all niches with limited audiences. They aren't going to coalesce on their own and gain the sort of critical mass you want. Word of mouth? You're competing against people who create 5% of the time and self-promote 95% of the time.
One sticking point is that I'm not sure I'd could summon the motivation to work in just one medium; doing a variety of things at once keeps me going, but any single one of those doesn't.
So if it's the variety of media that you love the most, perhaps you could pick one topic and make multimedia content in that one subject? It doesn't have to be something plain like "books" or "documentaries." If I were you, I'd find a common thread among my projects and unify them, build my brand by creating reliably new content in one outlet. It seems like you're interested in the creative process and mundane beauty/found art. I'd be fascinated to read something about either of those, updated regularly.
posted by blazingunicorn at 10:34 PM on September 23, 2010

If you want to move into some kind of work for these things, you gotta pick one area you want to move into, and work on promoting that. Are you gonna be a writer about film, or a musician or what? There are tonnes of books and websites and blogs about self promotion out there - a google search could serve you very well.

More generally speaking, using "am I getting paid for it?" can be a demoralising and useless metric for assessing success of almost any variety. I get the sense you're thinking "if I was getting paid for it I could devote more time to it!" This is not necessarily the case. Indeed, if you start getting paid for it, you may find yourself devoting less time because you will be under the hammer to get more money, and that means working less on what you're doing and spending more time trying to get paying jobs/making your hourly rate pay.

Also - and I really don't mean to crush your dreams here or anything - but there are many many people doing this kind of thing for what are typically quite small audiences. The people getting paid for it may not be any better or worse than you, they may have personal connections, got lucky etc etc. This is another reason why "who's doing it for a job?" is not a great metric in the world any more.

I understand your desire to get some financial recognition for worthy, industrious and intellectual things you work on, but sadly there are a lot of worthy industrious and intellectual things in the world, and yet people still get paid for cleaning toilets. Cie La Vie.

If time is the issue (and I don't see how it couldn't be!), then focus on getting jobs/qualifications that enable you to keep doing this stuff in spare time, and keep plugging away, and self-promoting. Something will stick to the wall eventually, but you do need to ask yourself if you're doing it for the recognition (in which case, pick something easier), or for the inherent joy (yippee! Keep on keeping on!).
posted by smoke at 10:35 PM on September 23, 2010

I also happen to think that interviewer/reviewer/commentator/creator/curator is a totally choice job title. Thanks. You need to say it aloud; it has great rhythm.

I was commenting on how would I classify you, not that I agree that we need to be classifed. While I don't do anything for public consumption (except AskMeFi, of course), I am a musician, writer, book reviewer, game player, logic puzzler, etc. I also have the uncanny ability to see anyone for 5 seconds in a TV show or movie and be able to recite everything they've ever been in. This is completely useless and, I fear, my most developed talent.

But back to you: maybe you need to self-promote yourself as cultural tastemaker. We are all busy! But we want to act like we know stuff! You could fill the vacuum of telling us what to think about a variety of subjects, so we don't actually need to know anything; we could just regurgitate your opinions. You could become a cultural touchstone, like Malcolm Gladwell... I could say, in October of 2011, "Well, yeah, but Colin says X," and shut down anyone because... you're Colin!

Now go be Colin.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:36 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest that Twitter would be a good place to promote your work -- establish a network of people who do similar things (writing film columns, local filmmakers, other local establishments, contemporary novelists) and interact with them. Don't use it for the express purpose of posting "Hey check out this new thing I wrote," use it to converse with other people who share your interests.

You'll find that, with a few well-placed tweets about your work, people will retweet what you've done. Don't tweet about everything you do; I'd try to mostly converse with other people in your field(s). This is what many academics do on Twitter, and although they use the space to self-promote ("Check out this article I wrote that was just published in the Journal of Awesome!" is not rare for me to see in my feed) they also use it to talk to others in their field and to share resources and ideas about their work.

