Where are you the funniest, smartest, most Facetuned version of yourself? This week, the Cut explores the complexities, vanities, and pitfalls of self-presentation online.
These days, promoting yourself and your work on Twitter is par for the course in many creative industries: Think publishing, journalism, and comedy. But just because a public presence is required doesn’t mean it’s simple — so the Cut asked women whose online voices we admire to tell us how they handle it.
Below, read responses from Jezebel founder Anna Holmes, New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum, writer and activist Feminista Jones, and more.
“A real brassy female show-off is like a rare unicorn.”
All self-promotion skeevs me out a bit. I even have a hard time emailing my parents pieces I’ve written. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I don’t want to be the kind of person who’s tripping over themselves to drop their accomplishments into casual conversation. (This is everyone in L.A. Since moving here I’ve learned that “How are you?” is a leading question. People respond with: “My script just sold!”) That said, I am a writer, and as such I am that potent combination of highly insecure and a raging ego monster, so of course I tweet out all my work. At this point, it feels like one of those things that might be a tad shameful, but everyone’s doing it, so what the hell — like stealing towels from the gym. There’s also the nice rationale that this is part of my job now — employers expect me to tweet out my work, the more eyeballs the better, etc. I usually try to disguise the blatant brag of it all with something undermine-y like “please fill my deep dark need hole by reading this piece I wrote,” though now I’m realizing that may in fact be a humble brag.
It’s strange — even though self-promotion gives me some anxiety — I don’t usually mind when others do it. Especially women. Maybe that’s unfair. But a real brassy female show-off is like a rare unicorn. I want to pet her. The buck stops at retweeting praise, though. That is too far! It’s just gross to share your compliments unabashedly with the world. Hold them close to your heart. Masturbate to them. Whatever. Just don’t retweet them willy-nilly. It’s being the social-media version of Fanny from Sense and Sensibility: “I wouldn’t say it myself, but many of my friends say I have the most exquisite taste.” (Lauren Bans, @LaurenBans, writer)
“Why should I feel guilty?”
Most of my social-media presence is either talking about how awesome I am or how awesome other women are. I don’t think there’s anything weird or shameful in taking to a platform and saying, “I wrote this, read it” or “I’m proud of this, read it.” It’s important to me to eschew any feelings about promotionally based guilt because, at the end of the day, I’m doing it because it makes me happy and fulfilled. Why should I feel guilty about that?
I hate the idea that social-media accounts — or people, for that matter, and especially women — have to fit into this sort of mold or type to be taken seriously. Like many of those on Twitter, I am a human being, so it’s not weird to me to tweet about systemic racism and tacos in the same day — those are two things that coexist in my world, and there’s nothing weird about that juxtaposition. My feelings on Ferguson absolutely should not be discounted because I also take toilet selfies, and anyone who thinks so is a goddamned ninny. (Jazmine Hughes, @jazzedloon, contributing editor at the Hairpin)
“Women have to promote themselves more.”
Anytime I put information out about what I’m doing, I get a little nervous about what the negative response is going to be. There are always going to be people who may not like the work that I do, or may not like me, or may not like the attention I get. I have almost 45,000 followers, so it’s tough because you never know when someone’s going to read something the wrong way or take it the wrong way, and start attacking me.
What people don’t realize is that women have to promote themselves more. We don’t get the kind of endorsements that men do — we don’t have all these different sources trying to promote us and what we’re doing. We get pushed into niche markets and niche kinds of advertising, so we have to promote ourselves — particularly as women of color. And people get bothered and annoyed like, “Why are you always doing this?” Because nobody else is! We have to! Women have to do it more, and we get criticized for it, like we’re showboating. They’re like, “If your work was so great, it would speak for itself.” Hello? Our work would speak for itself if you didn’t silence it and ignore it. (Feminista Jones, @FeministaJones, writer, activist, and social worker)
“I occasionally think I should tweet less.”
