Self-Promotion Is the New Referral—Here’s How to Make it Work for You

With social media providing more and more pathways into the most intimate spaces, from the bedroom to the kitchen, quality time with your audience matters more than ever.

If your brand is what other people say about you when you leave the room, what does that mean when so many of our connections take place online? Given our 24/7 connectedness, it means that you—in the form of your online presence—have the never-ending opportunity to leave an impact in all of those precious moments.

With social media providing more and more pathways into the most intimate spaces, from the bedroom to the kitchen, quality time with your audience matters more than ever.

Read on to learn more about the dos and don’ts of self-promotion, how to build strong online connections, and how to drive traffic to your with grace and taste.

1. Keep it Natural

With all of our exposure to online media, most of us have developed a sixth sense for detecting overly aggressive or unnatural self-promoters. As an antidote to those energy-suckers, position yourself as a recharger: someone who, through natural self-expression, attracts viewers to you like a magnet, leaving them inspired and wanting more.

Dawn Perry, Food Director at Real Simple, stands out as a uniquely accessible, engaging, and graceful self-promoter. Her content combines recipe-driven utility and seemingly effortless beauty, with her effervescent personality as the binding ingredient.

Watch a handful of her archived Instagram videos, and these keywords come to mind: fun, honest, relatable, entertaining, helpful, and adorable—especially as she bounces Ramona, her one-year-old daughter, on her hip while soliciting poll votes for “What should I make tonight?” (The result: Nachos 54% vs. Popcorn Shrimp 46%.)

“Users are really engaged and ask questions along the way—when did you add the apple sauce?; what temp was the oven?; why foil for nachos, but not for roasting veg?,” she says. “I thought it might just be entertaining to watch me be silly and spontaneous in the kitchen, but I seem to be creating truly useful info-tainment. I love to teach, so that feels really good.”

2. Love Your Website

Dawn’s husband, Matt Duckor, also happens to be the camera guy for her at-home “Dinner with Dawn” Instagram video series, and Vice President of Video at Condé Nast (the two met during Dawn’s days as Bon Appétit’s digital food editor).

So, when it was time to , Dawn called on Matt to help her create a site that would point prospective clients and partners to her visual resume. “My site is a great place for me to collect my favorite pages and stories, and it’s a spirit-binder of sorts,” she says. “Feeling meh about a project? Look at all that beauty you’ve created! Feeling like you’re not producing enough? Look at all that archived hard work!”

Dawn wanted the site to pop upon first viewing, while being beautiful and easy to navigate. Like her videos, her site reflects her inviting and warm personality. “Once you spend a little time to understand , it’s so easy to update and tinker with it yourself,” she adds. “That confidence-accruing, you-can-do-it spirit is what I aim to teach people about cooking, too.”

3. Go Off Grid

In advising up-and-comers in food media, Dawn suggests, “Be careful about over self-promotion. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, but desperation is never appealing.”

And just be yourself, she tells aspiring food personalities: “Cook what you like, go where you like, and head off the beaten path sometimes. These days that feeling of unique discovery—whether of a restaurant, a recipe, or an experience—can be elusive. But we all crave it. Every once in awhile turn it all off and go exploring: no maps, no apps. That’s when and where original ideas and experiences are born.”

4. Let Your Real Life Shine Through

To cultivate strong online connections, simply be responsive. When folks realize that you’re watching and listening to their input with candor, they stick around.

“There are a handful of people I’ve met online who had babies right around the time my daughter was born,” says Dawn. “It’s crazy how close I feel to them just because we’re posting about similar experiences—teeth! solid foods! walking!—on similar timelines.”

5. Be Open to What Comes

Rather than make frequent direct requests for her audience to link back to her site, Dawn relies mostly on the Squarespace URL in her email signature for driving traffic to it. “I’m proud of it and hope people check it out,” she says.

And instead of actively seeking out leads, referrals, or projects, Dawn tends to let her social activity do that work for her. “What’s interesting is that now my husband and I are often approached together,” she says. “While we’re both currently employed full-time, it’s nice to know there are opportunities out there for us as individuals and as a team.”

6. Remember Details Matter

Dawn describes her videos as “intentionally casual,” because unfiltered and unedited content suits her style. And yet, “People are paying attention!” she says. “They’ll call me out if I miss a recipe step or misrepresent something. It keeps me honest and on my toes.”

When she and Matt invested in an external microphone, they found it made a big difference in video sound quality. But in general, she keeps both content and production simple. “I veer toward actionable and attainable recipes and things,” she says. “No special equipment or ingredients, so folks can actually look in their pantry and fridge and make what I’m making.”

As for the source of her natural on-camera presence, Dawn credits years of amateur dancing (tap, jazz, ballet). “I’m used to being on stage, and I come from a hammy family,” she says. “Also, I worked on a season of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa and remember watching her on-camera and thinking, ‘Oh, it’s just Ina being Ina, with the volume turned up.’ Now it’s me, just bigger.”

So, let your natural personality shine through and be open to all the possibilities your brand and self-promotion lead to, and you’ll be a pro like Dawn in no time!

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