Debates in Digital Culture 2019/Impression Management

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Erving Goffman, Sociologist, wrote theory on Impression Management

Impression management is something we do everyday. Most of the time we don’t even know we’re doing it as it has become such a natural form of communication between ourselves and the rest of the world. So what exactly does impression management mean? Impression management is the conscious or subconscious act of attempting to change public perceptions of people, events or objects. This is done by both companies and individuals through controlling the information and personal lives that the public can see. 

It was first conceptualised by Erving Goffman[1] in 1959 inThe Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and then was expanded upon in 1967. The concept of impression management was first applied to face-to-face communication within the professional space, but then with the expansion of modern technology, it was renamed to apply to online presentation.

Examples of this can be seen very clearly on the YouTube where impression management is a key factor in the success and longevity of a creator’s career on the platform. Furthermore, with more people concisely or subconsciously being a part of impression management more research has been shown into the mental health issues that arise in with the excessive impression management that has become the norm within society.

Motives and Behaviours[edit | edit source]

Behaviours[edit | edit source]

Candidate at a job interview

There are multiple motives and behaviours associated with impression management. Mark C. Bolino et al. [2] describes behaviours exhibited by individuals. For example self-handicapping is a type of defensive mechanism which provides explanations for poor performance, also ingratiation is a form of assertive impression management in which flattery is used to be perceived as more likeable.

The motives behind these forms of impression management vary, but often point to similar rationale. For instance, individuals will be more likely to adopt behaviours associated with “Self Handicapping” impression management when they fail a task at work [3] . This allows the blame to be placed away from the individual, as to not tarnish their reputation and prior performance. Individuals will also be more inclined to use behaviours associated with “Ingratiation” impression management when they found a job to be attractive or when they expected a job offer [4]. This allows for an appealing impression of the individual towards the hiring staff, which could benefit their job prospects.

Although the majority of the research into impression management focuses on behaviours seek to benefit an individual by avoiding unattractive traits [5] can lead to negative impressions [6]. For example, behaviours such as poor performance, disinterest and bad attitudes can be used when an individual wishes to be dismissed or transferred from their current job. This creates a bad impression of the individual, leading to dismissal or other necessary actions; actions in which the individual actually desired.

Motives[edit | edit source]

In regard to motives, everyone has a different reason as to why they present themselves the way that they do online. Ingratiation is a form of assertive impression management that an individual can use to their own advantage, allowing them to be perceived as more likeable, and comes under the category of motives. To understand why motives are important regarding impression management, it is vital to know why people do the things that they do. As discussed by Roy G. D'Andrade & Claudia Strauss (1999), it is important to investigate the psychology as this has been able to explain motivation primarily in terms of universal needs and drives. [7] This suggests that there must be a need to perform a certain way in impression management to then therefore get the results that one has intended.

There are endless behaviours in impression management that one could perform, which leads to the understanding of having hidden motives to that behaviour. Intimidation being one of them, a person can be whoever they want to be online and even pretend to be a violent person, resulting in getting the outcome that their motives desired. As discussed by Carolyn M. Cunningham (2013), it seems that there are positives to intimidation online regarding impression management, explaining that intimidation could provide a strategic advantage to the person engaging in this strategy. [8]

The Self as Commodity Online[edit | edit source]

Branding[edit | edit source]

Jake Paul was the second highest earning YouTube celebrity in 2018, according to Forbes List.

In the new sphere of online celebrity content creators have become both the seller and the commodity.[9] The creation of an 'authentic' personality on social media platforms is key to generating income. The crackdown on YouTube’s advertising algorithm after controversies surrounding brand advertising on videos promoting controversial ideologies has meant that many creators suffer a loss of income due to their content not being advertiser friendly - creating an environment where videos that contain strong language were less likely to make money.[10] This is an example of how online identity is often created with the sole intent be profitable. “I’ve figured out ways to monetise and to take advantage of the power of the algorithm [...] it preferences longer videos.” says Cody-Ko, a creator with over two million subscribers on the platform. [11] This algorithm can lead to a "careful self-monitoring of one’s online persona" [12] in aid of being suitable for advertisers.

