Is It Ever Acceptable to Self-Promote on Facebook?

The effects of Facebook bragging.

Posted Mar 29, 2019

"I got straight A grades for all my exams."

"Just got my 10 percent salary raise."

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Look at me!
Source: Cookie Studio/Shutterstock

What kinds of impressions do we form of Facebook users posting content such as this? Generally speaking, posting what has been called personally focussed content on Facebook, such as "A new personal best for me in the New York Marathon today!" is perceived by others as bragging or self-promotion, leading to the formation of a negative impression of the author of the post. However, if this type of information were posted on behalf of someone else, "A new personal best for my friend in the New York marathon today!" then might it be judged more favorably? Furthermore, what about posts featuring more general content, such as posting about being excited to watch a new movie or waiting for the shopping mall to open, and is such general content judged more favorably on your timeline if it is self-posted or is it judged more favorably when it is posted by a friend?

These questions were investigated by Graham Scott and Kirsty Ravenscroft who looked at the effects of Facebook posts on readers’ impressions of the timeline owner. In their study, participants viewed Facebook timelines, which contained either owner-authored Facebook content or friend-authored content, in other words, they varied the source of the person posting. They also varied the content of the information posted, such that it either contained personal information or was fairly general, thereby varying the focus of the information.  This resulted in four different conditions which were:

Personal friend-authored:

  • I don’t know what I would do without you, you are such an amazing friend.

Personal owner-authored:

  • That was the best gig I have ever played in my life! That was beyond incredible! Thanks to everyone who came.

General friend-authored:

  • Having a good night at the beach with a hot chocolate, marshmallows and a fire lit

General Owner-authored:

  • I love BT sports for showing basketball! Can’t wait for the season to start.

Participants in this study rated each post on a scale of 1 to 7 in terms of:

  • Social attractiveness: "I think he/she could be a friend of mine."
  • Physical attractiveness: "I find him/her very attractive physically."
  • Task attractiveness: "I have confidence in his/her ability to get the job done."

They also gave ratings for each post on a sliding scale for:

  • Confidence (shy to confident)
  • Modesty (arrogant to modest)
  • Popularity (unpopular to popular)

Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that bragging on a timeline generally creates a more negative impression. In other words, when users post positive personal content of themselves on their timelines (self-promotion), they are perceived less favorably by others. More specifically, the researchers found that timeline posts were rated higher in terms of modesty and popularity when the content was personal and written by a friend. It is certainly unsurprising that people would be rated as more modest if positive information about them was written by someone other than them.  However, ratings of confidence were higher when the content was personal and written by the timeline owner. It is certainly possible that personal content written by the timeline owner would portray them as being confident. Comparisons of personally focused and generally focussed content revealed that personally focussed content may be more persuasive than if it is more general in focus.

When the researchers looked at ratings of attractiveness, they found that social attractiveness (whether someone could be considered to be a friend) was rated more highly if the timeline content contained personally focussed content and was friend-authored and lowest in the situation where the content was personally focussed and was owner-authored. Therefore, a person’s social attractiveness suffers if they self-promote.  

Task attractiveness (having confidence in someone’s ability to get a job done) was highest when the timeline content was owner-authored and was generally focussed and was lowest in the situation where the timeline content was personal and authored by a friend. People’s perceptions of whether the timeline owner is capable of achieving something seems to be influenced partly whether or not they author their own content.

Finally, physical attractiveness was found to be highest in the condition where the content was authored by the owner and was general in focus and was lowest in the situation where the content was friend-authored and general in focus. Physical attractiveness seems to be influenced by who the author of the timeline content happens to be, provided that the content is general in nature. 

The researchers also found that attractiveness increased when timeline posts were friend-authored and were more general in focus. Similarly, when owner-authored content was general and not personal, this also created more positive impressions presumably because it is not perceived as bragging. In other words, it is the focus of the content and not just the author of the content which seems to influence impressions of the timeline owner.

One issue with the current study is that it was experimental in nature, and the timelines viewed by participants were of people unfamiliar to them, which may have affected their impressions and judgments of bragging. It is entirely possible that their judgments and impressions might have been different had the people in the timelines been known to participants. Furthermore, Facebook allows users many ways to respond to the content they see, such as liking, loving laughing, or being surprised or angry, which is different to the ways in which participants were asked to respond in the current study.

In conclusion, the researchers found that it is not only the author but the focus or subject matter of a user’s timeline content which is important to how the timeline owner is assessed. A user’s timeline is perceived more favorably if the content they author themselves is general in nature, and similarly is judged as being more favorable if it is about them but authored by a friend. Self-focussed content authored by the timeline owner is generally perceived as bragging leading to a negative impression.

References

Scott, G. G., and Ravenscroft, K. (2017) ‘Bragging on Facebook: The Interaction of Content Source and Focus in Online Impression Formation’ Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, 20, 1, 58-63.