Most IT leaders I've interacted with prefer a good technical discussion with a couple of colleagues to basking in the spotlight and commanding the attention of hundreds of eyeballs. However, as the job market and IT profession have evolved, to reach the top echelons of the profession it's no longer good enough to be technically competent and well-regarded among your peers and executive team. While the idea of self-promotion may seem anathema to the average IT leader, the good news is that it's easier than ever to promote yourself, and you might even find it enjoyable.
It's certainly not news that historical concepts of lifetime employment have long vanished. Even if you have decades of tenure at your current employer, it's likely several members of your staff have had anywhere from two to a half-dozen employers, a standard that's become the norm rather than an exception. At some point, you'll find yourself looking for a new job, or even pursuing a significant advancement within your firm, and be asked about your personal brand. "Brand" might be replaced with words like eminence, industry presence, or external publishing.
While it may initially be demeaning to think of yourself as a product, consider how you buy anything from groceries to IT vendors. You probably look at how the product is regarded in the marketplace, whether other parties have used that product or know about it, and do an internet search or two before buying. The same occurs for people, and if you regard your professional expertise as a product that requires development and marketing, you'll see the relatively obvious need for promoting that product, and unless you can afford a personal PR team, it's likely going to be a self-directed effort.
Rather than regarding self-promotion as a narcissistic activity, look at it as a means toward personal development. Most of us are constrained in the activities for which we're responsible at work, but self-promotion allows us to color outside the lines and explore any topic we choose.
Preparing for launch
The abundance of Internet publishing platforms makes it simple to start publishing, and it can be tempting to dive into LinkedIn or create a blog and start pouring out your inner thoughts. However, take the time to develop your own personal marketing campaign, and consider the following:
Goals: Consider your desired outcome from your self-promotion. Are you looking to advance to a management or executive position? Do you want to be perceived as an expert in a technical discipline? Are you thinking of transitioning into consulting? Do you simply want to publish externally to explore new topics outside your day job? Your goals will help define the other considerations of your promotional activities, so take the time to consider them carefully. If you don't yet have a defined goal, think about the impression you want someone to have after experiencing your marketing campaign and use that sentiment to guide your activities.
Persona: Perhaps the most interesting and daunting aspect of self-promotion is that you're presented with a blank slate. There are no "rules" preventing a business analyst from promoting him or herself as an advisor to CEOs, and the image you craft through your promotional activities need not be handicapped by your current position, work history, or experience. Marketing is a delicate balance of presenting a product in the best possible light without being dishonest, but IT leaders tend to err on the side of caution. At the end of the day, you want to promote the brand of where you want to go in your career, rather than where you are now.
Audience: Since our goal is promotion of our own personal brand, take a moment to consider the audience, especially since your initial reaction might be to write for your peers. If you are targeting an executive audience you won't be showing off your latest Node.js app, just as if you're writing for technical readers, leadership topics might fall flat.
Style and Tone: Think for a moment about the types of content you enjoy. Do multi-page articles that largely agree with the crowd hold your attention, or does a pithy and unconventional blog-length post make you think? Many neophytes at self-promotion make the mistake of agreeing with popular views, or citing existing experts in the field to avoid appearing controversial. However, agreeing with the prevailing views and citing experts is the self-promotional equivalent of Pepsi creating an ad campaign saying "Our stuff tastes about the same as Coke."
As you think through the above considerations, reread some of your favorite articles or watch a speech you've enjoyed, with a critical eye toward how the writer or speaker is branding him or herself. Everything from the title to their writing or speaking style has likely been carefully considered at the top levels toward promoting their personal brand. Use this critical viewing to create your own marketing plan, and in the next installment on this topic, we'll walk through actually creating your first self-promotional article.
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Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.