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Social Media & the Presentation of the Self

This article will examine how the concepts of micro-celebrity and self-branding are used by small business to develop a social media presence.

Our interest in this area derives from the social media campaign recently produced for Montash Jewellery Design, a small jewellery business located in North Brisbane. The social media strategy was based on the promotion of the Montash brand rather than the personality of the owner.

While this was the express wish of the client, it was at odds with the social media practice of a competitor Xennox Diamonds which has developed a strong online following through the promotion and presentation of its owner, Karl Schwantes.

Performing the self – from onstage to online

In his seminal 1959 work, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, sociologist Erving Goffman argued that identity was a “continual performance” (cited in Marwick & boyd, 2010, p.123).

According to Goffman, an individual composed a version of him/herself that varied depending on the context and the audience (cited in Marshall, 2010, p.39).

He further suggested that like actors, people negotiate ‘front stage’ and ‘backstage’ areas of their social lives as part of an overall process of “impression management” (cited in Marwick & boyd, 2011, p.144).

David Marshall (2010) contends that in the online world, Goffman’s analogy of the stage can be extended to the “profiles, images and messages” of social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook (p.40).

This “staging of the self as both character and performance” also reflects the dual nature of social media platforms, which are simultaneously a “form of cultural production” and a “form of public engagement and exchange” (Marshall, 2010, pp.39-40).

Networked publics – modifying identity performance

The notion of “networked publics” was introduced by danah boyd (2011) to describe how publics are restructured by networked technologies such as SNS so that they become “simultaneously a space and collection of people” (p.41).

She identified four characteristics that are important in “constructing SNS as networked publics” and in facilitating the presentation of the self – profiles, Friends lists, public commenting tools and stream-based updates (boyd, 2011, p.43).

boyd (2011) further outlined three dimensions that are central features of networked publics and which complicate the performance of an online identity – invisible audiences, collapsed contexts and the blurring of private and public (p.49).

boyd concludes that in this environment, attention becomes a commodity as networked technologies make it easy to engage with all kinds of people from close friends to celebrities (boyd, 2011, p.53).

Intimate publics – performing intimacy online

In contrast to boyd, Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth (2013) conceptualise SNS as “intimate publics” (p.46). They argue that as the use of social and mobile media becomes more widespread, publics are increasingly characterised by “the strength of their relationships rather than the total number of network connections” (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013, p.44).

According to Hinton and Hjorth (2013), the amount and type of information revealed online is part of the “performance of intimacy” and reflects the ongoing assessment of the social value of this information (pp.45-6).

In this context, Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of social capital becomes significant (cited in Hinton & Hjorth 2013, p.42). According to Putnam (2000), “social capital refers to the benefits that can be attained from connections between people through their social networks” (cited in Ellison et al., 2011, p.127).

More importantly, this network of relationships can result in the creation of other forms of capital such as economic capital (Ellison et al., 2011, p.127).

Micro-celebrity & self-branding – “Soon we will all be famous to 15 people”

Two crucial developments are largely responsible for the rise in the practice of micro-celebrity and self-branding since the turn of the century.

Joshua Gamson (2011) refers to the first of these as “the decisive turn towards the ordinary” (pp.1061-2). He suggests that reality TV has “transformed celebrity culture by opening up unprecedented space for ordinary people to become celebrities” (Gamson, 2011, p.1065).

The second factor has been the Internet and in particular, Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, content-sharing sites like YouTube and SNS that have enabled a “bottom-up do-it-yourself celebrity production process” (Gamson, 2011, p.1065).

According to Gamson (2011), “self-publicity has become technologically easy, and the revelation of the ordinary self in everyday activity becomes a mechanism of attention getting – nothing else is needed” (p.1067).

In this new world, the micro-celebrity is “famous to a small community of fans who participate directly in producing the celebrity” (Gamson, 2011, p.13).

Self-branding is a similar self-presentation strategy that draws on many of the same leitmotifs as micro-celebrity. Self-branding uses marketing strategies to promote the individual with the specific goal of “’winning’ attention, emotional allegiance and market share” (Marwick, 2013, p.166; Hearn, 2008, p.201).

Both processes require a “degree of self-commodification” and the “construction of identity as a product to be consumed by others” (Marwick, 2013, p.117; Page, 2012, p.182).

Xennox Diamonds – ‘Karl’ as marketing strategy

Xennox Diamonds is a high-end jewellery business based in Brisbane that offers a full range of jewellery services including design, manufacture and valuation.

