The Ethics of Self-Promotion on the Internet

So, you’ve made your new blog or startup, and you want people to know about it. The first thing you will likely do is link to it on your Facebook or Twitter, telling your friends who are most likely to listen to you. Unless you’re a superstar tech personality with thousands of subscribers/followers, chances are your social media posts will only drive a few people to your website, leading to your disappointment. Sure, you can repost your website multiple times, but chances are you’ll upset your friends through your spam…which doesn’t lead to users who keep coming back.

The article prompted East Coast entrepreneurs to *e-mail* their startups...

A solution startups have recently developed is to promote themselves within the comments section of blogs. It’s not a new technique: self-promotion through blog comments has been around since the dawn of blogging. However, thanks to the advent of Facebook Comments and similar comment systems which tie your posts to real identities, such self-promotional posts within the comments section of blogs are no longer seen as spam simply generated by bots, and actually serve an unintended side effect of extending credibility to website. I have noticed many people in the comments section of TechCrunch articles, for example, are using it as a platform to promote their own blog/startup, as it reaches many potential tech-savvy customers.

However, since this technique can lead to internet fame for blogs and a userbase for startups, both of which are easily monetizable, self-promotion constitutes an ethically gray area on the internet. When and where is it appropriate to link to your own website or business?

Your Website Is Relevant To The Article/Comment At Hand

Posted in an article titled “HTC Unites New Android Smartphones Under ‘One’ Brand”

TechCrunch covers many different aspects of technology, from startups, gadgets, and social media. It doesn’t make sense to say, advertise your startup on an article about a smartphone, unless your startup specifically deals with the smartphone. Likewise, linking to your blog post about iOS vs. Android when the article discusses enterprise software is not appropriate. Both situations give the impression that you just want to promote your brand in any way possible. From a business perspective, it’s actually a terrible idea: you want to build quality users, not just have a large quantity of users.

“Relevant” is a subjective term, of course, but as long as you put forth due diligence toward the appropriateness of linking to your website, you’ll be in the clear.

Your Website/Service Is Polished And Professional-Looking

This is more of a warning than a rule. When you self-promote, you attract attention, whether it be positive or negative. You only have one chance to make a first impression: if you are going to promote your website, you need to make sure all your ducks are in a row. Otherwise, expect some snark.

In this particular case, if you look at the website, the snark is well-warranted.

You Disclose That The Your Website Is Indeed “Your” Website

[![][6]][6]

The issue of disclosure has been frequently discussed on tech blogs, given that some bloggers have made investments in startups that they cover. It’s an issue because it affects impartiality; a recommendation for a business from a third party customer means more than a recommendation from a first party developer/investor of the service. Startups have done this practice, and it’s very sleazy.

Whenever I see a startup promoted in the TC comments without such disclosure (i.e. when they say “this website is awesome and you should visit it!” when THE COMMENT AUTHOR actually made it, instead of being upfront and saying “my website is new and upcoming.”), I immediately check their About page to check if the author is actually an employee. You’d be surprised at how often that assumption is correct. (then again, it compels me to check out the startup. I’m a sucker.)

You Don’t Sandbag Other Websites With Your Own

It’s professional courtesy. As shown with the aforementioned picture, it’s not appropriate to say “this startup sucks, use mine instead!” They are entrepreneurs, just like you, and they have the same promotional issues that you have.

Likewise, saying “Facebook sucks, use my social media network instead!” or anything claiming your website will take down multibillion-dollar companies isn’t good, as it’s hyperbolic and probably not true. You’re *asking* for snarky responses there.

It’s hard to resist egregrious self-promotion. There are millions of blogs and startups out there; users usually don’t find them by a magic Google search. Should you remain ethical with self-promotion when it puts you at a disadvantage, when everyone else on the internet is spamming their website as often on the internet? That’s your personal decision, but keep in mind that you want your users to respect you for the product itself, not how they found it.

-Max

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Max Woolf

@minimaxir
Software QA Engineer in San Francisco, CA
Carnegie Mellon Class of 2012 Business IT Graduate