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We've been through the self-promotion discussion before, many, many, many times. We've even produced a proposed FAQ entry for it. However, with all these examples of what not to do, it's still hard for us to point to examples of good self promotion. Maybe they don't exist, I don't know.

Moderators on Stack Overflow have had recent flags dealing with self promotion, as well as counterpoints brought up, and what we've seen is that the community generally hates self promotion. This isn't a statement intended to inflame, it's just what we see from flags.

I wrote the following today in Moderator chat, in response to receiving a message from a Stack Overflow user complaining about the community's stance against self promotion:

I've not yet seen 'self promotion' done right on a consistent enough basis to know what it looks like. I have seen it done badly on Stack Overflow, and I'm almost convinced it's just not possible to do it well. There's too much temptation.

To this, Brad Larson (another Stack Overflow Moderator) replied:

I struggle with this myself in some of my answers. While I don't make any money off of it, I wrote an open source framework that I reference quite frequently in my answers and comments. It solves many of the common problems that people doing image processing on the Mac and iOS face, so it's hard for me not to say "just use this" whenever I see one of those. I explain a little more here: [link to user moderator message] . I am always worried that I'm over promoting this.

Brad brings up a really good point, and it got me to thinking: When I tell a user to cut out the overt self-promotion, I really don't have any good examples for them to emulate. I have nothing to show them that says, "Hey, do what user X does."

My questions to you are:

  • Are we too intolerant of self promotion as a community? And, if not:
  • What are good examples you've seen of self promotion? What makes them acceptable where other answers may not be?

Please include links to answers that show examples of good self-promotion so I can use these in moderator messages.

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There's also this, which I personally find rather helpful: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/94022/… –  Anna Lear May 29 '13 at 17:48
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I always though the problem with self-promotion was when you used the site for nothing else, i.e., the vast majority of your contributions is self-promotion. –  R. Martinho Fernandes May 29 '13 at 18:00
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The biggest problem with have with self promotion, however relevant and with however much full disclosure, is that there are community members that will immediately downvote and flag such answers, regardless of value. –  Oded May 29 '13 at 18:02
    
With very few exceptions I think "good self promotion" is the kind that emails ads@stackexchange.com - It's possible there are some people Doing It Right in answers, but I can't think of any great examples myself... –  voretaq7 May 29 '13 at 18:02
    
I've done that once, showing my opensource project as an example. I think that the fact of noncommerciality and availability plays a part, so we should look more allowingly at opensource links. –  Bartek Banachewicz May 29 '13 at 18:06
    
@AnnaLear Thanks for that link. –  George Stocker May 29 '13 at 18:15
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@Oded Excellent point, and you got to it much more succicintly than I did in my post. –  George Stocker May 29 '13 at 18:16
    
I might add a longer answer later, but I still think we should at least consider offering an option for people to mark their posts as promotional instead of going after them. Maybe with an option for users to globally hide them. –  Gordon May 29 '13 at 18:35
    
I'm a bit conflicted here. On one hand no full disclosure seems wrong as you could view it as misleading readers, but we should be judging posts on the merit of the post, not the user, so the fact that they are associated with something shouldn't be relevant. I should judge the post on whether it's a good answer. i.e. Does it solve the problem? Is it explained well? etc. Those things can be true or false for users with or without an association. –  George Duckett May 29 '13 at 18:47
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@GeorgeDuckett This post isn't here to debate whether or not disclosure is needed. It's a well established guideline that it is needed. If you feel that it's not, then you'd want to discuss that in a different question. –  Servy May 29 '13 at 18:49
    
@Servy: Fair enough. :) –  George Duckett May 29 '13 at 18:54
    
I have seen a few examples of fairly decent self-promotion. Let me search through my comments to see if I can find a couple. After I get back from grabbing dinner, that is! –  Andrew Barber May 29 '13 at 23:59
    
@AndrewBarber my contribution: stackoverflow.com/questions/14407360/… –  assylias May 30 '13 at 0:28

8 Answers 8

No, we're not too intolerant of self-promotion. I think it has its place, but it's too often used as an excuse for a link-only answer or overt self-promotion where there's only a slim chance of the library, product or answer ever helping the OP. Where the OP is making money from the product the issue becomes even more thorny.

