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Microcelebrity and Parenting in Malaysia

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Slides presented at the Celebrity Studies Journal Conference 2016 , University of Amsterdam .

ABSTRACT

Lifestyle blogging has become an established part of the Malaysian internet, and these ‘microcelebrities’ (Senft 2012) develop parasocial relations through the interactive affordances of social media, leveraging authenticity through a carefully managed exhibition of aspects of their lives and activities. As their audience changes in both quantity and quality, the bloggers’ perceptions of their audience develops, and they also adjust their performance according to their own changing life circumstances – such as graduating from university or changing jobs. When bloggers become parents, many of them are approached by advertisers keen to promote child- or parent centred consumer goods and services, meaning that their children become additional resources to leverage both audience and income.

This paper presents research that focuses on the impact that parenthood makes upon the lifestyle bloggers. It asks how parents negotiate their microcelebrity status, and the need to share ostensibly authentic portrayals of their life, with the challenges of parenthood. It also explores the impact of the expansion of outlets in a variety of social network sites.

This research follows up on a long-term participant observation of personal and lifestyle bloggers conducted from 2007-2009. Based on an inductive approach, it uses a combination of textual analysis and interviews to revisit microcelebrities who have become parents, and also expands the sample to other microcelebrities who are parents. It explores how they include their children and/or their parenting experiences into their online presence, and negotiate the attendant ethical and experiential challenges.

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Microcelebrity and Parenting in Malaysia