The more profitable the internet becomes, the more self can be monetised and tactics to maximise profits through the upkeep of online identity can be implemented. [13] It is claimed that YouTube creator Jake Paul earned 21.5 million in profits from YouTube and other branded content in 2018.[14] Jake Paul is known for his highly manufactured presence online, sparking a documentary series investigating his 'sociopathic tendencies' [15] and the ‘real’ him. Despite the popularity of these episodes, Paul’s own behind the scenes series of his life failed due to it being ‘too real’ for the platform and the people involved - noting that the parties involved didn't want “that much realness or content about their lives out there on social media.” [16]

Social Capital[edit | edit source]

Cartoon of a Social Influencer

Although the commodification of the self and social capital is often associated with monetary value it is not necessarily always the case. Social capital refers to ways in which people can establish social value as a type of influence or power. However, social capital can be exchanged in to monetary value. [17] The concept of social capital is closely interlinked with monetary value due to how money can be used to create influence. Followers, likes, retweets and similar notions become tools used for the purpose of personal branding, meaning that the self is used as a site for extraction of value. [18] In this case the extraction of value refers to establishing fame and recognition which in turn creates social influence which is a form of power. When social influence has been established monetary exchange can occur.

How the conversion of social influence into monetary value occurs is not straightforward. Social influence is not a type of currency and cannot be measured as such. Through influencer marketing companies can target potential customers by identifying individuals that are seen as influential figures. These individuals are also known as social influencers. Social influencers receive sponsorships, which is a form of monetary exchange, however, social influencers receive these sponsorships because they have already established themselves as influential figures.

Psycho-Social Effects[edit | edit source]

Psycho-social Effects of Impression Management is the psychological and social change in behaviour and mental state due to the management of online and offline identities. These effects are subjective to individuals and are not universal to everyone.

Narcissism[edit | edit source]

Online narcissism can help an individual develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder but is more often used to satisfy narcissistic traits. Managing online identities promotes these narcissistic traits as the content being posted is chosen to get the most likes, recognition and a higher follower count. [19] Narcissism is not exclusive to in social media as narcissism is needed for establishing the self and establishing relationships.[20]


The narcissistic traits associated with Impression Management is the inflated self-image, being self-obsessed and the need for admiration. [21] The main ways in which these traits have been satisfied is the act of posting of photos online. Selfies are a significant part of online identity online as it presents online a visual mode of self-presentation[22] .Those who post selfies often are satisfying their self-obsession and receive self-gratification through others’ reaction to the photo. This can, in some cases, transfer into their offline life and their identity.

Those with an inflated self-image are often not easily embarrassed because of their grandiose view of themselves.[23] For example, Danielle Bregoli could be described as narcissistic as she displays multiple traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and her rise to fame started with an appearance on the Dr Phil show in 2016.[24] Her behaviour and impression became a part of her brand online which in turn meant her narcissistic traits were rewarded. [25]

Loneliness[edit | edit source]

Studies have shown that the role social media and cellphone usage increases a feeling of loneliness amongst teenagers and adults. When we are on these devices we are constantly comparing ourselves to others’ lives and those who do better than us. They want this constant pleasure response from their phone that we don’t always get that leads to sleep disturbance, distractability, and of course loneliness. Amatenstein, Sherry (11/8/18). "Not so social media: How social media increases loneliness". {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)A survey found, “Individuals who spend more time on social media everyday felt lonelier than those who spent less time engaged in social media. Amatenstein, Sherry (11/8/18). "Not so social media: How social media increases loneliness". {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help) Additionally, individuals who spent more time on social media in a week felt more isolated compared to others who checked their screen less.

Think about how often we talk or see those friends on our social media page? Not regularly but yet we are still connected through photographs where a conversation isn’t needed. The entire social media sphere brings in an experience that leaves us constantly disconnected by checking our phones. As we view our peer’s enjoyment we then tend to think of ourselves as not so good.Ali, Shaianna (10/5/18). "Is Social Media making You lonely". {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help) Social media is an addiction that can take us away from good energy, sleep, human interaction, and experience. So much comes into play when we communicate with our mobile devices for better or for worse.