Having said that there are some people who do it okay.

Some deal with the self-promotion side acceptably, but they're still not very good answers:

Some seem to (no experience) be good answers, but the marketing lingo makes me feel a little bit icky despite following the disclaimer rules.

Whatever happens, people are never going to stop posting questions or answers that link back to their own open source software, product or blog. The most that's ever going to happen is that it is contained. The FAQ entry covers it quite nicely:

Be careful, because the community frowns on overt self-promotion and tends to vote it down and flag it as spam. Post good, relevant answers, and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, so be it. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers.

However, I believe there are two things that it's missing:

  1. Hard numbers. There should be an upper limit on the percentage of posts you've linked your own product to. If you have nothing to give but self-promotion, then good riddance quite frankly.

  2. What I believe the point of your question is. A simple addition should suffice. If all links to the product, all disclaimers and all mention of the product name were removed would the answer still be a good one? If it's not then it should be flagged as spam.

    Just linking to your own library is not a good answer. Linking to it, explaining why it solves the OPs problem, providing code using the library to do so and disclaiming that you wrote it should be acceptable.

  3. I'd like to highlight mgilson's comment as well:

    I don't see anything wrong with promoting a commercial package. As a matter of etiquette, I would advise users promoting commercial packages to acknowledge that OP will need to shell out some cash to use that answer though.

    I think this would also be a fair addition to the FAQ.

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I think that the last 2 sentences in this post are really all that matters. In fact, just linking to any library doesn't make for a particularly good answer (No matter who wrote it) ... –  mgilson May 29 '13 at 18:39
    
Sorry @mgilson, you're now being self-promotional as I was stealing from you as you were writing your comment :-). –  ben is uǝq backwards May 29 '13 at 18:43
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And by last 2 sentences I really mean to highlight the quote: "Just linking to your own library is not a good answer. Linking to it, explaining why it solves the OPs problem, providing code using the library to do so and disclaiming that you wrote it should be acceptable." which is not the last two sentences any longer :) –  mgilson May 29 '13 at 18:51

I don't have an in-depth answer, but I do have what I think is one good example.

I think Matt Neuberg does a good job with this. It used to grate on me a bit that nearly every answer of his has a link to his iOS tutorial book, but three factors persuaded me that he was using those links in a postive fashion.

Most importantly, the answers are always useful in and of themselves. He includes plenty of text in the body of the answer that solves the problem at hand. The link to the book is included only for further reading.

These three answers exemplify that idea:

Second, the text of the book is freely available. He links directly to the website where the HTML version is hosted, and in fact to the chapter or section pertinent to the question. While the book is available for purchase, and he does presumably make some money for it, that's not required to use the information.

Finally, the book -- while it is an off-site resource -- encourages self-learning. So many of the questions in the iOS and related tags these days require the kind of mentoring or tutorial help that I don't believe SO is geared for. Providing direct help while simultaneously scattering pointers to a very relevant and quality self-help resource can't make that situation any worse.

I've noticed that lately he has been posting the links in comments below his answers; perhaps he has fallen afoul of some flags already? I think in his case that is unwarranted.

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tl;dr: Read this:

How can I link to an external resource in a community-friendly way?

Kate Gregory's answer does an excellent job describing what a good promotional post should look like, using guidelines that are clear, unambiguous, and fair.

It's not that difficult to self-promote in a tasteful manner. Really, it's not. That so many people are either unwilling or unable to do it properly is an indictment of the sales profession in general (or the haste of its participants), not on the freedom of community members to impart that information in a non-intrusive manner, when it is useful and appropriate.

I've seen presidents of companies lapse into self-promotional market-speak on the SE network. More than once. I don't know what blindness it is that causes people to gush lovingly about their product and how great it is, without seeing all too clearly how distasteful that is. Don't they know that's a turnoff?

But, I digress.

Can it be done properly? Absolutely. The way you do it is to ask the question, "Are you talking to your audience with a clear view of their needs, or are you talking at them, with a clear view of yours?" There is a real need (within the context of a well-worded, constructive question) to plug products, if it is relevant to the question and a reasonably complete answer is provided.

