“It’s not bragging if it’s true.”
That kind of sentiment has long dominated school yards, fraternity houses and other places where self-absorbed promotion is a cherished survival tool. It’s best kept there, too.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, there’s a fine line between self-promotion and off-putting arrogance. Step over it and consumers will punish you for it.
The key is to strike the appropriate balance: something that many small business owners and innovators find difficult to master. Tilt too much toward arrogance and you’ll turn people away. Refrain from showcasing your strengths and achievements and you risk missing a chance to turn visitors into customers.
Entrepreneurs who migrate to the middle will be rewarded. But make no mistake — you need to self-promote.
Consider the cluttered media landscape we inhabit. It’s way too easy to get lost amid the noise and nonsense online. The trick is making your complete and utter awesomeness known without looking like a conceited, self-serving jerk who revels in his own complete and utter awesomeness.
In short, embrace your expertise. Wrap it in subtlety. Let results — and others — do the talking for you.
Here are four ways entrepreneurs can boost their brand and their credibility by self-promoting without smugness. The best part: all these measures are all low- or no-cost.
It’s amazing how many entrepreneurs and startups let good feedback go to waste. There are a couple different veins here to explore. The first is the simplest — if a consumer says something nice about you, turn around and tell the world.
Cull emails, letters, Tweets or any other message that lauds your innovation, your service or your dedication. Put together a simple page on your site dedicated to these sweet testimonials.
The second tack is more labor intensive but has the potential to pay greater dividends. Identify core clients with compelling stories and craft more personalized stories about their lives, their problem and how you solved it. Allsup, a Social Security Disability representation firm, does a stellar job of this.
Remember that credibility is crucial with these. Use photos, real names, hometowns and any other identifiers that customers are willing to provide. Also make sure you gain permission to reprint their comments or their story. If you’re interviewing customers for more formal stories, considering giving them something for their time (a gift certificate, some apparel, etc.).
As Seen In
This is all about who knows you. Create an “As Seen In” section on your site. Anytime you’re quoted or your business is mentioned in a semi-reputable news outlet, plaster their logo on your site. Anytime you receive an industry award, toss the group’s name or logo in that section, too.
You can garner those “As Seen In” credits any number of ways. Reach out to reporters whose coverage areas include your expertise or industry and pitch stories or sourcing. Utilize resources like Help A Reporter Out (HARO), which connects journalists in search of experts with entrepreneurs in search of free publicity.
You should also pitch your own unique content to influential bloggers and sites in your sphere. Rack up as many quality “As Seen Ins” as you can. These trusted logos and brands instill an instant, innate sense of confidence in consumers. Take a quick stroll down Aaron Wall’s mega-popular Seobook.com to see an example of “ASI” at its finest.
Use Experts to Become One
Marketing isn’t happening in a vacuum. Embrace reciprocity and people in your field who know more than you for content that edifies or enlightens your consumers.
Start a weekly Q-and-A feature that gets into emerging trends or lingering questions. Allow consumers to take part in the discussion. Bring more video elements to your site and drive traffic by interviewing big names or spotlighting hot issues. David Siteman Garland at The Rise to the Top does this as well as anyone in the country.
Then, of course, promote the hell of out your interview with Expert A through every social marketing tool at your disposal. If you’re lucky, Expert A will help do the same.
Build a Community
Cultivating relationships is a huge part of this. Providing unique, relevant content that makes a difference to consumers engenders trust and credibility. Interacting with prospective and current customers through social media isn’t the future — if this isn’t a daily staple you’re already behind.
Churn out valuable content and network until your eyes bleed. Cultivate reciprocal relationships with industry influencers and everyday consumers. After a sustained effort, people will actually begin to take the onus of self-promotion off your hands — they’ll be pumping their own Twitter feeds with links to your site and genuine recommendations.
If someone else speaks your truth, that’s definitely not bragging.
Chris Birk works with GrowthPartner.com, a firm that provides angel investment and online marketing expertise to emerging companies. A former newspaper and magazine writer, he teaches journalism and media writing at a private Midwestern university. He blogs at Write Short Live Long.