Who are you in Social Media?

Christian Fieseler

We have identified four patterns of online impression management in a study of European communications professionals: the authoritarian, the help-seeker, the digital caregiver and the self-promoter.

KNOWLEDGE & BI: Social Media

As social media are evolving to be much more than just a uniquely private playground, but into a vast and buzzing field for professional interaction, it is sometimes precisely this merging of professional and private purposes that makes digital media particularly valuable for professional communication.

The advent of social media encourages many professionals to revisit the formal boundaries between work and leisure, inviting their contacts from outside the office to partake (online) in work related questions and processes, thereby often contributing to the organization’s brain pool and creativity.

Based on a survey among European communication practitioners, we were interested in the question in which ways communicators use social media for their impression management. Which kinds of communication patterns do they choose, and how do they interact with communities outside their organizations’ walls.

Four separate, yet complementary, patterns of online interaction emerged: the authoritarian, the help-seeker, the digital caregiver and the self-promoter.

The self-promoter
Self-expression seems like the most obvious use of social media; however, there is a huge difference between random chatter and a conscious and strategized self-promotion through the circulation of information about us.

The self-promoter uses social media to make her community aware of her successes, of the progression of her projects and of what goes on in her work. This keeps her friends from outside the office updated on her life, but also often contributes to the well-being of her organizations. Self-promotion understood right includes colleagues and the community, celebrates shared experiences and successes and thus creates an emotional bond.

The one who needs some help
The assistance-seeker is an example of harnessing these emotional bonds: he uses social media to find the support he needs for daily work-related activities. Within his group of colleagues, but even further, within his connections and acquaintances, he has a good opportunity to find the requested information.

Furthermore, given the connection among his contacts, answers can be exploited also for unspoken or unsolicited questions: in this sometimes affection-driven form of crowdsourcing, the community maximizes the options to find support for the organization.

The digital care-giver
The same works also for the opposite approach: collective problem-solving is, in fact, maximized when the skills of individuals have the biggest opportunity of meeting a match among peers.

Meet therefore the peer-supporter: she uses social media as an opportunity to share her knowledge, and to make sure that the members of her network, be it colleagues, or friends, or both, are provided with assistance and support at any time they need it.

These communicators are there for their peers in the same way they would be by the side of their friends. In a wider perspective, we can think of caregivers and contributors to be the engine on which collaborative social media exists, as wikis and crowdsourcing platforms rely heavily on knowledge-sharing efforts.

The authoritarian
No typology of social media impression management would be complete with the opposite tactic –speaking from a position of authority. Even in social media, this does not necessarily have to be a bad think.

Often, an organizational spokesperson has to take a stance vis-à-vis a community. Sometimes they a more complete, and more personal, view over their peers, markets, and developments. This translates in the desire to guide, and eventually correct, the behavior of one’s peers, but also involving others in more deeply participated conversations.

Ideally, authority as an impression management tactic is one of honesty, and thus really engaging with the community, than to merely pay lip service to a perceived climate of opinion.

Digital (human) nature
Whether you might recognize yourself in one, or more, of the digital communication patterns exemplified within our study, one element remains clear: interaction through social media, just like relationships “in real life”, is widely shaped by personal characteristics of the individuals involved.

Unlike real life, however, social media offers the possibility for communicators to share with their colleagues a wider array of their personal traits, through the different roles they cover t

The online extension of their formal workplace, including acquaintances, friends and other contacts, allows the option to make one’s progress known, or ask for support, without losing credibility or authority. Furthermore, an “extended team” in which all members feel free to express themselves with their personal traits, characteristics and perks brings experimentation to the formal “core” team by means of creativity, boundary-spanning and crowdsourcing.

•    Fieseler, Christian; Ranzini, Giulia. The networked communications manager : A typology of managerial social media impression management tactics. Corporate Communications. An International Journal 2015 ;Volume 20.(4) p. 500-517.

This article is published in Communication for Leaders No. 2 - 2015

Communication for Leaders is a Science Communication Magazine published by Centre for Corporate Communication and Department of Communication and Culture at BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 15. December 2015

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