I’m not mainly using Twitter for self-promotion: I’m using it for debate and humor and radical access to a lively global perspective on television and politics. I do generally tweet out my columns, and I respond to people’s comments on my writing, but that just seems practical — I want people to read my writing and some of the people who follow me are interested in my criticism.
I don’t re-tweet praise. I do understand why people do this — and honestly, if I had a book out, I’d likely participate, since it’s the equivalent of posting good reviews, and it’s an author’s job to drive up sales — but it isn’t something that feels organic to me. It seems like saying, “See that guy across the room? He thinks I’m smart and funny.” Pragmatically speaking, I think it might make me look braggy or insecure. On the other hand, I’m also free not to RT praise because it’s not necessary for my job, which doesn’t rely on web traffic. I’m lucky enough to have a good job at a well-known place, so my workplace doesn’t push me to self-promote. I occasionally think I should tweet less, but that’s more about procrastination than self-promotion. (Emily Nussbaum, @emilynussbaum, television critic at The New Yorker)
“Social-media behavior is like the way you run or kiss or dress.”
I do not feel any anxiety about promoting my work on social media, but I also don’t feel any type of way about my social-media behavior except for an aversion to thinking about it. Social-media behavior is like the way you run or kiss or dress — unless you really want to go out of your way, it’s just gonna be the way it is. It seems like the very last bit of fun would go out of social media if it were a calculated thing, anyway. The whole point of being a person and not a brand is to at least try to get some dumb enjoyment out of things. I don’t think I mind self-promotion on Twitter any more than I’d mind it in real life. I like it when people tell me what they’re working on, and when they’re excited about their work. If it’s all they can talk about, that’s another story — or if it’s boring, or whatever. (Jia Tolentino, @jiatolentino, features editor at Jezebel)
“I’m not sure I do it very well.”
I don’t know I’d define [my feelings around self-promotion] so much as anxiety as “self-loathing.” Why? Because I’m not sure I do it very well and because I see so many others doing it badly, which is to say: constantly, without any self-awareness, or curiosity. Folks who use social media as a way to monologue, not dialogue, are some of the worst folks on the internet.
I wonder sometimes whether I’d see some sort of professional or personal benefit were I to carry on the way certain other folks do on Twitter, but then I realize I don’t really have it in me. And hell, for all I know, maybe I’m an annoying self-promotional asshole to tons of other folks! As for where the pressure comes from, God, I don’t know. Probably from the person who first used the term “brand” to describe a human being’s professional career and reputation as opposed to a type of hair conditioner or breakfast cereal. (Anna Holmes, @AnnaHolmes, founder of Jezebel, editor at Fusion)
“Save the bitchy comments and inside jokes for Gchat.”
I don’t feel that much anxiety about promoting my work on Twitter because I think of my tweets as an extension of my professional duties, not my personal character. This is mostly because my sources Google me and I want them to take me seriously, but I’d also rather save the bitchy comments and inside jokes for Gchat, and the intimate details for Instagram. As a result, my Twitter feed doesn’t really represent who I am ~IRL~ and that’s what I prefer.
I always immediately regret mean tweets. That’s why I save my judgmental gripes (and trust me, I have many!) for my friends. I think it’s pathetic that so many writers think it’s brave or honest to publicly shit-talk other writers and publications. If someone wrote something racist or sexist or otherwise prejudiced, go for it. Otherwise, who cares? (Katie J. M. Baker, @katiejmbaker, reporter at BuzzFeed News)
“It’s a very uncool thing.”
It’s hard to be cool about social media. It’s a very uncool thing. If I let myself go wild, I would tweet every tiny thought. I think less is more when it comes to tweeting. I hate that Twitter displays how many times you’ve tweeted. I don’t retweet praise, I think that’s weird. I think you should tweet your piece once and be done with it. (Leah Finnegan, @leahfinnegan, features editor at Gawker)
“Self-promoting as an internet writer is a cakewalk.”