Xennox Diamonds has a comprehensive website which links to seven social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram and Google +.

Chart 1 highlights Xennox Diamonds’ impressive social media metrics that reflect the high level of engagement achieved by the company.

Chart 1. Xennox Diamonds’ social media metrics

xennox1.jpg

An examination of its social media reveals the importance of Karl Schwantes as personal brand and face of the company. The company’s Twitter and Instagram profiles identify him as “Dream Ring Designer” and author of the recently published book, Rock her world: The ultimate guide to choosing the perfect engagement ring.

xennox2.jpg

Karl constructs “a meta-narrative and meta-image of the self” which he presents to his audience (Hearn, 2008, p.199). The tone of voice used is friendly and conversational creating the “illusion of friendship or closeness” (Marwick, 2013, p.117). He signs almost all his posts with “Karl”.

Karl defines his relationship with his audience by strategically managing the topics he discusses (Baym, 2012, p.310-1). His social media content mainly deals with professional subjects that also showcase his expertise.

However, he provides glimpses into his personal life by sharing photos of the card his children prepared for his wife for Mother’s Day, by highlighting his involvement in different charities and by expressing his disgust at the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Xennox3.jpg

Karl’s presentation of the self reflects Alice Marwick’s assertion that self-branding requires “the careful construction of an edited yet authentic self, which demands ongoing self-monitoring, a thick skin and ongoing awareness and evaluation of the audience” (Marwick, 2013, p.196).

Like most micro-celebrities, Karl seems to view his audience as fans (Marwick, 2013, p.118). This is reflected in the monthly $1000 prize offered by Xennox Diamonds for the “Fan of the month” which is voted on by the community of followers.

xennox4.jpg

Karl’s celebrity is also practised by providing his ‘fans’ with “the appearance and performance of ‘backstage’ access” (Marwick & boyd, 2011, p.139). Karl does this by regularly sharing photos of the jewellery he is working on. This acts to highlight his knowledge and skill as well as create the illusion of intimacy.

The audience is also often asked to guess what Karl is working on. Questions on a range of topics are a common device used to promote conversation between Karl and his fans, and among his fan base (Marshall, 2010, p.42).

xennox5.jpg

Karl creates affiliations or “cultural intimacy” with his audience by using “language, words, cultural symbols and conventions” (Marwick & boyd, 2011, p.147; Hinton & Hjorth, 2013, p.44). This is evident through posts that celebrate cultural occasions such as Anzac Day and Mother’s Day. Curated content tends to focus on themes associated with weddings such as the proposal and honeymoon, which resonate with his audience.

Conclusion   

The affordances of the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies have enabled the practice of micro-celebrity and self-branding as a means of competing in the attention economy and achieving social and economic gain (Page, 2012, p.181).

However, these techniques are not hazard-free and practitioners must negotiate the networked environment and the uncertainties created by invisible audiences, collapsed contexts and the blurred boundaries between public and private.

For those who can successfully manage these challenges, social media platforms provide opportunities for small business owners to enhance their public profiles through the performance of an “authentic” online identity.

However, this strategy may not suit all business owners and further research is needed to determine whether the audience’s appetite for this type of engagement is changing over time.

Bibliography

Baym, N.K. (2012). Fans of friends?: Seeing social media audiences as musicians do. Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 9 (2), 286-316.

boyd, d. (2011). Social network sites as networked publics: Affordances, dynamics and implications. In Z. Pacharissi (Ed.), A networked self: Identity, community & culture on social network sites (pp.39-58). New   York, NY: Routledge.

Gamson, J. (2011). The unwatched life is not worth living: The elevation of the ordinary in celebrity culture. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 126(4), 1061-9.

Ellison, N.B, Lampe, C., Steinfield, C. & Vitak, J. (2011). With a little help from my friends: How social network sites affect social capital processes. In Z. Pacharissi (Ed.), A networked self: Identity, community & culture on social network sites (pp.124-145). New York, NY: Routledge.

Hearn, A. (2008). Meat, Mask, Burden: Probing the contours of the branded ‘self’.  Journal of Consumer Culture, 8 (2), 197-217.

Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media. London, UK: SAGE Publications.

Marshall, P. D. (2010). The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media. Celebrity Studies, 1 (1), 35-48.

Marwick, A. (2013). Status update: Celebrity, publicity & branding in the social  media age. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Marwick, A. & boyd, d. (2011). To see and be seen: Celebrity practice on Twitter. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 17(2), 139-158.

