As our digital lives are becoming more integrated with our social lives, users fall under the pressure to create and maintain an online identity for recognition and gratification. Social media platforms are no longer solely being used for personal connection between family and friends, but for personal branding, self-promotion and connection between oneself and the world.
Personal branding refers to establishing and maintaining an image or impression in the mind of others about oneself. Social media platforms are an easy outlet for people to express who they are or who they prefer to be. Whilst most users tend to align their authentic self with their online self, deceptions are easily hidden behind a screen. What we choose to post shapes the perceptions that online individuals will have and because of this, users are becoming more aware about what goes online. Consequently, a real-sense of self can become lost online due to the fear that others may not agree or share the same interests as you. This in turn impacts our online social identities.
Social identities, as defined by Tajfel (1981), involve the knowledge that one is a member of a group, one’s feelings about group membership, and knowledge of the group’s rank or status compared to other groups (Leary, M & Tangney, J 2012). Due to our natural desire to be liked and admired, users are able to distort their social identities. As content online can go viral quite quickly, users can become popular just as fast when they post about issues or meaningful messages that send a positive message, or unpopular when they share a strong opinion or post that many disagree with. Just recently, a father in the Florida bought his ex and mother of his child groceries after discovering her empty fridge and pantry. He took this to Facebook with a post explaining the good deed he’d done. Whilst he received a lot of praise from strangers all over the world, he was also slammed for ‘self-promotion’ and criticized for uploading what he’d done instead of just feeling good about it and keeping it to himself. Whether his motive was to spread a positive message to be kind or whether he was doing it for gratification, it clearly exemplifies the power on social media platforms that users can use to their advantage.
Micro-celebrities have done just this. This involves a self-presentation in which people view themselves as a public persona to be consumed by others, use strategic intimacy to appeal to followers, and regard their audience as fans (Marwick and boyd 2011b; Senft 2008; Senft 2013 cited in Marwick, A 2015).
Whether it be singing, comedy, making videos or just looking good, users are gaining large followers by communicating and conveying their image consistently across platforms to achieve a desired personal brand (Johnson, K 2013). This trend saw the rise of micro-celebrity Kurt Coleman who has over 30,000 likes on Facebook and over 161,000 followers on Instagram. Known for his self-obsession and vanity, fake tan and selfies, people love to talk about him. He is now paid to be in front of the camera (video and photography) and promotes brands on his social media pages as well as sells his own merchandise on his website Perf like Kurt. Although he receives as much hate as he does love, Kurt has built himself a memorable personal brand and by doing this he has become quite a success in his young, personal life.
For a little more insight on the micro-celebrity phenomenon, Sylvain Labs have created an ‘Instafame Documentary’ that showcases teenager Shawn Megira, who had over 80k followers on Instagram at the age of 15. Find the video here.
As concluded by Marwick (2015) “social media has ushered in a new era in which average people are able to command audiences as large as those made possible by broadcast media.” Regardless of how individuals choose to portray themselves online, considering that the concept of personal branding and how actions they engage in today can affect their future (Johnson, K 2013), is of utmost importance.
Johnson, K 2013 ‘Personal Branding in Social media, Marketing Management Association Conference Proceedings,’ Research Gate, viewed 14 March 2017, < https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281974827_Personal_branding_in_social_media_Marketing_Management_Association_Conference_Proceedings>
Leary, M & Tangney, J 2012, ‘Handbook of Self and Identity,’ The Guildford Press, USA
Marwick, A 2015, ‘You May Know Me From YouTube: (Micro)-Celebrity in Social Media’ In A Companion to Celebrity, Marshall, P.D. and Redmond, S., Eds. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc <http://www.tiara.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/amarwick_youmayknowmefromyoutube_2015PrePrint.pdf>