I don’t ever feel bad about promoting my work on Twitter. It feels very normal and not gross and self-promote-y for writers to tweet out links; that’s what lots of people are doing. It’s much, much harder to do self-promotion in other industries where you don’t have some concrete thing to link to and say, “here, read this, you can decide for yourself if it’s any good.” Before I worked as a writer at BuzzFeed, I had a different career, and professional self-promotion was much more of a fraught issue for me. When you don’t have concrete things like “here is an article I wrote,” it’s hard to promote yourself both internally to your boss and also externally to the rest of your industry. That’s why psyching yourself up to ask for a raise or write a braggy cover letter is so fucking painful for a lot of people — it feels unnatural, but you know you have to do it. Self-promoting as an internet writer is a cakewalk compared to that. (Katie Notopoulos, @katienotopoulos, senior editor at BuzzFeed)
“Never share a link with the comment ‘I wrote a thing.’”
When it comes to having any kind of public voice, women are always judged more harshly. You just can’t do “right” enough for some people. If you RT praise, you think you’re the shit, and if you don’t, you’re ignoring people who care about your work. There’s a special breed of shame reserved for women, and people love to fling it at us no matter what. And yes, initially, that greatly influenced the way I operated online. Now? If you don’t love me or pay me, I’m not super-interested in your opinions about how I share my work.
The only rule I have about tweeting about my work is to never share a link with the comment “I wrote a thing.” I used to do this ALL the time, and it was clearly to almost make the sharing of the work invisible. Despite the fact that people obviously made the CHOICE to follow me on social media, I still thought it would be somehow disrespectful to their timelines, newsfeeds, or general expectations about what I would share. Now, I don’t do that. I say what I wrote about, then I share the link. Boom. (Ashley Ford, @iSmashFizzle, writer)
“I aim to bring news of a particular kind to people who are interested.”
The way I use social media has less to do with trying to avoid embarrassment than it does with trying to be useful, helpful, funny, and part of a larger conversation. When people try to shame me now it’s so transparent to me what they’re doing I usually find it funny. I’ve had over a decade to get used to this, though. It’s painful to watch women reel in their self-promo or their whatever because they’re being made fun of.
Promoting my work via social media doesn’t give me anxiety because after years of trial and error, I’m learning how to do it in a way that’s useful, not intrusive or pointlessly show-off-y. A few years ago, I might have tweeted “I wrote a thing! [link]” in the hopes of — I don’t know — praise and recognition? Getting readers to go to a website that I don’t work for? Now I don’t tweet or post on my blog or Tumblr or write a newsletter about every single thing I do or write. Instead, I aim to bring news of a particular kind to people who are interested in hearing about that stuff, and that often means sharing other people’s work more than I share my own. But I do share my own work when I’m proud of it. For my sanity’s sake, I try to trick myself into believing that if I do something really good, I can trust it to speak for itself with only a little initial push from me. (Emily Gould, @EmilyGould, writer, co-owner of Emily Books)
I like to promote myself on social media because it shows people I’m staying busy and doing great things. I already fill my timelines with a lot of entertaining content, so I call it commercials during the programming. As a stand-up, I have a specific goal of getting people interested in coming to my shows by building my brand. No regrets. As a comedic actor, I have a specific goal of getting people interested in working with me, and I have gotten work from it, so I don’t regret that either. If self-promotion stopped serving those purposes I wouldn’t do it.
I feel pressure to do it sparingly and creatively, so that it doesn’t become spam to people. But if I reached a level of recognizability — like I had die-hard followers who thought I could tweet no wrong — I wouldn’t care so much about losing professional contacts through over-promotion. The fans would keep RT-ing my accomplishments, which would keep my reach growing. We call that “having draw” in stand-up comedy. (Abbi Crutchfield, @curlycomedy, comedian)
These responses have been edited and condensed.