Anxiety[edit | edit source]

Studies of online identity have shown that impression management behaviors online can cause anxiety. Impression management behaviors have been linked to group norms, which are behaviors that people believe to be consistent with those of their social group. [26] Many users engage in false self-presentation behaviors on social media platforms because they believe these behaviors to be norms of their social group. [27]

Often these group norms encourage the idea of self as a commodity and place an importance upon self-validation through the number of likes, followers, and comments obtained.[28] [29] Examples of these behaviors include deleting a post on social media because it did not get enough likes or comments or not to posting twice in one day on Instagram because it is viewed as taboo by your social group.

Users often seek to create a profile or identity online that reflects their 'ideal self' [29] and engage in strategic representation in order to create a positive impression [26] of their life as glamorous, cool, or fun even when their life is not, [29] therefore engaging in false-self presentation behaviors. [27] [28] The pressure to constantly maintain a specific image of the 'ideal self' that follows group norms on social media can be overwhelming and lead to stress and strain on users. These false self-presentation behaviors and other forms of impression management have been linked to heightened levels of anxiety among social media users. [27]

Depression[edit | edit source]

Emergence of online interactivity is consequential to mental health [30] [31] [32]; depression can cause an increase in low self-esteem. According to Blease[33] from Andrew and Thomson [34] depression is a "mechanism" produced by pressure results in consciously or unconsciously awareness specifically in regards to social networks sites (SNS).

Multiple studies on 'Facebook Depression' lead to scholarship opposing views.[35] Facebook content and features attract attention by individuals through status updates entailing information such as friendship count, likes, browsing and feed, which are part of 'internet activity'. Seemingly this appears harmless however studies evaluated by Blease, Baker [36] and Jelenchick. Eickhoff & Moreno[37] indicate links between certain images and captions with person's achievement generates negative impact on the self. In addition, the 'reaction features' produced are controversial. Individuals have opportunities of expression through these icons, nonetheless envy, social comparison, melancholia correlate to depression. Thus, highlights SNS's are not at fault but the content within the sites immerse individuals unconsciously isolated, this brings forth Darwinism on natural selection.

No member of a specie is the same no matter the DNA, even when it comes to the appearance of a person. Individuals ability to portray someone else ties with evolutionary performance in the sense of avatarism [1] [38], inserts emphasis on.perfectionism [39] visualized in unrealistic formats with high expectations. Moreover, competitive nature in evolutionary performance proposes negative connotations due to social comparisons. On the contrary online communities prove to benefit individuals with support. SNS's involve not just friends or acquaintances but people across nations, which certain individuals confined on as Wright et al note perhaps individuals partake in this to avoid confrontation.from friends and family. It is clear narcissism, loneliness, anxiety and depression in impression management are at early stages of research however, more people remain vulnerable.

Professionalism in Impression Management[edit | edit source]

Social Media Screening

Multiple Hurdle Interview System- mass amounts of candidate information

Social media screening is defined as a resource for employers to have access to a potential candidates information that is not expressed in their resume[40]. As of 2014, “over 92% of employers use or are planning to use social media for recruiting” (Jobvite, 2014) [41]. Social networking websites allow recruiters to connect, target, and attract talented and capable candidates (Jacobs, 2009)[42]. Selection of the ‘right’ applicant for a job is simpler through pre-interview screening [43]. Candidates share posts on their social networking sites that provide an impression for the employer.

LinkedIn Logo

Recruiters use online networking to connect candidates with employers [44] LinkedIn is a networking site for professionals, based on the amount of personal and professional information they provide, they are ranked at different levels which enables recruiters and hiring managers to be in contact. Online posts through a public domain are revealing in both positive and negative ways and accessed by recruiters and HR departments.[40] This increased need for public information can lead candidates to provide misleading information to boost the presentation of their professionalism. Online impressions are crucial in the new age hiring process.

Increase social media screening has developed an employer need for required online applications. Human resource information systems (HRIS) can easily scan and sort the applications.[41] Utilizing applicants social networking sites provides information in a cost-effective manner and application honesty.[45] Furthermore, social media screening is a growing field in the hiring process and the impressions applicants post online are influential in their candidacy.

