With the emergence and popularity of the concept of Web2.0, internet has become a public space that everyone can participate in and share their own opinions. As internet become a friendly cyberspace, the nature of users has shifted from passive acceptance to active participation. Besides, due to the pervasive of social media, people, especially young people tend to share what they do and how they think on the social media platforms to express themselves, which makes it easier for them to find people with similar interests and preferences. Social media becomes a platform for users to define themselves and demonstrate their identity. In other words, it becomes a way of self-representation.
01.What is self-representation？
The concept of self-representation is coined by Erving Goffman in the book of ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’. He applied the mode of human’s face-to-face interaction in the theatrical performance situation and also referred to the theory of actor and audience in social relations. He believed an individual would tend to manage his appearance and impression when he interacts with other people. To a great extent, our presentation of self is constructed by the interaction with others. The construction of individuals’ external image is affected by public opinion and even has the purpose of pleasing the public, which is even worse within the online environment.
02. Self-representation and digital identity
In web2.0 era, User generated content (UGC) has become a major fundamental concept applied on social media platforms which provides a channel for self-representation. The purpose of why people represent of self
According to the theory of self-discrepancy by E Higgins (1987), there is a real self and ideal self in human’s mind. The real self is the person who we actually are and the ideal self is the person who we want to be or the person who others think we should be. E Higgins found that if the discrepancy between the real self and ideal self is huge, people will feel lost and self-doubt. Selfies which people take and share via social media is a good example to illustrate self-representation in the digital age.
The reason why people take selfie is a kind of identity affirmation. Nowadays, in the virtual community, people tend to share perfect images of them, the ideal self to attract others’ attention and recognition. The example of an Instagram famous bloggers quitting social media platform perfectly demonstrates the difference of self-representation in real life and virtual world. She announced she has created an ideal image of herself on the social media platform, yet which is not the real her. Therefore, she lost her real life to please her audience.
It is true that digital identity that people try to create online is usually different from the person in the real life. Our self-representation on the social media including selfie pictures, political thoughts, daily blogs, and occupation status etc. constructs who we are and shapes our digital identity. However, we cannot validate the authenticity of digital identity based on our real self.
- Dove: Real Beauty Sketches campaign
The Dove Company launched #Real Beauty Sketches campaign in 2013, which becomes the viral campaign of the year. It is a campaign that uses the concept of real self and ideal self to demonstrate the difference between self-perception and description from others. For each person, an FBI-trained sketch draws two portraits based on self-expression and strangers’ description. This campaign used the self-representation concept to describe the usual phenomenon happened frequently in our real life, in which real self is from the description of others and ideal self is a person people thought others would like. The reason why the campaign becomes viral is that audiences feel strong emotional response to this kind of situation, which is similar with what happened in the virtual world where we pretend to be a person we thought others would like and refuse to express or even negate the real self.
03. Self-representation and social media platforms
The psychologist Ulric Neisser claims that self-representation is constructed by two ways which are people’s own previous experience and reflection on the experiences respectively. From the perspective of social media platforms, each social media platform has their own cultural identity as they gather millions of users and construct a virtual community. From users’ perspective, the content users post in the platform helps the social media form its unique temperament. On the contrary, the style of this social media platform created by users will influence the content users publish. Those two sides are interconnected with each other. Once the style of a platform is constructed, users will be greatly influenced by the whole group on that social media when they want to publish their thoughts. Same things in different platforms have different expressions in diverse versions.
04. Self-representation and brand identity
The concept of self-representation is not only suitable for users, official accounts of brands, organizations, institutions also need represent themselves to followers on the social media platforms. The brand image is composed of many elements including color, texture, design, and style. Those self-representations of brands construct the unique brand identity which will has lasting impression and great influence on their users, such as Coca Cola means happiness and Tiffany & Co. means elegance. Therefore, creating perfect brand identity through systematic and comprehensive plan for representation plays a crucial position for the development of brands. However how to build brand identity, there are some approaches can help.
- Firstly, doing research to focus on the target audience
- Secondly, delivering consist key message to build brand persona
- Thirdly, interacting with audience to strengthen build image
05.My campaign: I heart the blues
Back to my social media campaign, I heart the blues is a non-government organization created for the people who suffer from autism spectrum disorders. Due to its non-profit nature, the promotion of this organization on the social media platforms need create resonance with audience and attract the attention of those people caring about other people and society. The first social media campaign I heart the blues launched is called #blueisnewred tries to encourage people to express themselves actively. Incorporating the theory of user generated content and self-representation, this campaign received reaction from the audience quickly. They shared their daily life and own thoughts with the hashtag which become a part of their identity in the online community.
Besides, taking advantage of the feature that people tend to represent the ideal self in the cyberspace, this campaign use emotional words that everyone care about and have thoughts to express to engage with audience. The self-representation of target audience is all positive and therefor forms a good atmosphere within the virtual community which lets the audience participating in the campaign later adhere to the same expression mode.
Overall, nowadays, smartphones is ubiquitous in our life and each person is involved in this easy-to-use device. As social media become indispensable in people’s social life and become the major way for individuals to communicate with others, the approaches of self-representation in online environment are important for either people or brands to build their digital identity. According to the theory of the real self and the ideal self and the popularity of selfie, in the virtual space, people tend to present themselves to be a person they want to be or others think they should be, and that is the ideal self. Therefore, we can say either people or brands are both presenting ‘ideal self’ online. However, there are still many interesting phenomenon of self-representation in the digital life worth to analyzing, which provides many research fields for social media scholars.
Goffman, E. (1978). The presentation of self in everyday life (p. 56). Harmondsworth.
Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: a theory relating self and affect. Psychological review, 94(3), 319.
University of Leeds. (2015). How is self-representation embedded in our digital culture? Retrieved 19 April 2016, from http://media.leeds.ac.uk/news/how-is-self-representation-embedded-in-our-digital-culture/
Valentine, B. (2013). Year of the Selfie: Why Owning Our Self-Representation Matters. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from http://reader.thecivicbeat.com/2013/12/year-of-the-selfie-why-owning-our-self-representation-matters/
Stampler, L. (2013). How Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ Became The Most Viral Video Ad Of All Time. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-doves-real-beauty-sketches-became-the-most-viral-ad-video-of-all-time-2013-5
McClimens, A., & Gordon, F. (2008). Presentation of Self in E-veryday Life: How People Labelled with Intellectual Disability Manage Identity as They Engage the Blogosphere. Sociological Research Online, 13(4), 1.