How to apply the self-presentation theory to social networks

When it comes to the psychological behavior of social network users, the self-presentation theory by Erving Goffman is one of the most applied concepts. Accordingly it’s necessary to mention that the famous classification of the Web 2.0 by Kaplan & Haenlein is among other things based on that theory. 

Self-Exposing behavior

Erving Goffman, the founder of that theory, is using terms such as stage, role, façade or ensemble in his publication. Based on these metaphorical terms, he explains the self-exposing behavior of individuals and describes how people tempt to take control of their personal presentation. 

If people face other people, they intend to gain information, that are qualified to evaluate the personal character of that other person at the one hand and to provide information about themselves in order to show a particular self-image. Sources to evaluate the personality traits of someone can have several forms. For instance is it possible to analyze the articulation of a person, the tone of the voice and even the body language. However, related to social networks, its literally not possible to notice someone else body language since users are most likely not right next to the observer. 

The user profile – an attempt to create a self-image

What remains is the users profile with all his offered information and the user’s behavior within the social network. Consequently only comments, uploaded pictures or videos and for example published information and interest can be taken into account to assess the user. The same can be applied the other way around. Therefore the only tool that enables the user to provide or create a self-image and even an identity on the internet are the tools provided by the social network and as you rightly suspect, they are limited by the functional scope of that network. This is of course not an insignificant issue to deal with because it is hard for the observer to get proof of the credibility of the data. The German business social network Xing by the Xing AG in Hamburg recognized that problem and enables its premium members to attach files such as scanned transcript and certificates to their profile. It is to assume, that the credibility of such a profile with attached copies would increase. 

The user decides what to show

However, the self-presentation theory also discusses the phenomena of self-idealism, that is to say, people assess their own personality traits and put an emphasize only to those traits, that cohere with their self-image. Related to social networks this means, while creating an own façade (known as a profile), the user most likely mentions positive traits and keeps negative traits mainly as a secret. The user does all this with the purpose to make a positive impression to the observer and go along with his own self-image. 

To wrap it up, it is to say, social networks are indeed a platform that enables the user to have a significant influence on his presentation and he can also alter his traits or the provided information in a way that goes along with his self-image. Especially with his ideal self-image and ideal social self-image, which is the way people would like to be seen by themselves and by others.