Online and Offline Interactions and Impressions[edit | edit source]

Impression Management, as theorised by Erving Goffman, is more commonly applied to offline interactions, however it often occurs in online social settings as well and can be seen in cases of dating. Although there is a tendency to believe that the ways one acts online does not necessarily equate to the person they are in the offline world, it becomes evident that that is not necessarily the case. The assumption that persons appear to not consciously manage the way they present themselves offline and that one would be less of one’s real self online – because of a temptation to present themselves as an ideal version of who they are, due to higher chances of anonymity – becomes challenged when looking at case studies done on dating (both offline and online) in regards to Impression Management.

Tinder, online dating app

Dating – in any way – is a much exaggerated form where there is a conscious attempt of Impression Management, as researched by Zytko, Grandhi, and Jones, which revealed that online daters didn’t take any conscious measures to alter the way they presented themselves online, in fear of giving false impressions that would be exposed when eventually offline interactions happened.[46] Often one would try to emulate the ways in which they presented themselves offline by using emojis to copy facial expressions, or punctuation to imply tone over text. In doing so they would attempt to closely replicate interactions they would have offline into an online format and thus manage the ways in which the impressions of their self is presented, seemingly making themselves appear more authentic as researched by Ellison, Heino, and Gibbs. [47] Through both of these studies, it can be inferred that dating becomes a clear measure of how Impression Management is utilised offline as well as online.

Abuse of Impression Management[edit | edit source]

Impression management is also often abused in social interaction. Chan and Jaideep[48] conducted a study about some social phenomenons. The following are some of the most common and typical behaviors we use to compel others to change their mind and behavior, through manipulating impressions of themselves or of another person.

The most common kind of impression management in business is the presentation of merchandise which is advertising. Advertising is the business of attracting consumers' attention and encouraging them to buy something.[49] We should stick to the tenet of moral marketing to proceed real advertising. However, some companies often make no bones about concocting marketing solutions that misbehave or deceive consumers. Will Heilpern summarized some of the deceptive advertising in his article.[50] The following are some ways that unscrupulous advertisers persuade the public to buy their products or services.

Phenomenon Definition
Boasting Exaggerate your ability to make self-recommendation.
Flattery This is a way to improve your standing in the eyes of others.
'Dress to kill' Express yourself by overdressing, like respectable and authoritative, sexy and desirable.[51]
Deceitful advertising Exaggerated product efficacy or quality to mislead consumers. For example, electronic products.
Bad arguments In advertising, propagandizing false arguments leads consumers to believe they are true.
Emotive persuasion Persuade consumers to buy their own products and control their emotions. But such products often have quality problems. For example, some weight loss products are harmful to health.[52]

