This series of five blog posts examines key issues that I need to consider in building my own social media presence, influence and future employability. I currently work as a public servant, developing the creative, cultural and digital industries across Greater Birmingham and the West Midlands. In the future I may well wish to return to my previous role, as a freelance consultant.
I work in a very political world, where profile and influence are crucial. I realise that actively managing my on-line presence is vital and that starts with ensuring I have an authentic voice.
But what does authenticity mean in this context?
Marwick and Boyd (2010) explored authenticity in self-presentation by researching twitter users, their work identified six factors that need to be considered:
- Strategic Audience
- Navigating Multiple Audiences
- Front Stage versus Backstage
- Self-Censorship & ‘To Much Information’ (TMI)
- Personal Content
Their research showed that our own purpose for publishing is crucial in determining strategic audiences. Some users responded that they were ‘just talking to themselves’ others ‘engaging with their fan base’ or ‘building a profile to launch their career’. Everyone had their own ‘cognitively constructed audience’ (Boyd 2006).
My own twitter by-line (@davidfurmage) sets my strategic audience, ‘Passionate about Creative Policy … enthusiastic about Photography and Film’. It gives a background context of my expertise, ‘Work in economic development for Greater Birmingham’, and clarifies the ownership of what I say, ‘Tweets are my own’.
As a freelance policy consultant, until this year, my goal was to build a trusted base of followers, one or two of which may employ me! Now my immediate goal is to strengthen my voice and say useful and interesting things that both help me, help my employer and grow my influence. My twitter stream is a personal voice, hence the photography and film, but my employer has asked me to tweet for them on it as well as contribute to their own social media stream.
In reality our imagined audience is not really singular, as social media tends to flatten audiences into a simpler version of itself. So in my case, not all followers will be interested in creative policy and photography! Also, some will be genuine friends, who I might have shared with more personally, whereas others are more corporate. Thus we must all learn to navigate multiple audiences.
To do this we must think carefully about how we target our content, for example using keywords and tags, so that individual followers can pull different posts ‘on demand’.
Using twitter we are constructing a ‘meta-narrative and meta-image of ourselves (Hearn 2008) which is wrapped up in the notion that we value whatever grabs the public’s attention, ‘The Ideology of Publicity’ (Dean 2002).
This subject was first tackled by Goffman (1959), who established the idea of ‘Front-Stage’ versus ‘Back Stage’. He argued that the presentation of ourselves, our ‘persona’, was like the performance of an actor on a stage. In that context there were some things spoken to all but other things, the ‘back stage’, that we kept to a select few.
This is connected into the issue of self-censorship. Their research showed there were taboo areas, like sex or family arguments and personal areas, that were TMI (too much information!). Users self-censored based on their perceived most critical judges, usually parents, close family and employers.
This brings us to their idea that we are all ‘micro-celebrities’, each focused on fine-tuning our on-line presence and increasing our ‘followers’. I have been trying to do this with little success for ages … I must work harder now to increase my user base!
Marwick and Boyd’s research identified that to be truly authentic means to share something personal about yourself and your private life. Goffman would regard this as allowing a glimpse ‘back-stage’, so we say something about what we are really thinking and feeling.
For me, their approach is an interesting introduction to the field of authenticity and self-presentation. Their six factors resonate as an effective way of analysing the issues. I do take slight issue with their assertion that only ‘personal information’ from our ‘back-stage’ can be the ingredient that brings authenticity. I feel that respect and trust in my core area of expertise should be the starting point for authenticity. But I will throw in a few personal glimpses of my passions, for light relief and to make me a little more ‘human’!
This analysis has helped me understand more accurately what content should be on my twitter stream. I will now ensure that the professional and valuable’ is blended with a glimpse of my ‘back stage’, which should include my photographic experiences and love of film and indie production. Above all, I will try to have honest and valuable things to say first and foremost.
The next step for me is building stronger social capital, which is the subject of my 2nd blog.
Marwick, Alice E and Boyd, Danah (2010) ‘I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter users, Context Collapse and the Imaged Audience’. New Media & Society
Boyd, D (2006) A Blogger’s Blog: Exploring the definition of a medium. Reconstruction 6 (4), http://reconstruction.eserver.org/064/boyd.shtml
Hearn, A (2008) ‘Meat, Mask, Burden’: Probing the contours of the branded ‘Self’ Journal of Consumer Culture 8 (2): 197-217
Dean, J (2002) Publicity’s Secret: How Technoculture Capitalises on Democracy. Ithca. NY: Cornell University Press
Goffman, E (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.