Seriously, though, don't just establish an account on Twitter and populate it with links to your newest blog posts. But Twitter might be the key to your self-promotion dilemma, as long as you don't go crazy with it.
posted by k8lin at 11:01 PM on September 23, 2010

You might try to guest on some more popular/established podcasts/blogs/shows etc. If I'm impressed with someone I'll invariably explore their other work.
posted by sockpup at 12:37 AM on September 24, 2010

You might also want to polish up the front page of the website linked in your profile. I find the text too cramped and the most bottom bullet point doesn't line up with the text (Firefox 3.8.6 on Windows XP). It's analogous to a sloppy resume.
posted by sockpup at 12:48 AM on September 24, 2010

Big list, "Jack of all trades, master of none" comes to mind. Become known for one of these things, let the rest follow.
posted by epo at 4:06 AM on September 24, 2010

I'm a freelance transmedia writer and game designer. To keep my career chugging along, I have to do a lot of self-promotion. (People can't hire you if they don't know you exist!) I blog, I give talks, I write papers, and I participate in my community (and hopefully give my colleagues at least as much as I'm getting from them, for good karma.)

I stay fairly continuously employed and my friends and colleagues tell me I'm pretty good at this self-promotion thing without being douchey about it. So, for good or ill and through hard-won experience, here is my advice to you:

* Pick the one thing you want to focus on and do it extraordinarily well. Right now you're doing a whole bunch of different stuff that doesn't appear to be interrelated. You don't need to stick to one *medium*, but you'd be doing yourself a favor to stick to one *subject area.* That's not to say that you can't do a million goofy side projects, but pick the area you want to be the go-to guy for and put the lion's share of your energy into that. Learn, refine, repeat. Otherwise you're trying to build several different careers at once, or in Seth Godin language, you'll have an unfocused and muddy personal brand.

* Accrue social capital. If you want people to notice your work, first they have to notice you. Join Twitter and make friends with like minds (indie film folks, for example?). Comment on the blogs of like minds (and not just to paste a link to your own stuff, be relevant.) Go to conferences. Be genuinely interested in what other people have to say. Do favors, promote the work of others, in general be a good friend to as many people as you can. If you don't do this, then most of the other stuff you can do to be self-promotional will come across as douchey.

* Tell people about what you do. As above, don't make it the sole focus of your internet presence, but when you post something new, or if you're high-volume, than when you post something exceptionally interesting, put a link in to Twitter. Get a blog feeding into LinkedIn and/or Facebook. When you comment on somebody else's blog, make sure you fill in that website field. Relying solely on Google juice for your audience mean you won't be getting an audience.

* Volunteer yourself as an expert. Submit your name as a potential speaker or panelist at those conferences you're going to. If it's relevant, participate in white papers. Write case studies about your work. Or: Figure out what the highly successful people in your field produce that you don't, and work out how to make that stuff yourself, too.

* Make it easy for people to subscribe and tell other people about you. Make sure your podcasts are on iTunes and your blogs have RSS feeds. Put ShareThis buttons on stuff. Put links on Twitter and Facebook so people can like and retweet. Make sure all of it actually works.

* Be realistic about what you envision as your success scenario. Stats don't necessarily indicate your reach. My blog gets a few hundred hits a day for the couple of days after I post. I have in the vicinity of 260 RSS subscribers. I'd hesitate to call this a critical mass by sheer numerical analysis. Boing Boing I ain't. But my work is pretty widely cited, I'm being taught in a couple of university courses, I've being invited to pretty awesome conferences (like Foo Camp! Whoa!) I don't think I have more than a few hundred readers, but they're the RIGHT few hundred.

* Be very patient. This is a long game. I started my blog back in August of 2005, and it's only this year that I've reached a tipping point (just about concurrent with my speaking at SXSW, come to think of it.) As these things go, I'd even consider that unusually fast.

Good luck to you, and I hope this is all helpful. Cheers!
posted by Andrhia at 6:00 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

You remind me of me! Except you're actually doing all the things I want to do.

Good advice above.

I'm also in a world where I'm reviewing, interviewing, running after, supplicating, etc. other people -- celebs, both major and minor, whose work interests me. They get some publicity, I get to meet an idol, and I've got another feather in my cap. It's all material for the portfolio.