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Although Impression Management is mainly researched in areas of social studies and offline interactions, the practice of it, is also prevalent within online spheres. The way that people behave online, is not separate from the way they would act in the offline world, as there are similar motives and behaviours that impression management incites, as seen in cases of dating. Furthermore, impression management online, also becomes a tool for people to explore their identity within the vacuum of anonymity and even allows for abuse of impression management within social interactions, this can negatively influence a person's self presentation online as their self image and mental health can be affected. However, impression management can also become a source for people to create an online persona that they can profit from, as well as be used within professional settings such as job recruitment. There are many sides to impression management and the ways it manifests online, whether that be a conscious or unconscious action, it still remains a part of socially structured interactions.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Goffman, E. (1990). Presentation of self in everyday life. London: Penguin. ISBN 9780140135718 OCLC 316059860
  2. Bolino, M. C. Kacmar, K. M. Turnley, W. H. Gilstrap, J. B. (2008) A Multi-Level Review of Impression Management Motives and Behaviours Journal of Management. 34 (6). Pp 1080- 1109.  
  3. Crant, J. M. Bateman, T. C. (1993) Assignment of Credit and Blame for Performance Outcomes The Academy of Management Journal. 36 (1). Pp 7-27.
  4. Stevens, C. K.(1997) Effects of preinterview beliefs on an applicants' reaction to campus interviews Academy of Management Journal 40 (4). Pp 947-966.
  5. Rosenfeld, P., Giacalone, R. A., & Riordan, C. A. (1995) Impression Management in Organizations: Theory, Measurement, Practice. London: Routledge
  6. Becker, T. E. Martin, S. L. (1995) Trying to look bad at work: Methods and motives for managing poor impressions in organizations Academy of Management Journal. 38 (1) Pp 174-199.
  7. D'Andrade, R., & Strauss, C. (1999). Human motives and cultural models (p. 1). Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Cunningham, C. (2013). Social networking and impression management (p. 28). [Erscheinungsort nicht ermittelbar]: [Verlag nicht ermittelbar].
  9. Senft, Theresa M. (2013). "Microcelebrity and the Branded Self.". In Hartley AM, John; Bruns, Axel; Burgess, Jean (eds.). A Companion to New Media Dynamics. West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p. 346-354. doi:10.1002/9781118321607.ch22.
  10. Patel, Sahil (Sept 6 2017). "The 'demonetized': YouTube's brand-safety crackdown has collateral damage". DigiDay UK. Retrieved 21 March 2019. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. Peterson, Tim (July 3 2018). "Creators are making longer videos to cater to the YouTube algorithm". DigiDay UK. Retrieved 21 March 2019. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. García-Rapp, Florencia; Roca-Cuberes, Carles (3 July 2017). "Being an online celebrity: Norms and expectations of YouTube's beauty community". First Monday. 22 (7). doi:10.5210/fm.v22i7.7788. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  13. Ibrahim, Yasmin (2018). "Self-Commodification and Value". Production of the 'Self' in the Digital Age. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 57-77. ISBN 978-3-319-74436-0.
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  15. Rosney, Daniel (3 Oct 2018). "Shane Dawson and Jake Paul: How a YouTube series 'could be making millions'". BBC News. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
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  17. Faucher, Kane (2018). Online Social Capital as Capital. London: University of Westminster Press. pp. 13–37. {{cite book}}: Unknown parameter |book= ignored (help)
  18. Ibrahim, Yasmin (12 June 2018). Self-Commodification and Value. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. pp. 57–77. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-74436-0_4. {{cite book}}: Unknown parameter |book= ignored (help)
  19. Wickel, Taylor M. (2015). "Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications Vol. 6(1)". Retrieved 28 March 2019. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help); |chapter= ignored (help)
  20. Zylinska, Joanna. (2013). "The Culture of Blogging: At the Crossroads of Narcissism and Ethics". In Couldry, Nick; Madianou, Amit; Pinchevski (eds.). Ethics of Media. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 91-105. doi:10.1057/9781137317513_6. {{cite book}}: Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)
  21. Campbell, W. Keith (February 2016). "The psychology of narcissism". Retrieved 22 March 2019. {{cite web}}: Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)
  22. Kenaan, Hagi (2018). "Selfie and the Face". Exploring the Selfie. Cham: Palgrave McMillian. pp. 113–130. doi:10.1057/9781137317513_6. {{cite book}}: |access-date= requires |url= (help); Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)
  23. Campbell, W. Keith (February 2016). "The psychology of narcissism". Retrieved 22 March 2019. {{cite web}}: Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)
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  26. a b Papacharissi, Zizi (2010). A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. London. pp. 251–273. ISBN 9780203876527. {{cite book}}: Unknown parameter |Publisher= ignored (|publisher= suggested) (help)
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  30. Wright, K. B., Rosenberg, J., Egbert, N., Ploeger, N. A., Bernard, D. R., & King, S. (2013). Communication competence, social support, and depression among college students: A model of Facebook and face-to-face support network influence. Journal of health communication, 18(1), 41-57. Available at:
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  43. Warring, Renee L.; Buchanan, F. Robert (January 2010), "Social Networking Web Sites: The Legal and Ethical Aspects of Pre-Employment Screening and Employee Surveillance", Journal of Human Resources Education, 4 (2): 11–20 {{citation}}: Unknown parameter |auhtor2-link= ignored (help)
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  48. Observing Flattery: A Social Comparison Perspective.By Chan and Jaideep,2014
  49. Will Heilpern,2016
  51. Is Impression Management And How Can It Be Abused? by Peck.D,2018
  52. Is Impression Management And How Can It Be Abused? by Peck.D,2018