Marwick, A. & boyd, d. (2010). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse and the imagined audience. New media & society, 13(1), 114-133.

Page, R. (2012). The linguistics of self-branding and micro-celebrity in the Twitter: the role of hashtags. Discourse & Communication, 6 (2), 181-201.

By Françoise Dixon

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10 thoughts on “Social Media & the Presentation of the Self

  1. Well written Francoise. As a man with little to no understanding of the jewellery business I feel I have learnt about the industry as well as been informed about a particularly successful social media strategy.

    The micro celebrity is such a prevalent topic, and it is interesting that you have chosen to bring it up in relation to this gentleman Karl. Fame is seemingly achievable to anyone these days and the way Karl has created this persona for himself is very smart.

    Using a trustworthy face for your company is a great way to engage with customers and create a line of communication that is strong and honest. Seemingly Karl is doing it in a very enticing way, he obviously knows his audience (choosing to post about Mothers day) and he clearly using this information in ways that forward his business.

    Your article is strengthened with a healthy amount of theory and while staying engaged throughout I felt I was learning as well.

    Knowing ‘who’ you are as a brand is of the utmost importance, because without that previous knowledge of self, no one will be able to trust in you. A strong identity on social media is key to a successful business.

    Adam M

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    1. Hi Adam, thanks for your comments. Karl Schwantes is certainly an excellent example of a very savvy social media strategy. He does a great job and it was interesting to analyse.

      All the best with your studies, Françoise

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  2. This was a really interesting post. I found the discussion around the use of identity masks to be of particular interest, resonating on a personal level.

    The use of subheadings made the article easy to follow and understand. Especially for someone who finds themselves drifting off at any opportunity.

    The choice of video was excellent. It wasn’t too long (hence you were able to hold my attention) and in a short amount of time it gave an easy to understand and comprehensive overview of Goffman’s ideas surrounding the changing of ones identities (differing masks) given the social context.

    The use of Hinton and Hjorth view that ‘the strength of their relationships rather than the total number of networked connection” characterised publics was interesting and tied in well with the discussion regarding Karl Schwantes and Xennox Diamonds.

    The ideas surrounding the presentation of self/self branding/and cultural intimacy interacted really well with Mr. Schwantes and the personal approach he takes when projecting his brand.

    In the conclusion you mentioned that this marketing strategy of self-branding and the ordinary celebrity, that aimed at creating an illusion of intimacy with your clientele may not work for all business owners/businesses. What businesses where you referring to? and for what reasons would this strategy not work?

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    1. Hi Jack, thanks for your comments.

      In the conclusion, I am questioning a number of things.

      While Xennox’s social media strategy has been incredibly successful, it may not suit all businesses because;

      1) it takes a lot of time which many small business owners don’t have;

      2) it takes a certain extroverted personality to create & maintain an online persona because as I mention in the article it takes a lot of work to maintain an edited version of the self;

      3) I wonder whether this is the only way to build a small business brand – eg. could a focus on product be just as effective in the long term and;

      4) I question whether users may ultimately tire of this kind of manufactured personal interaction.

      I am not sure if it is just me but I find something “cringe-worthy” in Karl’s interactions with his ‘fans’.

      But hey, I am not a digital native so I may be way off base here.

      I’d be interested in what you think.

      Do small businesses need to promote the owner to get traction on social media or can they promote the product as part of a longer term strategy?

      Is too great a reliance on personality a risk when owners change or move on – where does that leave the business brand then?

      Regards, Françoise

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  3. Your article on micro-celebrity and self-branding is very informative and well thought out and informed me of key theories on the subject. With the online world growing continuously it certainly seems as though everyone has their own online identity. Personal branding is inherently coinciding with that of businesses, companies and corporate brands. I would like to add that user created content-sharing sites like YouTube and SNS have not enabled a “bottom-up do-it-yourself celebrity production process” but also created a new style of celebrity – people who are “instafamous” or a “YouTube celebrity.” Which can then be marketed towards businesses.

    I agree that those individuals and companies who can successfully manage their social media accounts can create micro identities for themselves and build their public personas into recognisable and lucrative endeavours. But what happens when they share too much personal information?

    The example you give of Karl Schwantes as the online marketing tool for Xennox diamonds is indeed very interesting and does blur the lines of what is public and private opinion. While he mostly seems to stick to fairly professional discussions such is relevant to the business, do you think he shares too much of his personal opinion on the site, for example raising the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace? Would drawing attention to such delicate discussions harassment be detrimental to their business or would this simply show that the company is in line with mainstream opinion. I couldn’t imagine Karl posting something controversial as the face of the business.