  1. 1. www.sass.monash.edu.my Celebrity Studies Journal Conference 2016 University of Amsterdam “Sooo cute”: Microcelebrity and Parenthood in Malaysia Dr Julian Hopkins Monash University Malaysia
  2. 2. www.sass.monash.edu.my Microcelebrity • ‘Micro’: smaller, niche audience (Marwick 2013, Senft 2008) • Celebrity: professional self- branding/commodification (Marwick 2013, Senft 2012) Malaysia/Singapore • Managing perceived intimacy and commodifying privacy (Abidin 2013, 2014) • Lifestyle blogs – ‘extended parasocial relations’ translating brands and leveraging authenticity (Hopkins & Thomas 2011, Hopkins 2016) • “brands […] are also produced by consumers, through the everyday practices in which consumers use branded goods to create social relations and shared meanings and affect” (Foster 2007: 717) • Commoditisation <> Branding • Labour – affective, emotional, domestic (Carah 2014; Hardt 1999) • Consumption work (Foster 2005) • Actor-network theory: “economy of qualities” and destabilising “voicy consumers” (Callon 2001; Callon et al. 2002) Branding
  3. 3. www.sass.monash.edu.my • Brands are relations • Effectively creating those relations requires skill • Social media expands opportunities for this skill to be monetised • Microcelebrities are good at this
  4. 4. www.sass.monash.edu.my Research Questions • How do microcelebrities represent and share their experiences of parenting online? • What motivations do microcelebrities have for sharing parenting experiences online? • Does being a microcelebrity influence parenting choices? • What ethical questions do microcelebrities face with regard to online representations of their children, and how are they resolved?
  5. 5. www.sass.monash.edu.my Method • PhD research 2007-2010 – the monetisation of personal blogging – emergence of the lifestyle blog (Hopkins 2016) • 2016 – online observation, textual analysis and interviews – Criteria: English language blog, income from social media, ‘social media native’, a parent and talks about his/her children – 38 ‘About Me’ pages downloaded for emergent coding in NVivo – Two months of selected microcelebrities’ online activities downloaded – Ongoing observation and interviews • Ethics – Names, URLs and brand names have been changed – Exact wording changed where requested
  6. 6. So you may be wondering how we finally got a nice canvas print in our bedroom, after leaving the walls bare for so long? Well Printposters were introduced to me and the peeps there suggested that for my house I try a 3-photo collage instead of a 1-piece like many people do. So I thought of my bedroom, and to make a story with the three photos! I decided to use photos from our wedding, the maternity photoshoot, and the new- born photos :) In just a few days the canvas print arrived at my door in a big box, together with a hook that you can stick on and also remove easily after use. So the boss did the work, cos he’s better at that than me. Not that much skill is needed for this though :P But just to be sure it was in the middle, I stood back to check while he tried it out. Hehe what a major project hor? Now you know why we didn’t get a picture up before :’) How do microcelebrities represent and share their experiences of parenting online?
  7. 7. amanda Now that we have our photos on the wall it makes a big difference to how we feel. Seeing the poster reminds us how far we’ve come and how blessed we are. Get 30% off @printposters orders by following their account or by quoting AMANDALOVE in the checkout at www.printposters.com. See more on the blog – www.amanda.com (bio has link) nasha_tan I like it!!!    maggie234 That’s awesome amanda amanda amanda Our story. Customised canvas print from www.printposters.com. @printposters kongah Is the quality good? Hope you like the posters amanda @kongah Great! They are awesome :) rdbalipictures Wonderful! traceychowisme Oooh lovely! No formal disclosure on Instagram
  8. 8. We now have new portraits at home! Check it out and find out how you can have your own personalised canvas print with Printposters, and get a 30% discount too. Just follow Printposters on Facebook or quote AMANDALOVE in the checkout at www.printposters.com. We now have new portraits at home! Check it out and find out how you can have your own personalised canvas print with Printposters, and get a 30% discount too. Just follow Printposters on Facebook or quote AMANDALOVE in the checkout at www.printposters.com. Amanda Chan shared Amanda Chan – amanda.com’s photo www.amanda.com/2016/04/new-photos-on-the-wall Amanda Chan – amanda.com’s photo
  9. 9. www.sass.monash.edu.my Magdalene • YouTube – April (6), May (5). Mostly family and daily activities, one makeup tutorial • Dayre – almost daily • Snapchat – daily • Twitter – rarely Blog Instagram Facebook April May April May April May Advertorial 2 2 11 6 13 5 Children 4 4 21 14 14 14 Events 1 Family 1 1 4 3 1 1 Personal 4 1 2 4 5 4 Parent Post 2 1 6 2 ootd 1 Consumer Post 1 Miscellaneous 1 1 1 Total 11 9 41 30 40 27 • Malaysian-Chinese, English mother tongue • Married with two children: boy (3) and girl (1) • Age: 32 • Undergraduate degree • Home-maker/self-employed Blogging since 2004 Instagram followers: 110,000 Twitter followers: 18,500 Facebook followers: 12,821 YouTube subscribers: 1,378 Dayre followers: 34,390
  10. 10. www.sass.monash.edu.my Amanda • Dayre – daily • Snapchat – daily • YouTube – rarely • Twitter – rarely • She was on a sponsored holiday in April – high number of Events Blog Instagram Facebook April May April May April May Advertorial 1 6 14 12 10 17 Children 1 1 8 4 8 9 Events 1 1 27 4 27 3 Family 1 1 2 1 4 Personal 1 10 8 6 Parent Post 1 Food 1 1 2 Consumer Post 4 Miscellaneous 1 1 Total 3 9 51 34 60 42 • Malaysian-Chinese, English mother tongue • Married with one child: boy (6 months) • Age: 27 • Undergraduate degree • Self-employed Blogging since 2008 Instagram followers: 15,000 Twitter followers: 2,344 Facebook page likes: 8,606 YouTube subscribers: 375 Dayre followers: 2,476
