I would like to start by introducing the idea of self-presentation in the online media sphere. Self-presentation plays an enormous role in social media use. A large part of this creation of online self is known as branding. Branding is an idea forwarded by Smith et. al (2014,P.79), who states that “individual users adopt the methods of corporate marketers, simplifying and honing their self-images and representational behaviors to project a desirable brand “Me”—digitally hip, successful, fully sociable, intriguing”. This suggests that our online personas are representations of ourselves that project only attributes we desire them to project. In constructing profiles, commenting, engaging with other users and posting content, we are shaping an online identity for ourselves; a virtual version of us that actually impacts our offline physical self.
With this in mind, I’d like to show you a snapshot of my online identity.
As you may have seen in the above video, I have a lot of social media accounts on a lot of platforms. At least eleven, but perhaps much more. My first venture into social media came in 2008, when I signed up to Facebook. Back then, I felt like I never needed other social media platforms, because Facebook seemed to have everything covered. With Facebook, I could post videos, photos, statuses, play online games, chat and network, and even have a professional profile. I had one single profile picture, one single persona, and one single friend list. Facebook did it all. And not only was I content with Facebook, but my friends and colleagues were too.
However, after a few years of Facebook, I suddenly came to a strange realisation. I wanted a place online to make dark, crude posts that didn’t fit my Facebook persona. I felt like I couldn’t post them on Facebook – I anticipated a lot of conflict. Or was it because I knew the people in my friends list wouldn’t approve? As a result of this, I created a second me – on Twitter. It exhibited every aspect of my dark side – my Mr. Hyde of Sam Sinclair’s online identity. Just ten weeks ago, I realised the content on my Twitter profile (or rather my Twitter identity) wasn’t appealing to professionals and potential employers. So, just like that, I split my online soul into yet another slice. The same goes for all my social media profiles:
This graphic of my social media personas perfectly evidences Smith et. al’s (2014) concept of self-branding. If there was one thing to comment on my personas it is that over the years, the identities I have constructed for myself have transformed from largely light-hearted, humorous characters, to adult student and professional communicator. As you can see in the Tweets below, there really is a big difference in how I’m trying to represent myself.
This idea of self-branding is not entirely new. The sociologist Erving Goffman (1959) suggested in an era long before new media that we adapt and alter our characters depending on our social situation. Goffman likens individuals to actors, and states that we as individuals act out personas in accordance with the expectations of those around us. Goffman (1959, P.137) says “when the individual is in the immediate presence of others, his activity will have a promissory character”. I believe it can be said that my online identities have been constructed in accordance with this theory. Users may find it difficult to build a professional identity on top of an already existing personal character, as the personal character may exhibit traits that are unappealing to professionals, such as a potential employer. In Goffman’s terms, they simply weaken the performance.
Another element that may play a role in the construction of my online identities is online celebrity culture. David Marshall (2010, P.40), using an example, states “for the actor Vin Diesel on Facebook it is very important that he reveals something of his professional self in a kind of collaboration of his private self”. I cannot help but observe that I have modeled my identities on conventions such as this; those established by more empowered users than myself. I have a professional blog, and a private blog. I have a professional Twitter profile, as well as a private Twitter profile. Like celebrities, when I produce online content, I feel the need to plug it professionally as a celebrity would. Yet, on my blog, I base my identity around revealing personal stories and private details about my life, just as a celebrity also would.
From these statements listed above, we can draw this conclusion. Behaviours behing self-branding, and the influence of those with social power has changed little, despite our switch to social media. We continue to create new identities to impress those in immediate reach, and hide qualities that we don’t want them to see. I argue that while media has changed, our behaviour has not. Just as one wears jeans whilst shopping, and a suit to a wedding, we have an online mask for every occasion. And we are constantly changing them.
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
Marshall, P. (2010). The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media. Celebrity Studies, 1(1), pp.35-48.
Smith, S. and Watson, J. (2014). Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self Presentation. Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online. University of Wisconsin Press. USA. pp.79.