On average, companies post 1-2 times a day on Facebook, 4-15 times a day on Twitter and 20 times a month on LinkedIn. And while the expectation is that our social media feeds would be filled with interesting stories, many uninspired brands consistently flood news feeds with self-promotional content.

For Ad Age, Curtis Hougland explains this trend as a failure among brands. He writes, “The emergence of social media carried the promise of a new social contract between brands and marketers. A contract based on more reciprocal one-to-one communications. But brands remained self-centered. Brands scheduled the communications. Brands pushed the same content to everyone, with the vast majority of content irrelevant to a consumer at any given time. Worst of all, brands talked mostly about themselves, and always expected consumers to come over to their place.”

People, similarly, spend most of their time exclusively sharing content about themselves, but when they do take a break from posting selfies and pictures of what they ate for lunch, a status update about their employer — a deviation from normal routine — can feel just as awkward and inauthentic as a brand shamelessly promoting its products and services.

For many, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have become so-called “link-dumps.” As a result, companies abuse the privilege of appearing in fan and follower news feeds. Absent empathy, their approach to social media engagement is purely self-serving. And it is no different when team members are the ones blindly resharing branded content.  

To get audiences to listen, brands and their employees must share content covering topics their customers care about. Any attempts at self-promotion need to be done tastefully to attract consumers and encourage deeper brand engagement.

The subtlety of good self-promotion

According to data from HubSpot, the number one reason why people unfollow brands on social media is due to excessive self-promotion. Brands that constantly brag about themselves or incessantly pitch their products and services lose credibility among consumers.

Marketing writer Scott McKelvey describes bad self-promotion as brazen, insensitive, offensive, unlikeable, and unwelcome. Good self-promotion, on the other hand, focuses on offering customers value first and aims to develop positive brand associations.

As social media expert Kevan Lee explains, “You can be self-promotional and still provide value. Self-promotion can be a good thing if your content is outstandingly useful and always adds value. This is how we think of our social sharing at Buffer. If we share the best content we have and do so in a helpful, actionable, high-utility way, we believe we are doing right by our audience. Value takes a front seat, and self-promotion sits in the back. Both elements are there, but the high value of outstanding content is what matters most.”

Companies that do manage to successfully promote themselves and encourage their team members to share their content too, benefit from a 561% increase in social reach and earn 24 times more reshares on social media, suggests research from communications company MSLGROUP.

Aligning brand messages with employee beliefs and audience interests

But to convert employees into active social advocates, brands must primarily share stories that align with employee beliefs and the interests of their team members’ social audience.

In 2011, The New York Times Consumer Insight Group published a study titled, “The Psychology of Sharing.” The report listed five reasons why people share content:

  1. “To bring valuable and educating content to others”
  2. “To define ourselves and others”
  3. “To grow and nourish our relationships”
  4. “Self-fulfillment”
  5. “To get the word out about causes and brands”

People are more likely to engage with branded content when it is helpful, promotes strong values or is an accurate representation of one’s self. Knowing this, companies can prioritize posting company news and content that their team members and their second degree audience might enjoy.