The Humblebrag: The problem of self-promotion

Humblebrag: The problem of self-promotion

Have you ever been accused of bragging? At one time or another, we’ve all boasted about something we think will impress our friends or families. Most of us learn that touting our achievements is tricky business, lest we be labeled a braggart. It’s much better to be humble, so we are told. Humility is a virtue. Ignore it at your own peril.

Braggadocio begins at an early age. Just as soon as we become aware of the fact that our personal identities influence the way others treat us, the process of self-promotion begins. I remember grade school friends bragging about everything imaginable: a banging new BWX bike; an A on a Mrs. Smith’s latest pop quiz; a kiss with Becky behind the tire swings. There was never a shortage of achievements – material, intellectual or physical – to brag about. I got in on the action too. It became a game of one-upmanship. If bragging is synonymous with blowing your own horn, me and my tribe had tubas!

Children might be excused for this type of behaviour, after all, they are just learning the dos and don’ts of social interaction. As adults, little to no quarter is given. So what to do? How can one share personal achievements, of which he or she is proud, without being labeled a bigheaded showboat? This problem was once negotiated almost exclusively during face-to-face interactions, where body language and intonation gave the speaker and listener a better chance of reaching an understanding and of signaling intent. Now, in the Internet age, this is a problem for billions of people sharing the details of their lives on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat.

For many, the solution to problem of how to share life’s proudest moments on social media without appearing to boast is to couch their emissions in self-deprecation or humility. Thus, the humblebrag was born.

In a Harvard Business School paper pertaining to humblebragging, Ovul Sezer et al. defined the phenomenon as simply “bragging in the guise of a complaint.” For example: “Agh! I spilled my coffee all over my brand new Hermès bag!” or, “I wish I wasn’t so generous with my time! Now I’m running late for my next meeting!” or, “Being in Hawaii again is so amazing, but if I go out in my bikini, I’m so white I might blind the locals.” But is this an effective self-presentation strategy? In a word: No.

Humblebrags tend to backfire when the audience perceives an ulterior motive behind the message. The attempt mask the brag with an appeal to sympathy or false humility can come off as insincere.

So why are people doing it? Ovul Sezer et al. posit, people “wish to be viewed positively and attend closely to how they present themselves in social interactions. A commonly used impression-management strategy is self-promotion, which allows individuals to bring their good qualities to other’s attention.” It’s pretty easy to understand that people generally want to be perceived positively by others. Entire industries have risen up with the purpose of helping people improve their image.

Sometimes a little bragging is necessary. In an economy where jobs are scarce and competition fierce, effective self-promotion is a critical skill to develop. Interestingly, research shows there are ways to communicate your finer qualities in such a way that you are less likely to be seen as bragging. Two studies referred to by University of Haifa’s Nurit Tal-Or found that creating the right context for boasts was crucial. The principle is this: “self-promotion in response to a question is perceived more positively” than self-promotion that is unsolicited. In other words, bragging in the right context can be exactly the right way to self-promote.

With all the attention on the transmitters of humblebrags, receivers have largely been ignored. It’s all too easy to demonize people who are often just doing their best to fit in and earn the respect of their friends, family and peers. Rather than calling out humblebraggers, why not rejoice with them in their successes? To the humblebrag police: must you always be so keen on putting people in their place? Every social media post a person makes is representative of a individual qualities and therefore communicating some aspect of your personality. Is anyone truly innocent trying to present themselves in a positive light via social media?

Humblebragging may be a relatively new concept, but self-promotion is very old indeed. It is nothing new to shine a light on one’s best attributes in such a way as to appear humble while doing so. Social media has vastly expanded the potential audience for such self-promotion. But with people eager to hashtag a post “#humblebrag” if they sense a boast, beware how you share your next achievement.

If you have to brag, writer Alexandra Kay suggests, “boast judiciously” and “know your audience.” Keep your bragging to a minimum and think about how your audience will react. Sage advice indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media Commenting: The Terminology of Praise

As a photographer, I look at a lot of photos: adorable photos, bad photos, memorable photos and sad photos. Most of the time it’s pure voyeurism; other times it’s for creative inspiration. When I see something I like, I often leave a comment. It’s something I really appreciate when others do, so I try my best to reciprocate.

Unfortunately, most comments I receive are trivial or cliché. Terms like “nice” and “cool” are fan favourites. While I’m happy someone has noticed my work, I wish viewers would step up their commenting game. After all, there are so many words in the English language, yet most resort to the same old, tired and played-out vernacular. Flickr even has a group called “Commented with Nice” – presumably a nod to the phenomenon.

They say, it is better to give than to receive. So, over the last few months, I’ve been trying out different terms while commenting on others’ photos. One day, while I was surfing through Instagram images, I saw something really special. I fired off the comment, “This is a truly stupendous photo!” The reply was, “I didn’t know what that word meant, so I had to look it up. Thanks!” Obviously, social media commenting has real room for improvement!

