Work therapy: can a social media coach talk a self-promotion-phobe out of tall poppy syndrome?

Whether you’re a quiet quitter or a 24/7 side-hustler, you work from bed or pace a shop floor, work can be confusing – particularly at the moment.

In this series, we’re aiming to solve very modern workplace dilemmas by pairing up person and their problem with an expert in the field. Together, they will try to nut out a solution.

This week, we’re looking at social media. Everyone from dermatologists to dog walkers has been told that using social platforms is an essential part of building a thriving business, but what if self-promotion just feels … a bit icky?

This week’s puzzle fears that posting more will make him look like a tall poppy. But would he really be scythed down by others?

The case: Dave McCormack

Dave has fronted Brisbane band Custard since 1989. He also produces music for ads, TV and film, and as a voiceover artist he is Bandit in the kids’ TV series Bluey.

He’d like to use social media more productively, particularly to sell his band’s merch, but talking about his work online makes him very uncomfortable. “I’m from Brisbane and people here tend not to self-aggrandise,” he says. “Self-promotion goes against my geographical DNA.”

The expert: Josh Zimmerman

We put the Rubik’s Cube that is Dave to “Creator Coach” Josh Zimmerman. Based in Los Angeles, he has a background in the entertainment industry, and is now an ICF professional certified coach, who specialises in working with superstar YouTube, TikTok and Instagram creators.

His work as an influencer-whisperer has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes and more.

The session

Josh has a calming presence and a socratic approach, leading Dave to push through barriers on his own. On occasions, Dave attempts to throw the ball back into Josh’s court, asking the coach what he thinks.

“We can play this game all day, Dave,” Josh says pleasantly, sounding a bit like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Dave’s professional online presence consists of an Instagram account with a single post of our man in a fake moustache with no caption, and a website with an unexplained photograph of a back porch and a link to the Custard site.

When Josh asks for an example of something Dave might post on Facebook, Dave gives a hypothetical: “Custard is going to be playing at the El Rey Theatre and it’s close to a sell-out … Rage Against the Machine are reforming to support us. We’re gonna do Killing in the Name Of … ,” he says. “I always write the most absurd thing, probably to undermine myself.”

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He stops. “Woah! You’re good, Josh. I feel so much lighter.”

“Where do you feel lighter?” Josh asks.

“In my chest. I’ve come to understand why I enjoy writing nonsensical blurbs – because it’s a beautiful defence.”

Josh asks what Dave’s fear is around simply writing: ‘The gig’s close to a sell-out … Get your tickets now!’

“That people will think I’m an idiot,” Dave says. “But also, that’s sort of the effect I’m going for when I post with all that surreal mumbo jumbo.”

“Would you ever tell an artist not to write something?” Josh asks.

“No,” Dave says, emphatically.

“And what if it wasn’t selling? What if it was sharing? What if you just put a thought up online?”

“Yeah, yeah,” McCormack enthuses, then seems to panic. “Like, for example?”

“I’m noticing your breath seems to be getting a bit shallower,” Josh says. Dave confirms.

Josh’s intuition is that most artists are introverts. Dave agrees. “I don’t want to be singled out.”

Josh asks Dave if he would use social media more prolifically if he was 19 again.

“I’d use the hell out of it, the same way in the 80s we used to put up posters. We even used to wear Custard T-shirts,” Dave says.

“We tried to convince people that we were more successful than we were, but if we hadn’t promoted ourselves, we wouldn’t have got [to] the same place. It’s smoke and mirrors but we’ve been around so long now, so everyone likes us and they bring their kids. I’m thinking, ‘You’ve heard our songs. They’re not that good.’”

He reaches for a notebook. “You’ve heard our songs. We’re not that good … Maybe that should be on the merch?”

Josh brings Dave back on track. “But if you’re not on social media today telling everybody about your new song, it would be the same thing as back in the day, not telling anybody about who you were.”

“Let’s role play that I am a huge fan of Custard,” Josh suggests.

“I would always be so grateful and appreciative that you took the time to even listen to the music,” Dave says.

“So by you not posting on social media, you’re depriving your fans of the joy that they get from you.”

Related: ‘Music makes you fall in love with people’: Marlon Williams on his ‘Māori disco bop’

“I never thought of it that way,” Dave says. “But then to go, ‘Hey, you want to buy a shirt?’”

“When you see a post where someone’s selling something, do you go into that mode?” Josh asks.

“No,” Dave admits. “I shouldn’t worry about what other people think because I wouldn’t think any less of anyone else doing it … Unless they were posting, ‘My songs are incredible.’”

The session concludes with Josh getting Dave to imagine he’s just come off stage after a killer stadium show. He asks Dave to sit in that feeling.

Dave’s takeaways

“I felt pretty good about the session. Josh was smart and empathic, and he did make me feel clarity about some things – I realised there’s an inner critic that is making one rule for me and another for everyone else, which was fascinating,” Dave says.

“But actually, it reassured me how little I want to have to do with social media. I thought, ‘Wow, this really isn’t for me’, as much as he’d be a valuable collaborator and resource for the right person.”

  • Every Monday in September we’ll tackle a work-related conundrum by matching a case study with an expert.