Behaviour vs. Image


Janus Coin, Wikimedia Commons, CC0

This post comes as I finish an assignment for another unit. The task was to evaluate the Twitter profile of a public figure to see if it aligned with their desired self-image. My findings raised an interesting point about portraying yourself online.

I chose a politician. My politician – I feel like I can say ‘my politician’, since I spent so long scrolling through tweets, watching speeches and reading interviews that it’s like we have some sort of connection now – my politician presented content that seemed perfectly in-line with a desired political persona. Advocating the party policy, a few stabs at the opposition, and plenty of photos of baby kissing and sausage turning in the community. Sounds good, right?

Well, here’s the problem. Tweets reporting how very involved  you are with the community are one thing. But what about erm… being involved with the community?

It seems that the opportunities of web2.0 might be a little bit lost on our political figures. William Lukamto and Andrea Carson (2016) studied Victorian politicians and found that whilst they have generally adopted social media, they’re still mainly using it as a broadcast tool.

It would appear politicians typically use social media for promoting themselves and their policies, rather than for public interaction. (Lukamto & Carson 2016, p. 208)

Brian Loader, Ariadne Vromen and Michael Xenos drew similar conclusions.

Our analysis of social media provides, we believe, strong evidence that for politicians and celebrities to engage with young citizens they must develop more participatory communication styles. (Loader, Vromen & Xenos 2016, p. 414)

Isn’t ‘public interaction’ the point of Twitter? A perfect opportunity for politicians to be in touch with the people, listening, communicating, representing their opinions and speaking on their behalf. My politician certainly had followers who wanted to engage in political discussion.

All of them went ignored.

To be fair, there were some serious antagonists. And there was one lady, Mary, who liked every single tweet and responded regularly with vague words of encouragement. But there were some people who asked genuine questions.

My politician has over 131 thousand followers, but over a two-week period, replied to only two tweets. One reply was to a fellow journalist, with a new tattoo. The other was to Mary, who asked, could she please have a tweet for her birthday?

The conclusion of my report was that whilst my politician was posting content online that matched a desired identity, the behaviour online did not. The image presented was of participation, communication, and connection but there was no attempt to do these things with the 131 thousand people waiting right there on Twitter.

The point is, it made me think of my online identity in terms of the actions I take online, as well as just the content of my posts. It’s all very well to put on LinkedIn your past experiences with subject A. But if you’re trying to say that subject A is your passion, your  dream career or your area of expertise and don’t demonstrate this in your online activity – perhaps by participating in discussions, following thought leaders, or creating digital content about subject A – are you really communicating that passion effectively?

Probably not.

The way our online identities are examined means that your online behaviour depicts who you are right now. So make sure it matches your values.


Loader, B, Vromen, A & Xenos, M 2016, ‘Performing for the young networked citizen? Celebrity politics, social networking and the political engagement of young people’, Media, Culture & Society, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 400-19.

Lukamto, W & Carson, A 2016, ‘POLITWEETS: social media as a platform for political engagement between Victorian politicans and citizens’, Communication Research and Practice, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 191-212, retrieved 24 November 2016, DOI


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