The Categories

The trick to commenting with style is to recognize the three main categories of comment terminology. Firstly, there are low-level terms. Although some of the words I’ve listed below have dictionary descriptions that contravene their status as unremarkable, I am classifying them as such because they have lost their original meaning due to severe overuse. Secondly, there are mid-level terms. This is a long list, most of which are infrequently used, but are common enough that they pop up now and again. Finally, there are high-level terms. These words are typically reserved for only the most monumental of commenter reactions.

The Terms

Low-level: These are your standard compliments, props and kudos. A comment consisting of these words demonstrates a mildly impressed viewer or someone lacking vocabulary. Worse yet, the comment was the result of a lazy bot programmer. If you want to comment with style, avoid these boring words, unless of course the post really is just “good.” If you absolutely must use low-level terms, try one of the modifiers listed after the terms.

  • Awesome – Really? Does this post fill you with awe? Didn’t think so.
  • Brilliant – Fine for everyday use, especially if you’re from across the pond.
  • Cool
  • Decent
  • Excellent
  • Good
  • Great
  • Groovy – Umm, the 70s are over babe.
  • Neat
  • Nice – Like your grandma’s toilet paper doily.
  • Rad
  • Sick – Are you 14? Then don’t use this word.
  • Smashing
  • Super
  • Swell – Lame. Unless you’re using it ironically. Then it’s sick!
  • Terrific
  • Wicked – If you’re from Boston, disregard. I have no beef with you.

 

Mid-level: These words rise to the level of commendation and admiration. A comment containing any of these words is a step in the right direction. If you’re getting or giving comments like these, you’re either really impressed or feeling a bit like Stan Lee.

  • Delightful – Kind of like a spring breeze. Suitable for pictures of babies.
  • Exceptional
  • Exquisite
  • Fabulous – Yep, this word is fine for straight folks too.
  • Fantastic
  • Fascinating – Spock would be proud.
  • Gorgeous
  • Impressive
  • Incredible – Use for anything big, green and hulking.
  • Magnificent – Anything in groups of seven.
  • Marvelous
  • Outstanding
  • Phenomenal
  • Remarkable – at the very least you’re being literal right?
  • Spectacular
  • Splendid
  • Superb
  • Wonderful – If you’re German, wunderbar works just as well.

 

High-level: These words rise to the level of praise and flattery. If you’re getting comments like these, you’ve made it to the big leagues! Congratulations! If you’re using terms like these, you’re a master of social media who’s commenting with style. Well done!

  • Astonishing – Pretty much interchangeable with the next term.
  • Astounding
  • Breathtaking
  • Divine – Divas have known the power of this word for decades.
  • Glorious
  • Mind-boggling
  • Sensational
  • Stupendous – Has nothing to do with being stupid.
  • Sublime

Modifiers: Now that you’ve got the terms, mix and match these adverbs to add a little zip to any of the words above.

  • Bloody
  • Damned
  • Extremely
  • Majorly
  • Really
  • Seriously
  • Truly
  • Very

 

Missing anything?

Okay! Now you have all the tools you’ll need to take your social media commenting to the next level. If I’ve missed any novel or mundane words, please leave a comment below… in the comment box. Yep. That’s the one, right down there.

Anyone commenting with emojis gets extra points for being clever.

Customer Service Hero: Dodge & Burn

Customer Service Hero

Many aspects of business are difficult — if not impossible — to control. Influencing, or even predicting, the multiplicity of factors that impact the success or failure of a business keeps many entrepreneurs up at night. Business owners struggle to reach new markets, develop sound supply chains and keep up with changing social and technological trends, many of which they have no control over. That’s why more and more savvy business owners are looking to optimize areas of the business that they do control. Customer service, for example, is one aspect of a business that can be controlled to a high degree. Unfortunately, many businesses overlook this critical area of opportunity; however, my recent experience with an online t-shirt retailer Dodge & Burn reinforced my belief in the power of customer service.

As an avid photographer and collector of camera equipment and paraphernalia, I happened upon a website selling photography-inspired graphic t-shirts. There were a range of colours and styles to choose from, each with a different camera model printed on the front. After perusing through the website and checking out the shipping options, I decided to purchase four shirts. Within minutes of checking out, I received a confirmation email of my purchase and a notice indicating shipping time.  Excellent.

A few days later, I was the happy recipient of four t-shirts. After unpacking them, I washed them so they’d be ready to wear the next day. I decided to wear the black one first, but as I was putting it on, the shirt ripped. Disappointed, I showed my girlfriend and exclaimed, “I just bought this! And now look at it!”

