When Bragging on Social Media Can Be a Good Thing

For a short-lived motivation boost, bragging strategically will help you.

Posted Aug 13, 2018

Just log on to Facebook, Twitter, and particularly LinkedIn, and chances are, you’ll run into someone bragging. Boast posts on social media take all forms. Some are overt brags about a specific personal accomplishment, such as “So proud to win the award for [insert the reason].” Others are subtler humblebrags, or boasts couched as complaints. Here’s an example: “Tired after traveling on three continents and helping six clients solve their problems last week. So worn out, I’m off to Hawaii for a vacation.”

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I’ve written before about the dangers of boasting this way on social media. People dislike braggarts. Many see braggarts as ethically and morally suspect individuals. Perhaps even worse, they are deemed to possess self-serving motivations even when they act altruistically. Your social media connections may congratulate you when you brag and like or upvote your posts, but privately, they’ll evaluate you negatively.

However, these negative effects of bragging are all about how other people see and evaluate the braggart. Stated differently, they are the harmful social effects of boasting that the braggart may be oblivious of (or choose to ignore).

Is it possible there’s another side to this story? Can it be that bragging on social media benefits the braggart? In this post, I want to focus on the positive psychological effects of boasting on social media in one specific, narrow situation: the effects of bragging on the braggart themselves. The benefit is this:

When you brag, the act itself, followed by its acknowledgment by your social media network, will provide you with a dual, short-term motivational boost.

Imagine the following scenario. It’s the middle of the afternoon on a workday, say Wednesday. You’ve been working hard up to that point, but you are running out of steam. Unfortunately, you still have several hours to go before you are done at work and can go home.

What’s a good way to boost your motivation and re-energize?

Of course, you could drink a cup of strong coffee. However, a non-caffeinated alternative is to post an outright brag (not a humblebrag) on one of your social media accounts. Not only will saying something positive about yourself motivate you by itself, but all the likes, congratulatory messages, etc., that are sure to follow will provide a second, separate motivational jolt.

Brainwave by Rawpixel/ Unsplash/ Licensed Under CC BY 2.0
Source: Brainwave by Rawpixel/ Unsplash/ Licensed Under CC BY 2.0

Psychological research provides support. Studies have shown that boasting, or what psychologists euphemistically call a form of self-enhancement, produces interesting effects. It leads people to have exaggerated ideas about how much control they have over events in their lives. It also makes them see their own actions as more influential than they are. (For example, after you’ve bragged about something, you'll feel in control of your work for the rest of the afternoon!) And finally, bragging produces an optimistic view about the future. While these things may not necessarily be helpful in boosting your motivation in the long run, they can be effective for a short period when you are wilting away on a Wednesday afternoon.

The second motivational boost comes when your brag receives acknowledgment on social media from your social network. This link is based on research showing that when people receive positive feedback from others, it boosts their self-esteem. What’s more, research on Instagram posts has shown that seeing a post get likes actually increases brain activity in the areas that process information about rewards. The more your social media friends like, love, and upvote your brag (even if they're really mocking it), the more energized you will feel.

One important point: To derive these benefits, you should boast strategically.

The key point is that boasting can have useful short-term motivational benefits and benefit us when we really need such a jolt. But obviously, this approach to boost motivation needs to be used prudently and with an understanding of its downsides. The question of how to boast so as to minimize its negative social effects and maximize its positive psychological effects deserves its own post.

In a nutshell, the key to boasting effectively is this: Provide useful information in the boast. Boast about a topic that is close to your self-identity. Make a claim that is specific and narrow, and signal your competence in the domain that matters. I’ll expand on these points in greater detail in a future post about how to brag effectively on social media (if you must).