Representation in Social Media

Representation is a basic concept in media industry. Consciously or unconsciously, representation could be built by media channels. And in different media channels or platforms, the representation will be different. So in practice, it is necessary to focus on whether the representation is built as expect way. Especially, with the development of social media communication which is a “human networks” and reinforce the human connection of information sharing, communication and cooperation (Fuchs, C, 2013), any social media users can build identity and comments for specific target, and share their personal idea publicly. Consequently, it is more difficult to control the representation. Here, three aspects will be discussed. Firstly, some related theories and concepts of representation. Secondly, consider the features of representation, some key issues should be addressed in practice in building correct representation. Thirdly, how to create a positive representation in social media communication practice.

What is Representation

In media practice, representation could be defined as how media portrays particular target such as brands, ideas, products, topics and groups. Based on the description, the public is guided to build their own recognition and identity to the target. According to Beach.R (2013), media represents specific target “ideological” or “value”  dimensions. And the “ideological” or “value” interpretation finally would be translated to image in public’s mind. For example, a large number of beer advertisement address the relationship between beer and party with hot atmosphere; the perfume is connected to sexy lady; over 30% of woman’s image in advertisement is “slim”, “blond bimbos” and young (Stewart, C., & Kowaltzke, A, 2008), and females have specific symbols in film screen (Table 1).

women protrayGenerally, the image or identity created to public is the representation. Consider the definition of representation, it is clear that representation is not inborn nature. It could be created or constructed. Therefore, representation is not the whole reflection of reality. In contrast, as Beach.R (2013) claims representation sometimes is established based on “new reality”. In other words, representation which public received are not 100% matched the real thing. representation

Though media plays the role of delivering information to build representation for target, yet the result of what is the identity is established is out of control. On one hand, to the same target, different media platforms will generate different representation. As the information from Media Know All, different media institutions or platforms will focus on different angles to discuss, which would guide readers to different ways and finally build different representations. On the other hand, due to different demographics elements, public will read differently to the same information. Look at below image, an interesting question: you see an old or a young women? old or young womanDifferent  individual will answer differently, which is because of demographics influence. For example, compared with male, female forces more on such as beauty, emotion, relationship factors. Therefore, if female is the main target audience, these factors should be addressed to attract them in social media communication. Additionally, representation is not fixed, in contrast, it is changing (Smart, B., & NetLibrary, I, 2012). People frequently change their mind to identify a target. For example, in terms of the ice bucket challenge, at first almost all the social media represent it as a brave and charitable action. However, month later some media institutions and social media criticize it as water wasting and people did it for fun rather than donating (McVeigh.T, 2014).ice bucket

Build Appropriate Representation on Social Media


Consider the features of representation, how to build a appropriate representation especially change the established representation will encounter many obstacles in social media communication.

Firstly, how to gain social media users’ trust and further guide them to build or change representation. As a new communication model between company or community and consumers, social media promotion do not so powerful as traditional media advertisement (Villanueva, D, 2015). Consumers would be uncertain about whether information from social media is trustful or not. Take Weibo for example, in China, Weibo promotion requests low barriers, anyone can open account and post information. If the promotion does not work effectively enough, marketers can spend 0.1RMB (approximately AUS$0.02) for each impression to directly deliver promotion information to consumers (China Internet Watch, 2012). As a result, many fake information destroy the trust from users. For many users they claim that most of the Weibo promotion information is dummy message. If we can not gain the trust from users, it is impossible to guide them build a positive representation for the brand.

Secondly, with the development of social media, any users can share their opinion and discussion on the platform. Consequently, both positive and negative feedback will be quickly spread, how to manage the negative feedback to the promoted brand or product or community? In the age of web 2.0, social media users are not only the information receiver, they also participate actively in delivery process, and all their sharing information is unedited (Hermida. A, 2012). Undoubted, consider the importance of “word-of-mouth” effect, the negative and fast spread evaluation will be destroy the representation built before. For example, some chefs criticize that users of Yelp publish many negative reviews to their restaurant, food, service or even persons, some of which are not real. However such review almost destroy the good reputation they hard build (Jester,A. 2014).

Tactics of building representation

Though building appropriate representation faces many obstacles, yet there are also some tactics.

Firstly, good communication with consumers. The key point of social media is communication and especially two-way communication, which means not only deliver information out but also get information in from consumer. Good communication can build trust in depth. For example, when I do my social media project, I used different tactics to communicate such as telling story. Tell brand story and ask consumers speaking out their story. Additionally, answer questions or challenges. It is common that consumers have some misunderstandings. Explaining quickly, directly and softly when they ask is an effective method. In brief, communication is a useful way to build trust and modify your representation in public. And with communication, it is high possibility to guide consumers build your expect identity.

'...honestly I just feel like we don't communicate like we used to!'
‘…honestly I just feel like we don’t communicate like we used to!’

Secondly, pay more attention on detail. Posting text, images, sound or video is common methods in social media communication. It is necessary to check them carefully. Because any detail can change the representation you want to establish. Beach,R (2013) explains that even the color of image will create different meaning which will make consumers receive different information. For example, when I do my social media project, I want to represent two key features of my product which are personalized and overseas. In order to highlight these two, it is not enough to choose normal wedding images. If I post some wedding photos which look similar as Chinese wedding ceremony, how to guide target audience construct the identity that Dream is unique. And I even do not use image with red, because red is traditional wedding color in China, in order to address difference, I avoid this color.

In conclusion, representation is the identity or image public built for particular target. And media plays a significant role in delivering information to guide public to build representation. Moreover, because different media use different angles to promote target and different demographic of public, representation would be quite different to individual. Therefore, in practice, when social media are used to promote or communicate, it is necessary to confirm if the target audience build appropriate representation as expect. Firstly, two-way and effective communication is necessary. In addition, focus on detail message to confirm the message transferred to audience is correct. However, consider the features of social media, some obstacles still existence. For example, how to build trust and how to deal with negative feedback which both negatively affect representation built should be a long term question to all social media communicators.

At last, a video which is about representation would be helpful.


BARRY-JESTER, A,M. (2014, June 8) Chef David Chang Explains Why Yelp Probably Won’t Lead You to Your Favorite Burrito Retrieved April 1, 2016 from

Bassett,S (2014). SY2 Media Representations of Social Class Retrieved April 20, 2016 from

Fuchs, C. (2013). Social media: A critical introduction. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE.

Hermida, A. (2012) Social Journalism: Exploring how Social Media is Shaping Journalism, in The Handbook of Global Online Journalism (eds E. Siapera and A. Veglis), Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK. 

Key Concept in Media Studies (2013) Retrieved March 29, 2016 from

Methods for Analyzing Media Representations (2013) Retrieved  March 29, 2016 from

What are Media Representations? (2013) Retrieved  March 29, 2016 from

Smart, B., & NetLibrary, I. (2002;2003;2012;). Michel foucault (Rev.;2; ed.). New York;London;: Routledge. 

Stewart, C., & Kowaltzke, A. (2008). Media: New ways and meanings (3rd ed.). Milton, Qld: John Wiley & Sons Australia.

Veigh, MC,T. (2014, August 21). Ice bucket challenge backlash fails to dampen the spirits of British charity Retrieved April 1, 2016 from

Villanueva, D., González-Carrasco, I., López-Cuadrado, J. L., & Lado, N. (2015). SMORE: Towards a semantic modeling for knowledge representation on social media. Science of Computer Programming.


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