The role of performativity in creating and maintaining identity in social media is central to how people behave and act online – it is not as simple as simply being, or indeed being yourself online. It is the same on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ as walking around a stage in a theatre and speaking aloud, the very nature of being onstage in a place designed for voyeurism changes how you move, think and express yourself. The skill of the greatest actors is often how well they merge the sense of just being (absolute naturalness) with the character they are playing. Of course, the closer a person naturally is to their performed role, or identity, in social media then the more concrete or convincing that social media ID will be. I have pulled out 7 social media IDs that I see people commonly fall into, usually in order to seek one of Maslow’s psychological need validations (most usually self-esteem, esteem from others, affection, fulfilling potential) – and why the hell not!
These guys social media personas are 75% or more focussed on professional self-promotion or status enhancement around a dedicated specialism be it PR, advertising, plumbing or something else. This will either be at one-end: creating a blog, videos, twitter feed solely to promote themselves as a professional brand (eg. “Clever Trevor: the future is now – a future trends expert”, “Digital PR Diva blog”, “Ben the Builder”, “Adland Dan” etc) or at the other end, devoting almost every status update or retweet to their specialist topic area. Thus, these individuals feeds are not always easy to discern from a companies, as both try to promote knowledge of a field and immersion in it above all else.
Purpose of performativity: I WANT RESPECT / STATUS
The Quirky Joker
These people have quirky biogs on their twitter feeds that imply that they live life permanently high on shrooms eg. “I am a daydream saboteur and pumpkin hollow outerer”. Their updates are like abridged passages from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The key to appreciating their updates is to know that although they expect you to laugh and be provoked into thought by them at the same time, ultimately just taking the time to read them is enough. What can you expect from their tweets? Anything ranging from: “Are you a heavy breather? Me too”, all the way up to “Jupiter I am Earth eat me up”.
Purpose of the performativity: I WANT BE IN THE COOL GANG, LET NOW BE MY TIME
Why be happy about stuff in the real world when you can be manically lithium fuelled happy about stuff on your social network pages. It simply requires a lot of !s, xxxs, :)s and joy. Whether it is disproportionate delight at a new Google feature or the written equivalent of yoga’s Salute to the Sun, these guys are seriously pumped about the seriously every day things in life. Their typical update will be:
“Flipping through your GORGEOUS GORGEOUS pics ready to leave a comment, I soon realized I need to comment on all of them!!!! WOW!!! You guys look amazing, your number followed you two the whole time and you really were in paradise:):):)!!!! So BEAUTIFUL!!! I can smell the purple!!!!xoxoxoxo!!!” <—- This is an actual update example. Other ones include: “Research.ly rocks my world!!!!” and “Everyday is a gift. So lucky”.
Purpose of the performativity: I WANT TO BE LIKED
Nowhere is a person who is interested in politics, more interested than on their social media pages, it can sometimes seem. Especially in Britain, Right and Left come into sharp relief in Facebook conversations and not a Red Tory or Blue Labour is to be found. For the politico issues and debate take up their every waking breath on Facebook or Twitter, weather positioning themselves as the next Frances Fukiyama or indeed Boho Che Guevarra. All their updates start with “The trouble with X is that…” or “Unfriending some people tonight based on their unpalatable viewpoints…”
Purpose of the performativity: I HAVE NOT BEEN SPOILT, I GRAPPLE WITH BIG ISSUES
The Cause Hopper
Have you noticed how your mate, who in real-life cares about nothing and nobody only logs onto their own social media page to aggressively promote a particular cause every few months, hopping from saving beach donkeys, to going vegan, to promoting the Euro. Yep you have a cause hopper on your hands.
Purpose of the performativity: I AM A PERSON WITH PURPOSE
Callers are normally quite extrovert people in real-life too, but often a tad insecure about their professional or intellectual worth (even if they are brilliant) so will use social media to highlight anything they are doing that might be worthy of praise. No piece of work can be written or worthwhile activity done without constant attention being called to it. Note that these shout-outs for attention are normally not softened by self-mocking or deprecation. Status updates normally run along the lines of: “Preparing the session I am giving in London tomorrow on Macroeconomics to LSE”, “Just finishing up the office paperwork..Sun 4pm!”, “Jogged right round Hyde Park in under 1 hour”.
Purpose of the performativity: I AM RATED / I HAVE VALUE
The Dad Dancer
Dad Dancers can be all sexes and ages but they use social networks to rather awkwardly tell others what is best kept in their head. Examples: “Just sat on the nicest toilet”, “I feel bad for not having phoned my sister all week” and “Feeling so relaxed now my house in warmer”. These people may be charming and charismatic in the real-world, but online they come across as well-meaning Rain men.
Purpose of the performativity: I AM WORTH LISTENING TO
Performativity in social media identity construction is a completely normal thing to do in a medium where we have time to think, evaluate and curate what we send out to the world. People do not have one or two personas rotating in their life but hundreds constantly switching. The reasons for any one persona coming to the fore at any one time are complicated. Usually to do with the likelihood of getting positive validations or defending oneself in that moment or setting. The only thing I contend is that on social media pages people tend to plum for one overarching identity most often, usually governed by a very specific impression they want to create in their social media life and the reasons for this (subconscious or otherwise) will always be deeply human ones, not random. Do I fall into at least one or two of these personas? Of course I do!