“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” Proverbs 27:2 (ESV)
The popularity of social media has outpaced the ability of users to wisely use this communication technology and warped our perception of ourselves. Prior to this age, only celebrities of sports, media, and politics had a following and a platform in which to express their thoughts and influence how they are perceived. They had paparazzi following them to take pictures of mundane events like shopping, eating, and family outings and commenting on their purchases, acquaintances, and vacations. With social media, users are their own paparazzi sharing pictures, stories of mundane daily events, and who they are with while doing what.
There is a fine line between what is sharing and what is self-promotion.
The proverb above, and similar admonitions not to brag, were regular parts of my mother’s admonition to a son who often could be too full of himself. “No one likes a braggart” I would hear, and she was right. On the other hand, much of business success today depends on getting your name and skills in front of potential employers and reminding your supervisors of the value you bring to the company. We have to stand out from the crowd of other candidates and, during times of downsizing and layoffs, make sure our employers know that we are doing important work for the company when we are one of many people they manage in addition to the many tasks they perform. And so the modern worker in the business arena must walk a fine line between bragging and making the case for being a valuable employee.
Building a professional platform without bragging
One of the distinctions for the professional is that bragging or boasting involves exaggerating one’s worth and skills beyond reality or hyping mundane abilities. When hiring administrators, I was often amused at the resumes that touted the ability to operate copiers, shredders, and browsers from diverse manufacturers. If you cannot operate any of these without a couple of minutes of training, you are in the wrong field. Likewise, I have seen interviewees who touted computer programming language skills melt when a real programmer asked them to explain some of the simple things about the language, commenting later that the applicant must have “walked by some programmers talking and felt he was qualified.” When crafting a resume, emphasize the real skills you have (and get valuable skills to add to your qualifications) and demonstrate the value you have provided to your employers.
Professional social networks such as LinkedIn (my profile is here) allow you to post a digital resume and have others recommend you for skills they observe and write testimonies (really, its a review!) of your work with them. This allows others, as the proverb says, to praise you. By expressing what you have done in quantitative ways (“I increased revenues 25% and added 5 new clients per year as a sales representative.”) or describing your skills (“I have developed several computer programs and two apps in the Apple iStore.”) you are not bragging but showing to employers what you have done. Writing “I’m the best salesperson (programmer) in the city” is bragging and is probably easy to disprove.
On personal social media, managing this takes additional thought. Are you bragging about your work or is posting what you have accomplished your work? One of the criteria is probably, are you trying to build an audience for your business or just trying to get attention for yourself. I know a Christian lady who publishes posts and videos of her recipes and dietary advice frequently. It is her business and social media is how she builds an audience with which she can approach advertisers and gain presentation opportunities. Posting is her business. I know insurance agents, restaurant owners, and others who sell to individuals who post relevant information and business promotions to get business. Bloggers post links to their work to get readers. These seem to be valid uses though they can be abused.
However, I’ve always been curious about “checking in” at work. Aren’t you supposed to be there? There are other posts where it seems like the person could be bragging “see what I get to do” or “can you can imagine how much I’m paid to do this?” Worse is the “oh how hard my job is” posts to a bunch of people who probably are working as hard, or harder, than the person posting. And don’t complain about your boss, co-workers, or customers ever. Not only may it cause problems, including unemployment, but future employers may see your posts and fear what you might say about them.
Boasting about doing God’s work
This is one of those fine line issues for Christians and especially those who are fully-supported by Christians to preach or do other work in the kingdom. On the one hand, I’ve seen discussions among Christians who note that discussions of spiritual work is encouraging as they see things being done in other places and have gotten ideas for evangelism or service from things other people are doing. Also, we can find out about events, such as gospel meetings and opportunities to learn or serve. Some posts demonstrate to non-Christians that we are serious about our faith and active in service to others, traits needed in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christ and His followers.
On the other hand, when does our announcing a work, discussing how tired but joyous we are having just finished a work, or sharing that we are doing some devotional service cross the line into bragging? Here is a picture of how pious I am, or the study I’m doing, or the good work I’m involved with. The “humble brag” is a term coined to describe the post where the person wants to shout how great they are but the nature of the event is such that they shouldn’t brag about it: “I am humbled and honored to be invited to speak at this lectureship knowing the other speakers are much more qualified to present” or “I am humbly thankful to have been part of this charity effort today.” We can even brag about what our church is doing. I’m not making a blanket condemnation on such posts but ask what are we trying to gain with the post? If you walked up to a casual acquaintance and said the same thing how do you think it would sound or how would you hope or expect them to respond?
Jesus devoted significant attention in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:1-18, chiding those who gave, prayed, and fasted in order to be seen by others. In the rebuke of the givers he condemned those who literally “tooted their own horn” to draw attention to themselves though the givers probably rationalized it by saying they sounded the horn to make sure those in need knew where the alms were. Regarding fasting and praying, Jesus said not to bring attention to yourself in this service. In fact, in Luke 17:10 Jesus said we should conclude such service recognizing this is what is expected of us: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’.” Our challenge is to be content with God’s observation of our service and to let all things be done to His glory and not ours.
I’m not offering hard and fast rules, only suggestions that we check and double-check our motives for our social media posts. Is the good that can be performed improved by informing others about this? Are we trying to draw a crowd to where we are preaching or let people know we are in demand? Are we wanting people to think we are hard-working and generous people in case they have their doubts? Do we just need attention and validation? As I’ve asked myself and others before, can you live without Internet celebrity?