How is this determined by moderators? Well, in large part, we ask: are you contributing positively to the community, or are you just here to promote your product? Boiled down to its essence, it resolves to one remarkably simple idea:

  • Are your answers primarily bare links to your product?
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Kate does a great job describing it, but it's really hard to find in action. –  George Stocker May 30 '13 at 2:11

I think the community is overreacting to self-promotional content. If the answer is made (primarily) for the sake of helping others, why bother who is behind it at all?

I'll point to this answer on Ask Ubuntu, where the script was made by me, the poster and one other friend. It genuinely helps everyone who wants to reset their configuration and that's all that should matter. Even if the poster has other hidden agenda, it shouldn't be the primary concern.

As long as the person discloses any affiliation and is really trying to be a Good Samaritan, it shouldn't be looked down upon.

I think if people follow the FAQ as a mere guidelines, we won't be having this problem. I like Wikipedia for that matter.

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Unfortunately, we can't see motivation, just actions. Virtually every self-serving link placed here (and elsewhere in the network) is couched in language like "here, this should help you". Since Good Samaritans as well as spammers will say that they are trying to be helpful, we're right back where we started. –  Al E. May 29 '13 at 18:36
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A good example of self-promotion. You write what needs to be done and you give the link where the ready solution can be downloaded, or you can read more. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ May 29 '13 at 18:36
    
@AlEverett At which point you start evaluating how valuable that link is to the question posed. I am assuming that an answer is good and the only icky part is, it is "self-promotional". –  jokerdino May 29 '13 at 18:47
    
Then it's really about if the answer is helpful without the link. If so, then motivation still doesn't enter into it. –  Al E. May 29 '13 at 18:51
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There's nothing wrong with the answer you linked. It's informative, solves the OP's problem, and promotes your script without being heavy-handed about it. Everyone wins. What's wrong with that? –  Robert Harvey May 30 '13 at 0:46
    
@RobertHarvey Exactly. George wanted an example of good self-promotion. –  jokerdino May 30 '13 at 13:08

A great example of good self-promotion is BalusC. This user posts immense number of very useful answers, with deep details about JSF. He posts code snippets and fixes to the OP's problems. He also posts links to his blog - for complete code examples or extended lecture.

If you have a blog, you can self-promote it as long as you provide good and complete answers. For example, you post a function with information it was taken from your blog when you can find 10 examples of how to use it. Or to your open-source project, which can be downloaded to test the function in complete real-life example. Or post in comment that if the OP wants to learn more about technology X, he can visit your article etc.

If someone is looking for the solution to some problem, you can promote your software as a method of solving it, but only as long as it is free to use!

Promotion of commercial software is something that should be handled with special care. Some users could be offended by answers recommending using of commercial products, especially if there are free alternatives available. Some don't. I'm more biased toward open source, and avoiding commercial solutions. People form MS environment may have different type of sensitivity. But if you promote a commercial library to GNU-geek, don't be surprised by downvote or even spam-flag.

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Promotion of commercial software is something else. How so? I see nothing in the current rules/guidelines of the site to signify this. Do you have a citation, or is that simply your opinion? –  Servy May 29 '13 at 18:29
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I'm with Servy here ... I don't see anything wrong with promoting a commercial package. As a matter of etiquette, I would advise users promoting commercial packages to acknowledge that OP will need to shell out some cash to use that answer though. –  mgilson May 29 '13 at 18:31
    
It's not directly in guidelines, but it's a general etiquette. If I ask how to deal with the problem and someone will answer me to give some $$$ on a product, which would incidentally be his/hers... I think I would consider using spam flag. But it's my personal bias towards using open non-commercial products. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ May 29 '13 at 18:34
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@ŁukaszLech If it's a part of a quality answer to the post then it's not spam. If it's not a part of a quality answer then it doesn't matter if the product is free or not. The price of the product is irrelevant from the perspective of the SE guidelines. –  Servy May 29 '13 at 18:37
    
