SID: 430254851 | Michaella Porter
Tutorial: Kai, Tuesday 5-8pm
Hinton and Hjorth (2013) propose that “intimacy can be something that exists between strangers because of the common bond they share” (p44). Intimacy is not limited to that which is experienced between close friends, family or lovers, but can be facilitated by belonging to a particular cultural group. By belonging to this group, shared knowledge within it creates “cultural intimacy” (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013, p44). Similarly, Berlant (2011) suggests intimate publics are strangers, who through ties of shared emotion and views form into communities. Given the basic human nature to connect with others (Rosewarne, 2016), the advent of social media has enabled individuals to make connections online, perhaps without ever making contact in the physical world. As such, social media platforms are used as a tool to facilitate intimacy through which personal information is made public at the discretion of the user. Thus, the extent to which one shares their information online moderates the level of intimacy. (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013).
Vlogging has become a medium through which a sense of intimacy has facilitated the development of online communities and support networks. Vlogs, as seen on YouTube contain blog like video content that offer an insight into the lives of the creator, evoking feelings of proximity and intimacy in their viewers. Success of a vlogger relies on the circulation, recognition and response of their viewers by form of subscription, comments, likes and sharing of their content (Berryman & Kavka, 2017).
One such example if that of British YouTube star Zoella, formally known as Zoe Sugg who has amassed a following of over 11.5 million subscribers (Sugg, 2014). By sharing her life through the lens, she manages to facilitate a strong emotional connection with her audience in the absence of physical contact (Berryman & Kavka, 2017). As Sugg states “they know everything about me…and I don’t know anything about them” (Burstein, 2015). It is clear that vlogging involves making connections with the audience whereby there is a “community at the other end watching and communicating” (BBC, 2016). For one subscriber, they express that when it comes to vloggers “you feel like you know them when you don’t” (Burstein, 2015). As such, it is evident that vloggers have the power to create a sense of intimacy with their audiences.
Given its accessibility to the general public, particularly for younger audiences, YouTube has fostered numerous online support networks. Vlogger, Ingrid Neilson shared her coming out story through vlogging, a video that has now grossed over 16 million views (Neilson, 2015). She expresses how the video allowed for a “deeper relationship with my [her] community” (BBC, 2016) evoking support not only from her existing viewers but also from newer audiences. It is evident that vloggers facilitate online communities of support, within which mutual feelings of intimacy are shared. These notions are mirrored in comments with one viewer remarking “Thank you. Not for coming OUT (sic) but for letting us IN (sic)” while another expresses her feelings of relatedness “she is literally describing how I’m feeling right now” (Neilson, 2015). As one subscriber states YouTube allows audiences to “find someone to identify with and know they are not alone” (BBC, 2016).
Source 1 – Ingrid Neilson: ‘Something I Want You To Know’.
This notion of intimacy and online community is also noted by Gibson (2015) who suggests that it is the anonymity of the internet that allows for the creation of connections between complete strangers. Gibson (2015) speaks of YouTube in the realm of web-based grieving, whereby vloggers share their intimate stories of losing loved ones. An example can be seen from YouTuber Michelle Ana (2017) in her vlog that details the grief of losing her husband, in which she reveals the details of the day he died and the pain that has resulted. This is reflected by comments where viewers share their similar stories. “I lost my husband in October 2016. I feel your pain. Stay strong” with another follower expressing “My heart goes out to you! My husband passed away almost 2 years ago” (Crum, 2017). This example showcases how communities of mourning can be formed based on feelings of intimacy, as strangers can seek out others to connect with and gain support from (Gibson, 2015).
Source 2: Michelle Ana – ‘Life Update: My Husband Passed Away’.
