The significance of ‘intimate publics’ on social media

The core concept

With the development of web 2.0,  SNS (social network sites) is becoming popularized, and plays an essential role in individual’s life. It is described as a connection between social media and individuals. The different between SNS and network is that network is used to develop original relationship by strangers, while SNS is for individuals to maintain their existing offline relationships (Boyd & Ellison, 2007, cited in Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). According to Haythornthwaite and Wellman (1998), the intimacy of relationships online is depended largely on the offline ties of individuals. It is a kind of connection, which is not specific to distance between the location of individuals, but can be defined as a context, where individuals have common characteristics. Such as background, linguistics, culture, experience and so on. These theories indicate that compared with scale that networking matters, SNS emphasis more on the quality of relationships between individuals. Thus, its quality of relationship is more important than its quantity. It is useful, although the efficiency level might be low, but it is not ineffectual. Apparently, the distinctive definition and different character of audience between network and SNS, suggesting that rather than networked publics, it is more suitable to use the word ‘intimate publics’ to define SNSs’ users (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013).

Here are two videos to explain the concept of intimacy.

How does the author describe it and ground it through empirical evidence

At first, to put forward this conception, Hinton and Hjorth (2013) cited a survey conducted in North America, 2010, which shows that 89% of Facebook users’ friends are individuals they met for at least once. Furthermore, a large percent of their online friends are their relatives, schoolmates, colleagues or friends in their offline’s lives (Hampton et al. 2011, cited in Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). It can be seen that audience of SNSs are composed of their offline relationships rather than online relationships. However, the authors claimed that this relationship should not be restricted by subsistent interpersonal relationship, but can be considered as cultural intimacy, they explained this definition  by using Herzfeld’s (1997) words: the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with their assurance of common sociality. The authors then demonstrated Herzfeld’s words with an example, individuals grew up in the same town might not be familiar with each other, but they might have similar characteristics, such us life style or dietary habit. Thus, this similarity based on one sort of social connection could be defined as ‘cultural intimacy’. After detailed explain this concept , the authors cite some empirical evidence to show that cultural intimacy is ubiquitous. Although SNSs is spread all over the world, people from various backgrounds have different options. In China, QQ is the representative product of SNS, from elementary school students to older people, it infiltrates everywhere in Chinese. In Korea, Facebook has lower status than Cyworld minihompy (Hjorth, 2007, cited in Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). Philippines are accustomed to using Friendster while Brazilians prefer Orkut. From this variety the authors conclude that there is a kind of national bond or community bond, that influence individual’s social-cultural intimacy.


Image source: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/social-networks/rsunley19/2015-08-26/5-ways-boost-your-social-channels-using-social-media-metrics

In addition, the authors supplemented that SNS can also be considered as a technological tool, which function is similar to mobile phones, telegraph as well as written message, to be regarded as a communication tool.

Another means that shows intimacy on SNS is from individual’s relationship management. Each SNS has a profile which includes user’s information. Users could choose whether to show their information public or privacy, most SNSs has these two categories. For instance, Google+ has a function named ‘circle,’ which divides user’s friend list into different groups such us relatives, friends, schoolmates and so on. Thus, these groups divided by close and distant relationships suggest intimacy online (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013).

How can the concept be related to my own work

My design project is a lifestyle zine named Rainbow, which aims to increase multicultural-communication. According to cultural intimacy, individuals tend to be close to strangers that share common cultural backgrounds on SNSs (Herzfeld,1997, cited in Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). Thus, to build recognitions of diverse cultural identities is a key part in my project. Through these recognitions I can develop audience from different backgrounds. To be specific, I classified Japan, China, Korea into one category,  which can be defined as East Asia culture in history. Although there are differences among these countries, I conclude their common points and post similar contents online. Thus, my contents might attracts users from all the three countries, which is beneficial to disseminating my brand.

In the article, the authors have mentioned that users choose SNS based on their backgrounds. For instance, the prevalent of QQ in China (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). However, my project is based on cultural diversity, which is emphasis on common characteristics rather than individual specialty. Consider from a global context, I choose Facebook as my main platform, because it is the most extensive using platform in the world, its intrinsic value of cultural tolerance is correspond to my theme.

Although the definition emphasis on cultural intimacy, which is beyond realistic distance, we cannot deny the role of social acquaintance. One claim is that SNS is used to supplement existing relationships offline (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). Therefore, we can infer that a good use of offline relationship can improve our online intimacy. For this reason, I connected with school cultural associations offline and disseminated my project to them, because if people knew me offline, they would be more willing to construct relationship with me online. Also, I advertised my project on my own SNSs, not only it will attract my friends who are interested in this project, but also these friends might help be second spreading my project through their SNSs. Thus, it could be developed like a snow ball, so as to attract more audience for my project.


Image source: http://www.socialmediatoday.com

How might my work contribute to and develop on the theory being discussed

On the one hand, except for existing relationship offline, individuals preferred to maintain relationship with strangers online who have similarity with them in some extent. Sense of cultural identity is one aspect. Another aspect I developed is user’s like or reading habit. For instance, my target audience is youngsters, who are more interested in fashion culture. Thus, I post some popular music, video link on the homepage to increase my project’s attention. Moreover, I post contents 2-3 times a day, choosing proper time which follows individual’s lifestyle. For example, I post one content on lunchtime and another on dinnertime, therefore people might notice my content on their spare time thus would be more concerned on my project.

On the other hand, Pierre Bourdieu (1984 [1979]) has mentioned that individuals have natural tastes, that are mainly categorized by culture, social and economic. These taste, has the power to determine individuals’ lifestyle (Bourdieu, 1984 [1979], cited in Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). Therefore, to maintain existing online relationship, I communicated interactively with audience and tried varies styles of content suggested by my audience to cater their tastes. For some popular content, I post some video and music links later, which are attached to the content, to increase audience’ recognition of my content so as to improve their intimacy with my project.


Sam Hinton & Larissa Hjorth. (2013). Social Network Sites. Understanding Social Media. (pp. 32-54). London: SAGE Publications LTD

Barry Wellman & Caroline Haythornthwaite. (2002). The Internet in everyday Life. Oxford: Blackwell Pub.

Dana m. boyd & Nicole B. Ellison. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230.

Michael Herzfeld. (1997). Portrait of a Greek imagination: an ethnographic biography of Andreas Nenedakis / Michael Herzfeld. Chicago: University pf Chicago Press.

Pierre Bourdieu. (2013). Symbolic capital and social classes. Journal of Classical Sociology, 13(2), pages 292-302.



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