I think my answer was too biased so I've updated it to describe how a particular group of users could react, even if they would be/are minority. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ May 29 '13 at 18:47
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While technically users have every right to downvote a post that is suggesting a product they don't feel is useful/helpful (even if their only justification is that the product isn't free, however much I disagree with that sentiment), they should absolutely not be spam-flagging such content because it most certainly is not spam. That's abusing the flagging system and is completely unacceptable. –  Servy May 29 '13 at 18:47
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@ŁukaszLech And those actions would be wrong, and should not be condoned nor accepted in any way. They would be the one's abusing the system if they're flagging an answer as spam just because they don't like it. –  Servy May 29 '13 at 18:48
    
@Servy I think you are right that it would not be a good use of spam flag, however there are moments where the emotions take place. Every Vulcan child knows that emotions are bad, but sometimes it doesn't help :) –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ May 29 '13 at 18:51
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@ŁukaszLech If that's how you feel then you should make that clear in your post. Currently your post says, "you can promote your software as a method of solving it, but only as long as it is free to use!" meaning you really think that people are in the wrong to post products that aren't free. They aren't, and your post should make that clear if it wants to be correct. I should make it clear that anyone flagging a high quality post as spam purely because it suggests using a product that isn't free is violating the rules. –  Servy May 29 '13 at 18:53

The vibes I get are that the community really doesn't want any self-promotion in posts. Even at the expense of missing out on a perfect answer because the answerer cannot recommend the use of his own product.

Whether I think self-promotion is fine or not is immaterial. (I think it is, for the record.)

There are enough programmers on here that contribute top-notch answers without any self-promotion that disallowing all self-promotion wouldn't have a huge effect. Why tolerate the selfish when you have an abundance of the selfless?

Because, regardless of how good the answer is, there will be enough self-promotion haters complaining that the question will get downvoted or flagged.

Just outlaw self-promotion. Seriously.

SO exceeded critical mass a long time ago, and wouldn't miss it for a second. It's abundantly clear that SO thrives beautifully on a batallion (1.7M+) of volunteers, most of whom don't even consider linking to their sites in a question or answer.

It seems like people are wasting cycles on a tiny fraction of users whose behavior is not needed for the site to prosper. Factor them out. Let them advertise on their profile page like everyone else, and that's it.

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I don't have an active memory of ever having seen a good self-promotional answer.

There already is a perfectly reasonable and accepted way to post promotional content at SE. It belongs in a user's profile. An answer can simply direct the reader to look there.

If the product is touted in the answer then it is important that this is done in a balanced way. Don't just enumerate the advantages, also mention how the product may not be suitable. Don't skip details like a license fee, the learning curve, a bug list, missing support options. And always mention at least one alternative product as well. This is however difficult to do without turning the post into a shopping answer. Best to stick to the profile, really.

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I ran into this last week, at Extent of loosely relevant self-promotion. And what @Oded said was how I felt; 8 downvotes in under and hour, followed by deletion by the moderator (who then argued with me about the issue for almost a day).

And ... I wrote about the whole thing here: http://answerguy.com/2013/06/03/thinking-requires-actual-thinking-influency/ (yep. I went there; the NERVE of me! ...)

This is a problem, folks. self-promotion is a fact of life, and the fact that someone has DONE it doesn't by nature render what they say useless, off-point, or anything else bad.

And imma gonna stop there. Let the fireworks commence ...

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So how is this an answer to the question? Are you saying that all self promotion is good promotion and we shouldn't discourage or prevent any of it? Are you saying that you promoted properly? (If so that's not an answer to the question here; that's just discussing your specific case; you'll need to explain how to determine what promotion is appropriate to answer this question.) –  Servy Jun 4 '13 at 14:27
    