But sometimes I feel a pull in another direction -- I envy the people I'm interviewing. I want to be like them, do my own thing, be more the subject of my own life. So my very off-the-cuff bit of advice would be to focus on your filmmaking. Make that your main thrust. That's a huge creative endeavor, and if you go at it with your whole heart, it'll take up most of your time. And it should!

Don't give away your ideas for free anymore. In the future, people will be writing articles about you! :)
posted by frosty_hut at 7:13 AM on September 24, 2010

You review podcasts? - whatever for?

I'm sorry but most of your activites are only goign to be interesting to a niche market and each one seem to appeal to different niche markets that are not necessarily interested in the other.

Documenting your own Town cf. Interviews with Filmakers
posted by mary8nne at 7:52 AM on September 24, 2010

the dude did just win the Palme d'Or

The what? ... *Google search* Oh. *Shrug*

I'm not trying to be snide, it just sounds like you're in several niche markets, in which you're competing with other people who are passionate for that niche. It's going to take time. Also:

Every minute you spend self-promoting is a minute not spent doing.

This. Lots of people write blogs / columns / reviews. The rare few who gain name recognition write excellent blogs / columns / reviews. The rest get lost in the noise.
posted by Tehhund at 8:24 AM on September 24, 2010

To the people suggesting Twitter: that's a good suggestion. I've actually been on Twitter for a year or two (Twitter username = MeFi username), but what limited promotional experience I've had there tells me it's got decent potential.
posted by colinmarshall at 8:28 AM on September 24, 2010

Become known for one of these things, let the rest follow.

I highlighted this reply (and another like it) because it clarifies a strategy I hadn't thought about before. Quite frankly, I'd always semi-ignored suggestions to "just pick one thing and get godlike at it," since my brain doesn't seem to work that way. When I interviewed Merlin Mann on my radio show, he talked about succeeding in this era by, for example, becoming The Guy not on Star Wars but on "one single Jawa from Star Wars," not on the X-Men but on "one X-Man, who died a long time ago." I regard Merlin as a Genius of the Universe and his words make absolute sense. I just can't bring myself to even think about drilling down that far.

However. The line aforequoted and what some of you other helpful people have said adds what I think is an important nuance: don't be a laser, be a wedge. Become known for something very specific, but make that the thin end you use to hammer the rest of what B.S. Johnson would have called your "enormous totality" into the public consciousness. I'm going to think hard about this. (Not that the hardest thought in the world is equal to, uh, doing.)
posted by colinmarshall at 8:36 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

(If successful, I will also write an awful self-help book called What Tips Your Wedge?)
posted by colinmarshall at 8:37 AM on September 24, 2010

I understand the "jack of all trades, master of none" responses you're getting, but I wonder if those are based mostly on your presentation. It seems to me that you are essentially a critic, working in a variety of media, as well as a sometimes filmmaker/DJ/producer of field recordings. That's not a laser beam focus, sure, but it's not as scattered as you make it out to be. Maybe you like the idea of being a jack of all trades so much that you are fragmenting parts of your work that don't need to be fragmented. For example, why is your blog about a variety of topics separate from your blog about the unusual features of your town? And do these reside somewhere other than your main website? They probably don't need to.

I guess my advice is: present yourself cohesively. No, you may not have the extensive experience in any one area that someone else may have, but your experience across a range of media is a strong attribute in itself.

I'll also say that this post does a better job of describing you and your work than your website does. If I were in your situation, I would write a concise, one-paragraph bio that consolidates your list above with linked text pointing to the various sites where your work is featured. Below that I would have a reverse chronological list of links to individual articles, podcasts, recordings, gigs, etc., with maybe an option to sort by media.
posted by Pork-Chop Express at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

At this point, I really feel I ought to put the phrase in its original context: "Jack of all trades, master of none, though ofttimes better than master of one."

(I'm pretty sure it wasn't originally meant as a slam.)
posted by colinmarshall at 9:45 AM on September 24, 2010

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