Private and Public Personas and Authenticity on Social Media
[Focus: the modelling world.]
Adrian Miles coined the term ‘Network Literate’ in 2007, to describe someone who has a deep understanding of the implications associated with participating ‘within a print defined and governed information economy’ (Miles, 2007). He parallelled this to ‘print literacy’ which is like finding your way around a library. However, network literacy is not closed like print literacy, and facilitates things such as ‘presence bleed’ (Gregg in Hinton & Hjorth 2013) and ‘produsage’, a term coined by Axel Bruns (in Miles, 2007) to describe the evolved state of the media user as someone who both produces content on and uses online media.
Gregg’s ‘presence bleed’ acknowledges the increasingly nebulous divide between what information is private and what is public. Profiles and presences can be presented, warped and arranged in such a way that one might say that ‘the pen is mightier than the …words written with it’ – the “cultural significance of media lies not in their content but in the way they alter our perception of the world.” (McLuhan in Potts & Murphy)
There is even a set of guidelines, drafted by Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein (2010), on tips for social media usage by companies. The most interesting three are “Choose carefully” (“firms should be active wherever their customer base is present”), “Be active” (post regularly) and “Be honest” (don’t be misleading).
Over a week, I blogged every day about my media use. I observed a pattern emerging in the apps I use, and the limit to which I participate in the online space.
I tend to check Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube in the morning, first thing while I exercise. I used to check Instagram morning and night, but I noted that my Instagram use is dwindling. I suggest that this is because I find that it stresses me to spend time on it and compare myself to what others are doing. I tend to focus on using Pinterest and YouTube right before I go to bed, to fill my mind with interesting and nice thoughts and to listen to soporific soundtracks. This is because I can get severe anxiety attacks at night (para 5) and this helps stave them off.
I did not act much as a ‘produser’ in this week. I published maybe 1 photo on Instagram and a photo or two for people’s birthdays on Facebook, but I was mainly a passive consumer. Even then, I mainly restrained my online presence to platforms where I was not trying to compete to gain my own following – echoing the sentiment of Lovink (in Hinton & Hjorth), saying, ‘networks without cause are time-eaters’.
My modelling agency recently emailed all its talent about social media usage. They asked all models with an Instagram following of 10k and over to nominate themselves to be placed into the ‘Celebrity/Influencer’ page on the website, and sent us a pamphlet of tips to build your social media profile for those with under 10k.
The parameters set within this brochure sum up to include the following:
- Have a professional (modelling) instagram, set on Public, and if you want a personal instagram also, set it on Private.
- Don’t have a public Facebook page – unless you have a huge following.
It is clear that my agency “chose carefully” (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010) and considered their customer base when advising us to use Instagram. Photographers and the fashion and fitness worlds dominate this image-based platform.
- Post 1-2 times a day but no more. Post between 7-9am, 12-2pm and 5.30-8pm but not on Friday and Saturday nights when people go out and don’t check Instagram as much. This lines up with Kaplan and Haenlein’s “Be active” tip.
- Hashtag your posts but no more than four per post (This part confused me. Is it so as not to seem desperate? I hashtag up to 20 times a post, but I do this in a comment under the caption so the hashtags aren’t immediately obvious).
- Follow only people with large followings so you can be inspired (this didn’t make sense to me, as I find inspiration in smaller accounts as well as the 6-figures). Also, the bigger an account is, the more bland and pandering-to-the-masses it is. Not inspiring at all.
- Network with colleagues with high followings. This made sense to me. I observed it with my own eyes on two occasions. One being: our agency’s top earning model (“Sarah”) with over 1M followers became friends in 2015 with another model (“Lauren”) who was with another, smaller agency. After collaborating a few times with Sarah, Lauren got a lot of publicity on Sarah’s instagram and her following rose dramatically; to the point where she left her smaller agency and came to join Sarah on the list of ‘top three Melbourne influencers’ at the larger agency.
- Post about healthy lifestyles, food and gym . “People love to see models living a healthy lifestyle”
The healthy lifestyle part is exactly what got ‘Sarah’ and ‘Lauren’ so popular, as well as others I know. They base their posts around tanned skin, swimwear shoots, berry smoothies and yoga and running. When not modelling they are personal trainers or sell E-Books on healthy living. It’s very bland to observe.
The problem on that is that I don’t have a strong personal brand – my interests and activities, and therefore, what I post, are so widely varying that it’s hard to find an ‘aesthetic’ that suits them all. This authenticity is what I fear gets lost for the models who make their whole life about fitness. There is no variation.
‘Sarah’ was recently made Australian ambassador for Adidas, holding fitness classes with American supermodel Karlie Kloss; and some comments on a Facebook post snarkily pointed out that ‘Sarah’ had last year said that she hated running and exercise. However, ‘Sarah’s’ public profile is now all about fitness. Instagram is a powerful visual aid in altering a perception (McLuhan in Potts & Murphie, 2003). Kaplan and Hainlein’s “Be honest” tip is perhaps at odds with this.
Melissa Gregg describes ‘presence bleed’ [in Hinton & Hjorth, 2013] which is where “boundaries between personal and professional identities no longer apply”. I do find that I have issues with ‘presence bleed’ and delineating my public and private profiles. My Facebook is linked to my Instagram, but not vice versa. This is a weak attempt at trying to get Instagram followers from people who find my profile on Facebook, while at the same time my Facebook is under an altered version of my name to stop people from Instagram finding it. Unlike the models aforementioned, I find it hard to ‘pick a face’ (if you will) to be true to. I want to be me in everything I do.
Adrian Miles described both print and network literacy. Through conducting this experiment, I could conclude that I am more ‘network literate’ than I thought; I am able to link things and distribute content over several platforms, although I am still having a lot of trouble understanding the more technical things such as ‘RSS’ and ‘HTML’.
This essay could have been written more generally, with less of a focus on my Instagram (in)activity and what I have observed there, though I viewed the reception of the agency pamphlet as timely in regards to essay fodder, as it has strong links to the content.
- Gauntlett, David. Making Media Studies: The Creativity Turn in Media and Communications Studies. New York: Peter Lang, 2015. Print. (Read p. 7-12)
- Hinton, Sam, and Larissa Hjorth. Understanding Social Media. London, United Kingdom: Sage Publications, 2013. Print.
- Kaplan Andreas, and Haenlein Michael. “Users of the World, Unite! The Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media.” Business Horizons 53.1 2010. p. 59-68 Web.
- Lawrence, Katie, ‘SOCIAL MEDIA BOOKLET 2017’, Chadwick Models, Darlinghurst NSW, 2017.
- Miles, Adrian. “Network Literacy: The New Path to Knowledge [online]”. Screen Education, 2007. 45, 24-30. Print.
- Murphie, Andrew and Potts, John Culture and Technology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print. 11-38