  11. 11. www.sass.monash.edu.my Amanda on Instagram • Instagram – younger and more engaged audience • Consistent aesthetics • Representations of motherhood, femininity, and family • Consumption and display • Caption is paid for
  12. 12. www.sass.monash.edu.my Yvonne • Facebook – an online shop for clothes. Business posts: April (10), May (11) • Has an active MLM business Blog 1 Blog 2 Blog 3 April May April May April May Advertorial 1 Paid Link Post 2 3 1 1 1 Business 2 2 2 1 Children 3 4 1 2 Family 3 1 4 2 Parent Post 1 Personal 2 2 Food 4 2 3 3 Consumer Post 1 3 Health 3 3 Miscellaneous 1 Total 18 16 11 12 3 4 • Malaysian-Chinese, Chinese mother tongue • Married with three girls: 13, 11 and 8 • Age: 41-45 • Diploma level • Self-employed Blogging since 2007 Instagram followers: 669 Facebook page likes: 6,515
  13. 13. www.sass.monash.edu.my Wendy • Her other social media platform use is limited to personal use Blog April May Paid Link Post 2 1 Business 1 Children 1 Family 2 Personal 3 Food 2 2 Consumer Post 3 Miscellaneous 1 Total 8 10 • Malaysian-Chinese, Chinese mother tongue • Married with one child: girl (11 years) • Age: 46 • Diploma • Employed Blogging since 2006 Pinterest followers: 207
  14. 14. Commodity Blog? • Paid link • Globalised supply chain – ‘content marketing’ So last weekend I was shopping and checking out some sales. While I was browsing, I saw a lady standing opposite me who had the same top on as me! Horror! She didn’t notice me so I quickly moved away and avoided her. But because I wanted to keep shopping there I used my bag to cover my chest to hide the top. It was a little embarrassing although a bit funny too. I bet if I had done my shopping online at portland store Guitar Centers, I do not have to worry about meeting someone with the same outfit again. Has this ever happened to you before? Wendy
  15. 15. www.sass.monash.edu.my How do microcelebrities represent and share their experiences of parenting online? • Half or more content is advertorials or commercially related Multiple platforms • Blogs are still used • Instagram is important • Facebook often replicates Instagram and/or the blog • Snapchat is becoming more popular • YouTube is in the minority – but seen as important • Twitter is not popular • Polymedia (Madianou and Miller 2013) Dayre – Magdalene and Amanda • A locally developed mobile blogging app • More meaningful • Less commercialised
  16. 16. www.sass.monash.edu.my What motivations do microcelebrities have for sharing parenting experiences online? Financial • Ability to earn up and above to the average Malaysian salary (approx RM 2,500) • Substantial additional income and goods for the family • Domestic, emotional and affective labour is monetised Intrinsic • Keeping memories • Creative outlet • Sharing information with other parents Branding and commodification is not a sufficient explanation
  17. 17. www.sass.monash.edu.my ‘Baby Blogs’ What motivations do microcelebrities have for sharing parenting experiences online? My intent was to blog about my time through my pregnancy, being a mother and parent, hoping that it will be a good way for her to find out about her childhood when she is older and can read. Motivation Identity
  18. 18. www.sass.monash.edu.my Lifestyle Blogs (‘Pre-Baby’) ‘Baby Blogs’ What motivations do microcelebrities have for sharing parenting experiences online? My vision for the long-term (wow…) of my blog is that I will eventually be able to look back at all my posts when I’m older and grey. This space will aid the future old and forgetful woman remember all the blessings, ups and downs, and milestones of the life that God has sent to her. I mean, me. My intent was to blog about my time through my pregnancy, being a mother and parent, hoping that it will be a good way for her to find out about her childhood when she is older and can read. Motivation Identity
  19. 19. Taylor is also highly regarded in the fields of skin care, fashion, e-commerce, and social. She has been invited on a few occasions to collaborate with brands as a model, ambassador and social media. Taylor’s high sense of beauty and fashion as well as her strong based of followers have made her highly sought after on social media. Motivation IdentityFinancial
  20. 20. I have even done a series of advertorials for Nappies in Mother & Baby magazines. Below are just a few of the articles which featured mainly Nurul and Naini, and their growth from little newborns to 1 year old toddlers! It was a lot of fun doing these. Thank you Nappies once again for this great opportunity which serves as lovely keepsakes for me and my twins. Taylor is also highly regarded in the fields of skin care, fashion, e-commerce, and social. She has been invited on a few occasions to collaborate with brands as a model, ambassador and social media. Taylor’s high sense of beauty and fashion as well as her strong based of followers have made her highly sought after on social media.Motivation Identity Financial Authenticity
  21. 21. www.sass.monash.edu.my The truth, the partial truth, and nothing but that which is true • Authenticity is asserted but there is no claim to purity • Negative content is avoided • Paid advertorials and content is the norm • The audience have different expectations and interests
