Sorting the you from the unreal you: Social Media Club 10 August 2010

Bernard Salt and Rebecca Huntley were guests at the last Social Media Club earlier this month. They presented their research on how Gen x and Gen y represent themselves online. Two themes emerged in the research: superficiality and authenticity.

The research found that Gen y are not, as some might think, uncritical of their use of social media. Gen y is aware of the dangers and pitfalls of broadcasting one’s life to the network – be it inappropriate photos being viewed by the boss, or superficial relationships being had at the expense of more meaningful connections.

The research focus was on attitudes towards social media and how people build and view representation of self in this space. The view that behaviour online is nothing new was echoed by Bernard Salt.

New technology amplifies instinctive human behaviour

Salt harked back to examples where the novel and conspicuous use of technology eventuated in a correcting force of some kind. Talking loudly on your mobile phone in a restaurant in the early 90s soon became uncool.

Behavioural corrections

He sees social media as a new vehicle for public preening. The old tribal head dress has been replaced by:

  1. Un-tagging unflattering photos
  2. Altering photos
  3. Filtering friends by looks
  4. Deriving status by broadcasting a cool location
  5. Deriving status by the number of friends you have
  6. Acting in a way to elicit feedback and validation

Salt predicts that these ego driven vanities will be calibrated: “That fight is yet to play out. We are still intoxicated by the technology. We will see a movement towards authenticity.”

The talks by Huntley and Salt were short – I wish I could have heard more about the detail of the research and the findings. But this is Social Media Club, not a sociology class. Tipreth Gloria brought it all home with commercial examples. Tipreth described people’s engagement with brands in social media as another way people build their identity and there were examples of what can only be described as conspicuous window shopping.

Superficiality and narcissism are rewarded
The brands you like define you
Social shopping? I prefer to call it conspicuous window shopping

Tipreth’s talk departed from the topic somewhat but, it was interesting to think about the juxtaposition of business and our social space. Advertising is seeking and managing relationships in a more direct, transparent medium where users ultimately have control. If there is to be a backlash against superficiality toward an authenticity it will be interesting to see the shape of the behavioural correction of commercial interests in our social lives.

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