A few days later, I was reading an article on the photography blog PetaPixel when I noticed an article about Dodge & Burn. A few other readers had left comments below the article so I decided to share my experience about my t-shirt ripping. To be fair, I also pointed out the excellent communication and fast shipping of the seller.

The day after posting my comment I received an email from the owner of Dodge & Burn, Ted Rybakowski:

I heard through the grapevine that one of your shirts ripped.  We’ll be more than happy to send you a replacement (provided we have it in stock).  Let me know which shirt was faulty and I’ll have a new one out to you ASAP.

 I was blown away by Ted’s dedication to customer service. Ted was obviously aware of the press he was receiving on PetaPixel, and had read the comments section under the article. He could have easily overlooked my comment, chalking it up to a whiny customer. Instead he took it as an opportunity to service his customer and stand behind his product. I replied to Ted, by complimenting him on his service and thanking him for his offer. To that he replied:

Actually, I saw your comment on PetaPixel this morning and was sorry to read that your shirt tore before you even wore it.  Part of the fun I have in running this business is that I get to run it exactly how I want to, and that includes making sure my customers are happy (it’s right there in the FAQ where we describe our customer satisfaction policy)!  Your replacement shirt is going out in tomorrow morning’s post.  Don’t hesitate to get back in touch for any reason.

Ted certainly made his point: I was one happy customer — happy enough to write an article about it and happy enough to share the experience with my friends and other photography enthusiasts.

When customers are treated fairly it stands out. Sadly, it stands out because so few businesses focus on it. If every business treated customers as fairly as Dodge & Burn did, I wouldn’t be writing this article. It would be par for the course.

The opportunity is clear: when others are ignoring their customers, focusing on customer service will increase all-important brand loyalty. Ted heard that his customer’s shirt had ripped its stitches; however, by standing behind his product, by setting things right, Ted will reap what he has sewn. His act of recompense has turned what would otherwise be a one-time sale, into a word-of-mouth bonanza. As a business owner, you can’t control everything, but you certainly can control your dedication to your customers.

Hey Managers: Listen Up

I’ve been lucky. Over the years much of my time has been spent talking to managers and business owners, secure in the knowledge that my voice was being heard. Admittedly, I’ve encountered managers who didn’t listen to a word I said; they were too busy trying to impress me with their own business acumen or, worse yet, just loved the sound of their own voice. However, seven times out of ten, the managers I’ve worked with have been eager to hear my suggestions; they genuinely want to improve their business and they’re willing to consider new ways of doing so, even if it means pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone.

The years I spent consulting were rewarding, but after 15 years, I decided to make a change. I began working on a communications degree — majoring in journalism — while continuing to consult during the summer months.

No sooner had my spring classes ended, then I was invited by a friend of mine to meet with him and his two managers. They wanted to discuss a new business venture they were working on. I agreed and we set up a meeting. A few days later I found myself sitting in the president’s corner office, taking in the impressive view the city’s river pathways and the mountains beyond. After exchanging pleasantries and lamenting the cloudy, rainy weather, the four of us – my colleague, the president and the vice-president – sat down around a small circular table to discuss the situation. My colleague sat silently beside me while management outlined their goals for the new venture.

After taking some notes and asking some questions, I felt the time was right to start making suggestions and outlining a course of action. The president had suggested a number of great ideas; however, there was one particular idea that could potentially cause serious problems in the future it was implemented. As tactfully as possible, I pointed out the potential pitfalls of the president’s idea and suggested an alternative course of action. Next, I referenced other well-known organizations that had successfully used a similar approach. Finally, I outlined the benefits of my approach and the risks of ignoring it. Having made my case, it was now up to management to make a decision. They made it quickly. The president said, “You’ve made some good points. I think your ideas fit with the direction we want to go”. Awesome. They would implement my suggestion.

We wrapped up a few minor details, discussed next steps and then concluded the meeting. My colleague walked me out of the office and accompanied me down to the lobby on the main floor where we said goodbye.

As I walked back to my car, which was parked a few blocks away, I thought about how well the meeting had gone. When they spoke, I listened, and when I spoke they reciprocated. It was an exchange of ideas amongst equals with the purpose of solving problems. I found myself motivated. These managers had respected my opinions and now I wanted to prove my worth. I wanted to prove that their trust was well placed.

Unfortunately, not all managers take the time to listen and truly consider the ideas proposed by their employees.  In other cases, managers pay lip service to employees by asking for suggestions but then ignoring their replies. Because of this, many employees simply stop sharing their opinions. A recent study conducted in 2011 and published by the Journal of Business Ethics, suggests not listening to employees also tends to increase conflict in the workplace. According to the study, “disgruntled employees took out their frustrations on co-workers because they feared losing their jobs or experiencing other reprisals if they challenged their managers.”