  22. 22. www.sass.monash.edu.my Does being a microcelebrity influence parenting choices? • Possibly in financial ways • Offline influences probably outweigh online • Concern with judging – e.g. Not sharing breastfeeding images because she might get negative comments – The need to negotiate ideals of motherhood and femininity
  23. 23. What ethical questions do microcelebrities face with regard to online representations of their children, and how are they resolved? magdalene I’d like to teach the world to swing in perfect harmony. ♥ #battlerboy #michelleong #jimong #heyseanmichellebelle 19th.king What’s battler’s full name? tupanga Miss timid michelle.. soooo cute sailormoon @19th.king Sean Maximus Ong! They call him battler because he was born premature due to pre-eclampsia but he managed to pull through and is growing well :) mickee_lim @susantonggh look on battler leenapreena Peni @peterabulio qwertyjpelle Nice pun @magdalene! Haha 19th.king @sailormoon Oh oh ic ix magdalene
  24. 24. www.sass.monash.edu.my What ethical questions do microcelebrities face with regard to online representations of their children, and how are they resolved? • Only Wendy hides her child’s face – because the girl is older and worries about her friends at school, etc. • Yvonne explained that it was getting more difficult as they got older, so she had to catch them at the right moment • Magdalene and Amanda both argued that it was an inevitable part of life and as such it was not an issue • They would advise their children to practice basic online safety measures such as not putting their address online, not trusting strangers, etc. • Abidin (2015) “micro-microcelebrities”: unclear legal position and parents decide.
  25. 25. www.sass.monash.edu.my Relational Brands: the confluence of Commercial, Identity, and Relations • Social media enables identity performance and the tracking of interactive development of interpersonal and social relations – stimulates commercial interest • If brands are used in social and interpersonal relations, how are microcelebrities impacting their followers’ lives? • Direct interaction seems to be lessening – i.e. less comments • Phatic and algorithmically quantifiable interactions increased? • Importance of Likes, Followers, performance Relations IdentityCommercial Brand
  26. 26. Microcelebrity & Parenthood Brand/Commodity Blog Baby Blog/ Lifestyle Blog DiversityLabour Domestic Affective Age Language Gender Class Ethnicity Emotional Global Consumption Local
  27. 27. www.sass.monash.edu.my Microcelebrity • A label for a practice we don’t fully understand yet? • When do they stop being micro? • What is a celebrity?
  28. 28. www.sass.monash.edu.my • ABIDIN, C. 2013. Cyber-BFFs*: Assessing women’s ‘perceived interconnectedness’ in Singapore’s commercial lifestyle blog industry *Best Friends Forever. Global Media Journal: Australian Edition 7 (available on-line: http://www.hca.uws.edu.au/gmjau/?p=217, accessed 20 January 2014). • ––––––– 2014. Privacy for Profit: Commodifying Privacy in Lifestyle Blogging. In Selected Papers of Internet Research 15: The 15th Annual Meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers. Daegu, Republic of Korea: Association of Internet Researchers (available on-line: http://spir.aoir.org/index.php/spir/article/view/918, accessed 15 September 2015). • ––––––– 2015. Micromicrocelebrity: Branding Babies on the Internet. M/C Journal 18 (available on-line: http://journal.media- culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/1022, accessed 24 June 2016). • CALLON, M. 2001. Economy of qualities, researchers in the wild and the rise of technical democracy. In Seminar. Center for Theoretical Study, The Institute for Advanced Studies at Charles University and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. • CALLON, M., C. MÉADEL & V. RABEHARISOA 2002. The economy of qualities. Economy and Society 31, 194–217 (available on-line: http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/03085140220123126, accessed 19 November 2010). • CARAH, N. 2014. Brand value: how affective labour helps create brands. Consumption Markets & Culture 17, 346–366 (available on-line: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10253866.2013.847435, accessed 12 March 2016). • FOSTER, R. J. 2005. Commodity futures: Labour, love and value. Anthropology Today 21, 8–12 (available on-line: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.0268- 540X.2005.00366.x, accessed 13 November 2010). • HARDT, M. 1999. Affective Labor. boundary 2 26, 89–100 (available on-line: http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/stable/303793, accessed 12 March 2016). • HOPKINS • MADIANOU, M. & D. MILLER 2013. Polymedia: Towards a new theory of digital media in interpersonal communication. International Journal of Cultural Studies 16, 169–187 (available on-line: http://ics.sagepub.com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/content/16/2/169, accessed 5 January 2016). • MARWICK, A. E. 2013. Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. • SENFT, T. M. 2008. Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks. (1st edition). Peter Lang Pub Inc (available on-line: http://uel.academia.edu/TheresaSenft/Books/130671/Camgirls_Celebrity_and_Community_in_the_Age_of_Social_Networks, accessed 28 October 2010). • SENFT, T. M. 2012. Microcelebrity and the Branded Self. In Blackwell Companion to New Media Dynamics (eds) J. Hartley, J. Burgess & A. Bruns, n/a. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell (available on-line: http://terrisenft.net/writing/Blackwell%20microceleb/Senft_Blackwell_2012_Final_Microcelebrity%20and%20the%20Branded%20Self%20copy.p df, accessed 23 July 2014).

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