I'm saying that we ('we' is contextual, too ... ) tend to get our heads all up our own arses when we discuss this. The old cliche is "when you're a hammer everything looks like a nail". In this case the application, painfully wordy though it may be, is that "when you had one set of rules in mind and used them to state a policy, you probably weren't thinking broadly enough". IMHO, if you allow links, you invite promotion, period. And the only measure of OK on that was did you relate to the topic. AND that's a GOOD thing; it encourages thought. –  Jeff Yablon Jun 4 '13 at 14:41
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So you're not trying to answer the question, you're just ranting on a slightly related topic and decided to post it here even though it doesn't answer the question. Check. –  Servy Jun 4 '13 at 14:44
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How does allowing or even encouraging people to spam links to their content instead of providing high quality answers that actually answer the questions that are being asked encouraging thought? Allowing or encouraging low quality answers discourages thought. As the policy states, including a promotional link, when it's related and appropriate to the question, inside of a high quality post that answers the question, is perfectly fine. –  Servy Jun 4 '13 at 14:46
    
"slightly related" ? I'm afraid we disagree on that one, too. The topic I'M addressing is the way people see things, and here (oy ... what's 'here', anyway?) people seem to believe, perhaps more even than in more-mainstream areas, that they are so special they don't need random outside alternate ideas polluting their territory. I'm calling shenanigans on that idea. OH: and am I 'slightly related' in addressing "the way people see things" on a question about self-promotion, which is all about the way people see things? I say no. –  Jeff Yablon Jun 4 '13 at 14:49
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"allowing" "spammy" links kind of shows what you're thinking. Are YOU the arbiter of what SPAM is? Well, on a site you moderate, ultimately, sure you are. And in a crowdsourced voting system, then OK, votes do what they do. But what I'm hearing is that in these by-nature self-selected samples of behavior ("PROTECT THE BABY!!!!"), there's no room for actual discourse. And MY point is that without the discourse there may as well not be a forum, a comments function, or the ability to cite anything outside the insular little circle that's been created. Disagree? Congrats; you're FoxNews. –  Jeff Yablon Jun 4 '13 at 15:00
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SO is not a forum. It is not a place to hold debates or discussions. It is not a place where everyone has the freedom to write whatever they want without censorship. It is a Q/A site who's primary purpose is to generate very high quality questions and answers to specific programming problems. If you just want a forum to hold debates then you're in the wrong place; while there's nothing wrong with wanting to do that, that isn't what this site is here for. –  Servy Jun 4 '13 at 15:04
    
OK, maybe. but then ... how is the very TOPIC of "What signifies “Good” self promotion? (or: Self Promotion Part Infinity)" even allowed to be here? You gonna learn new JavaScipt techniques from that? –  Jeff Yablon Jun 4 '13 at 15:10
    
This is meta SO, not SO. They are two different sites, with entirely different scopes, rules, and guidelines. –  Servy Jun 4 '13 at 15:16
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So what you say is that you want Stack Overflow to allow self promotion as in allowing adding "visit this page and buy my product" to every post? –  Shadow Wizard Jun 4 '13 at 15:30
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No, not remotely. What I'm saying is that I want people to come down off their high horses and acting as though there's only one answer to (whatever) question, and that what I'm seeing here feels a lot like the ugly side of that. –  Jeff Yablon Jun 4 '13 at 15:33
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@JeffYablon So then your point has nothing to do with self promotion at all? Or if it does, how is that point related to self promotion? –  Servy Jun 4 '13 at 18:44
    
@Servy No. What I'm saying, and I had to give this some thought, is that in the Real World (code isn't the real world; we try to create worlds using it, but until singularity is ACTUALLY obtained—and don't get me started—it's just code) is that everything has room for interpretation; specifically, "rules". And I Believe (capital 'b') that opening a discussion about business processes, even here, even within one "about" something else, is a useful thing. And that's true whether there's self-promotion going on, or not. –  Jeff Yablon Jun 10 '13 at 12:49
    
@JeffYablon The entirety of Meta exists to discuss rules. They're not closed for discussion like so many other communities. In fact, SE as a whole doesn't really have many rules, it has "Guidelines" which are simply what the community has determined to be appropriate through meta discussions. They are not closed for change either; anyone is free to continue discussing any of the standard guidelines on the site if they feel it is time for them to change. So if that's your only point, that people should be allowed to discuss the rules, there's no need to make it. –  Servy Jun 10 '13 at 13:42
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Seriously? You already know everything about "THE topic" so I should just keep my mouth shut? OK, heard you. Have a great day. –  Jeff Yablon Jun 10 '13 at 14:07

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