The disadvantages of shutting out employees, and ignoring their suggestions can damage, and even destroy morale in the workplace. In a competitive economy, businesses cannot afford to have unhappy, unproductive employees.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Employees whose managers paid attention were more likely to offer input and got along better with one another, thereby improving the organization’s morale and functioning as a whole.

Employee engagement consultants Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton have gathered empirical evidence supporting the concept that happy workers are more productive. In their new book All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results, Gostick and Elton make a convincing case. They looked at data from over 700 companies and found the ones that were most successful had employees that were “engaged, enabled and energized” – something the authors refer to as E+E+E.

Engaged, enabled and energized was exactly how I felt after my meeting. Knowing that my ideas are heard and considered — and occasionally implemented – keeps me motivated and enthusiastic about my job.  As the research indicates, happy employees are more productive. Admittedly, listening to employees is just one of the many factors involved in keeping employees happy, but it might just be the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to do so. That’s advice worth listening to.

Wedding, Willing and Able: A Guide for Novice Wedding Photographers

It’s more than a hobby – better to call it an obsession. Not only are you passionate about photography, you’re talented too. In fact, you’ve spent the last six months impressing your friends with artistic photos of ornamental orchids, snow-covered spruce trees and that rambunctious baby gorilla at the zoo. Now your best friend Sherry has asked you to put your brand new Canon EOS 60D to use at her wedding this spring.  She has even offered to pay you $500.00. Thinking this fair, you’ve agreed, despite the fact that you have no experience taking wedding photos. You’re a bit apprehensive, but don’t fret. I know what you’re going through. I made so many mistakes during my first wedding assignment I vowed never to do another. In the years that followed, however, I gave weddings another chance. Since then, I’ve photographed dozens of weddings and during that time I’ve learned many useful lessons. A few simple strategies make all the difference between success and failure. If you want to take amazing photos while avoiding common pitfalls, just follow these simple rules.

Be prepared for a long day of work. A typical wedding assignment will include: photographing the bridal party as they prepare, the arrival of guests before the ceremony, and the actual ceremony. Afterwards, you may be asked to stay for the reception, which can last well into the night. Believe me, if you try to do this in formal shoes, your feet will feel like lead weights by the end of the day, so wear a comfortable pair of shoes.  I recommend black Nike trainers. They’ll keep your feet comfortable and won’t look out of place with dress pants. My photographer friend Derrick summed it up nicely: “Shooting a wedding is like running a marathon. You‘ve got to pace yourself and keep your energy up if you expect to make it to the finish line.” With so much to keep track of, it’s easy to forget about eating. If you do, your stomach will let you know about it. Avoid a gastronomic gaffe by snacking on high-energy foods such as protein bars, granola bars or trail mix.  God forbid your stomach gurgles audibly in the hushed silence before the bride says, “I do.” In addition, it’s important to keep hydrated. Packing heavy camera equipment will cause you to sweat and dehydrate, so bring bottled water (or better yet Gatorade) and drink regularly. By being physically prepared you can more readily focus on your primary task: taking great photos.

Get up close and personal. Famous photographer Robert Capa said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Don’t be afraid to cozy up to your subject. You might obscure the view of the guests who are trying to snap a photo, but remember: you’re getting paid to get the big shots. If you have to block the view of the audience to capture that magical moment when the bride and groom kiss, so be it. Do whatever it takes. When it’s impossible to be in close proximity, use a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200-300mm, as it will allow you to zoom in from across the room. By being close, you’ll improve the creative quality and intimacy of your images.

Finally, don’t forget to manage expectations. When the wedding is over, Sherry and her new husband Greg will be itching to see the photos. They’re sure to exclaim, “I can only imagine the photos you get with that amazing camera of yours!” as if it’s all about the camera. You may indeed have some excellent images, but never let on. Downplay their expectations by saying, “The lighting was very difficult, but hopefully we got a few really nice ones.” Once expectations are lowered, your friends will be that much more astounded and amazed by the number of winning shots you captured despite the odds being stacked against you.

Being a first-time wedding photographer is not easy, but if you follow these simple rules, you and your clients will be pleased with the results. When Sherry and Greg finally see the photos of their first kiss, or the moment he slipped the ring on her finger, they will know they made the right decision hiring you and lavish you with praise. Within a few weeks your phone will be ringing off the hook as referrals come pouring in. Engaged couples will be lining up to have you shoot their wedding. They will say, “Sherry and Greg can’t stop talking about how happy they are with your photos. Would you be interested in doing our wedding this autumn?” Being in high demand, your rates will naturally increase over time. Many top wedding photographers charge as much as $4,500 for the day. With your newfound capital you’ll be able to afford that shiny new lens you saw at The Camera Store. And when you print your new business cards, don’t be afraid to add the word ‘professional’ to your title. You’ve earned it.