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  4. Hi Alyssa, thanks for your comments and you raise some interesting points.

    Karl Schwantes presents himself as a “good guy”, family man, big brother figure (when advising men on what jewellery they should buy their partners) and if the post on sexual harassment is any guide, then he is also a knight in shining armour and a defender of women’s rights.

    As Goffman outlines, Karl seems to juggle a range of identities / roles. This is all very well but audiences both on and offline expect a certain level of authenticity. Therefore, as happens in the case of celebrities / politicians, problems arise when the carefully constructed image is shown to be at odds with actual behaviour. eg. Tiger Woods, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

    One of the risks in associating a business too closely with a personality is that people are fallible. What happens if Karl’s wife leaves him and posts that he was not what he seemed. What would be the impact on Xennox Diamonds? What happens to their social media strategy then?

    Like you, I was a little surprised by the post on sexual harassment. It does present him as an educated man who watches interesting programs on SBS but it could also entail some risk. However, I am guessing it was probably a calculated move on his part to present a certain image.

    It would also be interesting to look back at his social media content over the last five years to see if the level of personal disclosure has changed. As is the case for celebrities / politicians, the boundaries between public and private are constantly being negotiated and I wonder whether Karl has become more comfortable with / or felt more compelled to reveal details of his personal life over the years.

    While personalisation of small businesses seems to be a natural social media strategy, I do think that the risks associated with this strategy have been overlooked. A product-based approach while more impersonal may be better in the long run.

    However, maybe I’m just a pessimist. I don’t particularly “get” social media.

    What do you think?

    Kind regards, Françoise

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  5. Hi Francoise,
    I have just come across this post, and have been reading the dialogue with your readers and followers with great interest. I must commend you on a fascinating dissection of my strategy on social media and “micro-celebrity”
    If i could make one point with regards to the issue raised on SBS. I believe that i do engage authentically, and while on the surface it may appear as a calculating move. It is something that i do feel very deeply about. My European parents raised me to be a gentleman, and treat ladies with respect, and it absolutely sickens me to the core to see women abused, mistreated or taken advantage of. I guess that is why i love my job as much as i do, i work in a beautiful industry, where i get to make women happy, with beautiful diamonds and engagement rings every day.
    The one thing i would say to your followers, is that Social media does take work, so only go into it, if you do have a love of it (which i do). But used well it can be extremely beneficial and profitable.

    Thank you again for the post, i thoroughly enjoyed it. 🙂

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    1. Hi Karl,

      It is not often that a student has the opportunity to interact with the subject of a case study so I wanted to thank you for taking the time to read my post on our class blog and for providing some feedback.

      I chose you as the subject of my analysis because I was impressed by the depth and extent of your social media engagement.

      As regards your SBS post, I blame my cynicism on the year I spent writing a thesis on the former IMF President Dominique Strauss-Kahn. DSK as he is known in France had a media persona that was completely at odds with the reality of his private behaviour and since then I am perhaps too harsh in my assessment of public statements.

      Coming from a similar background to yourself, I certainly have an appreciation of the strong values and ethics to which you refer.

      The question of authenticity is an interesting one and I would be interested in your opinion on the matter.

      If you accept that there is an element of performance to social media, how do you – as an extremely accomplished practitioner – achieve authenticity in your everyday social media interactions? Is that something you consciously strive for?

      Also as a member of an audience, are there times when you have questioned the authenticity of someone you follow? What was it that made you question their authenticity?

      Thank you once again for your insightful comments and if you have a spare moment I would be very interested in hearing your views.

      Kind regards,

      Françoise

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  6. Hi Francoise,
    With regards to Authenticity. I can’t really speak for anyone else. As for myself, i just try and be myself as much as possible 🙂

    It is particularly hard, when you are dealing with “sensitive” issues. It does take courage, to put your views on line, and be open for criticism.

    I think, anyone that has followed me for a while, can see what sort of a person i am, my quirky sense of humour, and love of all things romantic. Above all else, i believe that i am a passionate person, and driven to delivering the most amazing jewellery experience possible and redefining what a retail experience should be like. 🙂

    Social media for me, is just another outlet that allows me to express my mission or “quest”. Among other things that i do – speaking engagements, writing, awards ceremonies, MC etc…

    I hope that helps?

    Karl

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