Avoiding Corporate Humblebragging

The flap this week about Mitt Romney’s son, Josh, tweeting about saving four people in a car wreck, created some interesting debate about humblebragging.  Humblebrag, a term coined by comedian Harris Wittels in 2011, basically means appearing to be humble, while you are actually bragging.  Josh Romney tweeted a picture of himself smiling in front of the totaled car that ran into a house with the caption:  “Was first on scene to big accident, see pic of car in the house. I lifted 4 people out to safety. All ok. Thankful.”.  I’ll leave it to you if that fits the definition of humblebragging or not.

Social media has created a ton of humblebragging from stars, politicians, friends and family members.  But there is also a fair share of corporate humblebragging as companies feature their good works or winning an award in their advertising, social media and public relations campaigns. You know, the “we’re humbled to help firefighters who have risked their lives to protect our community” commercial.  Are they really humbled or are they bragging?

Like the case of Josh Romney, corporate hummblebragging is a judgment call.  One person may see a company talking about how it helped others as perfectly normal, while another person might call out the company.

Here are a few suggestions to avoid corporate humblebragging:

Let the beneficiaries talk about it – Rather than the company being the communicator of support to a charitable organization, let the people who benefited from it talk about how it helped them.

Let employees talk about how giving back made them feel – Employees often play an active role in supporting a cause and when they talk about how it makes them feel, it can be very powerful.

Let customers help – We see it all the time, but especially at the holidays: Retailers asking if you would like to donate to a charity as you complete your purchase.  If the retailer matches customers’ donations, it becomes a partnership in helping a cause.  The company can feature customers talking about what it meant to them to help.  Or at least the company can acknowledge how customers helped raise funds.

The common thread of these suggestions is a focus on people, not the company. (Contrary to Josh Romney’s dad’s view that “corporations are people, my friend”, they’re not.)  Featuring people (not the CEO) puts a face on the cause and a focus on who is benefiting.

But if you don’t want to take any of these approaches, here’s one last bit of advice: Just brag and forget being humble about it.  At least you won’t be accused of humblebragging.

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