This sense of support network and community seen in grief vlogging can also be seen in the instance of anxiety. Using her high profile, Zoella has used her fan base to spread awareness and create support for those suffering from anxiety. Having suffered from anxiety and panic attacks herself Sugg is able to foster a sense of intimacy and community with her viewers by sharing her lived experiences through vlogging. In her ‘Anxiety Q&A’ video she addresses twitter questions from her viewers. She identifies that many “think they are going through this alone” (Sugg, 2014). The sense of support she fosters is evident in the video’s comments with one viewer stating “I suffer from anxiety, depression, self harm, and suicidal thoughts. If you think you are alone, You Are Not!” (Sugg, 2014). For another they share “I have anxiety and your videos have been like an escape for me” (Sugg, 2014). These comments highlight how sharing her personal experience and advice allows for cultivation of intimacy and community that helps to create a supportive network for those suffering anxiety.
Source 3: Zoella – ‘Anxiety Q&A’.
Given the basic human nature to make connections with others, the formation of online communities that are facilitated through intimacy is unlikely to change. With the advent of social media and its platforms, individuals have been better able to make connections online, even with complete strangers. While platforms like YouTube and others of current high popularity like Facebook and Snapchat can mediate various forms of intimacy, it is clear the world of social media is ever-changing. For example, Instagram recently added the Instagram story update which enables sharing of video content, similar to Snapchat. This can be thought to facilitate a greater sense of intimacy, not before seen on Instagram. Thus, with time although the platforms of choice may change with the advent of newer functions, or be replaced by new forms of social media, the concepts of intimate publics is unlikely to radically change.
Social media fosters connection where there is otherwise non-existent ties in the physical world. As explored here, it is evident that social media can facilitate feelings of belonging and foster a sense of community through which individuals can engage with people they may have never met, in intimate ways.
Intimate Publics and The Con Campaign
The notion of intimate publics can be related back to the social media strategy developed by our team for The Conservatorium of Music (The Con). Our campaign attempted to foster connections between students at The Con and those at Sydney University main campus. By creating content such as video interviews and Friday Features, we attempt to give an inside glimpse into the lives of The Con students. Despite viewers of our content perhaps never having met a student of The Con, by giving insight into their lived experience, we try to encourage our target audience to get to know the students and tweak their interest to experience what The Con offers. By showcasing their passions, talents and interests online we intend to create a sense of familiarity, relatability and intimacy between The Con students and viewers of our content. By fostering this sense of intimacy we aspire to encourage our audiences to “#ComeToCon”.
Considering the course as a whole, I believe it has enabled me to move beyond being a simple user, to now think critically about social media. The concept of ‘used or being used’ resonated with me the most as I had not previously considered the extent of commercialisation in social media. Of particular interest to me is how my personal information, that I voluntarily share online, is used by businesses to better target consumers. This has made me more conscious of the information I will choose to share online. I look forward to continuing to utilise social media with a better understanding and look forward to employ these newfound skills and knowledge in my future work of health communications.
BBC. (2016, June 6). Rise of the Superstar Vloggers [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA3LVgIKoFY
Berlant, L. & Prosser, J. (2011). Life Writing and Intimate Publics: A Conversation with Lauren Berlant. Project MUSE. 34 (1), 180-187.
Berryman, R. & Kavka, M. (2017). ‘I Guess A Lot of People See Me as a Big Sister or a Friend’: the role of intimacy in the celebrification of beauty vloggers. Journal of Gender Studies.
Burstein, N. (2015). The Creators [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrufbDBLK8A
Crum, M.A. (2017). Life Update: My Husband Passed Away [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_DxzDs0zjM&t=756s
Gibson, M. (2015). YouTube and bereavement vlogging: Emotional exchange between strangers. Journal of Sociology. 52(4). 631-645.
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Social Network Sites Understanding Social Media (pp. 44 – 46). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Nielson, I. (2015). Something I Want You To Know [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh7WRYXVh9M
Rosewarne, L. (2016). Intimacy on the internet: Media representations of online connections. New York: Routledge.
Sugg, Z. (2014). Anxiety Q&A [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sjuk3WMZByo