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A taxonomy of online personas


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How do you act when you’re online? Does your behaviour change depending on who you are talking to and which platform you are using? Have you carefully constructed a personality especially for social media? Do you keep personal and professional identities separate? Or are you just happy to be yourself, whoever that might be?

When we started thinking about all of this, inspired by a blog post Sarah wrote, we realised it was actually a complex issue with lots of strands to tease out - and we couldn’t resist attempting to do this.

Our aim is to build a taxonomy of personas for social media. This session will introduce our preliminary list and ask the audience to help us refine the ones that we have and to help us fill in the gaps. We’ll also share our findings on social media before, during and after the event, and provide an online method of joining in.

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A taxonomy of online personas

  1. 1. A Taxonomy of Online Personas Sarah Honeychurch @NomadWarMachine Lenandlar Singh @Lenandlar Apostolos Koutropoulos @Koutropoulos Aras Bozkurt @ArasBozkurt
  2. 2. Who are you online? Thesis: Our online identities are constructed, whether we realise this or not.
  3. 3. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players;” As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII “God has given you one face and you make yourselves another.” Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1 "masks" flickr photo by NomadWarMachine nomadwarmachine/45714109955 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license
  4. 4. ● Global Village (McLuhan 1964) ● Identity-as-performance (Goffman, 1959) - individuals construct identity performances according to their milieu ● Online: heightened consciousness (Chan, 2000; boyd and Heer, 2006) ● Social Media blurs the boundaries between public and private (Pearson, 2009) ○ We never know who is watching ○ We often forget that we are acting in front of an invisible audience "Earth" flickr photo by reery shared into the
  5. 5. Glass Bedroom Metaphor The metaphor can take a number of forms, but at its core it describes a bedroom with walls made of glass. Inside the bedroom, private conversations and intimate exchanges occur, each with varying awareness of distant friends and strangers moving past transparent walls that separate groups from more deliberate and constructed ‘outside’ displays. The glass bedroom itself is not an entirely private space, nor a true backstage space as Goffman articulated, though it takes on elements of both over the course of its use. It is a bridge that is partially private and public, constructed online through signs and language. “Accessible privacy” “experiment without risk” “low cost ways to engage” (Pearson 2009) "Image from page 175 of "Building with assurance" (1921)" flickr photo by Internet Archive Book Images shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons)
  6. 6. ● A social media profile allows us to show ourselves as we want to be perceived (Maranto and Barton 2010) ● We must write ourselves into being in order to exist online (Sunden, 2003) ● We can create and edit multiple identities for ourselves (Barnes, 2002) ● Idealised selves (Manago et al 2008; Back et al 3010) ● Plus actual personalities (Higgins 1987) ● “A reflection of the self in a conscious or unconscious way” (Bozkurt and Tu, 2016) ● We might not be as autonomous as we think: McLuhan’s Media Ecology Theory suggests that we have a symbiotic relationship with mediated technology; we create technology, and technology in turn re- creates who we are. (West and Turner 2010) Selfie "il selfie" flickr photo by Gina.Di shared into the public domain using (PDM)
  7. 7. Towards a taxonomy ... ● Academic: adds relevant academic references ● Networker: links to others/brings other tweeps into the conversation ● Self-publicist: always twists the conversation to talk about their work; provides links to their work over and over again ● Cheerleader: RTs with added positive comments about the original post ● Enthusiast: replies to say how great everybody and their ideas are. Subdivides into ○ Newbie (who is impressed by everything) ○ Sycophant (not necessarily new, but promotes things just to promote them) ● Lurker: likes posts, might RT without added comment, but does not post ● Critic: disagrees, adds alternative points of view, but does so in a positive way ● Troll: no need to define these
  8. 8. Brainstorming ● Superstar: has lots of followers, follows very few ● LION: follows indiscriminately, has lots of followers ● ?? sends annoying boiler-plate DMs when you follow them ● ?? just broadcasts, never responds ● Educator/Teachers - actually help others learn stuff - like how to use twitter things, maybe other to do this and that? ● Pacificists? - help to keep things calm and under control? Helps to negotiate issues, differences, etc ● Moderator - monitoring others’ behaviour and using it to abuse/tell them off/ etc ● ‘Imposer/enforcer’ - forcing/demanding others to believe what you think and believe and know ● Protestors - contest everything, campaigns against random stuff...etc ● Bots ● ?? Keeps tweeting the same thing over and over again (e.g. their latest blogpost every hour to the same hashtag) ● Engager: A mix of several of your suggestions. The defining characteristic is reaction, sometimes positive, questioning, supportive, and like the critic may mix in alternative ideas, but not in an acrimonious way. - Algot Runeman
  9. 9. Framework Matrix (version 0.99) Profile information Fully Personal <------------------> Fully Professional Posting activity Low <------------------> High Posting length Measured in Characters <------------------> Measured in Paragraphs Posting “quality” Throw-away posts <------------------> Detailed Analysis posts Post emotive type Personal <------------------> Professional Post content type Report/Retweet/Recycle <------------------> Fully Original Content Purpose “I” focused <------------------> “We” focused Engagement Attitude Trolling (Negative) Collegial (maintain some distance) Friendly (distance minimized) Engagement Actions Lurking <------------------> Super-posting Post type One-off, little follow-up <------------------> Sustained engagement Engagement Structure Free-flowing. Engagement has “moods” <------------------> More structured, less fluctuation in “moods” Network Connections Selected & pruned connections <------------------> Open Networker “indiscriminate” connecting
  10. 10. A (brief) personal example
  11. 11. Audience participation ● What type of tweets do you post? ● Do you expect/hope for reciprocation? ● Do you see yourselves/others in our taxonomy? ● What have we missed? ● What could we improve? Link to online form: By Seattle City Council from Seattle - CM Johnson's City Hall Open House, CC0,
  12. 12. References Back, M. D., Stopfer, J. M., Vazire, S., Gaddis, S., Schmukle, S. C., Egloff, B., & Gosling, S. D. (2010). Facebook profiles reflect actual personality, not self-idealization. Psychological Science, 21, 372–374. Barnes, S. B. (2002). Media ecology and symbolic interactionism. In Proceedings of the Media Ecology Association (Vol. 3). Retrieved from boyd, d. 2006. “Friends, friendsters, and top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites,” First Monday, volume 11, number 12 (December), at, accessed 11 April 2008. boyd, d. & Heer, J. 2006. “Profiles as conversation: Networked identity performance on Friendster,” Proceedings of the Hawai’i International Conference on System Science (HICSS–39), and at, accessed 11 April 2008. Bozkurt, A. & Tu, C-H (2016) Digital identity formation: socially being real and present on digital networks, Educational Media International, 53:3, 153-167, DOI: 10.1080/09523987.2016.1236885 Chan, S.Y. 2000. “Wired_Selves: From artifact to performance,” CyberPsychology and Behavior, volume 3, number 2 (April), pp. 271–285. Goffman, E. 1959. The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
  13. 13. References (cont.) Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy theory. Psychological Review, 94, 1120–1134 Manago, A. M., Graham, M. B., Greenfield, P. M., & Salimkhan, G. (2008). Self-presentation and gender on MySpace. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29, 446–458. Maranto, G., & Barton, M. (2010). Paradox and promise: MySpace, Facebook, and the so McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media. New York, NY: Mentor Pearson, E. (2009). All the world wide web’s a stage: The performance of identity in online social networks. First Monday, 14(3). Sunden, J. (2003). Material virtualities. New York, NY: Peter Lang West, R. & Turner, L. (2016) Introducing communication theory: analysis and application Boston, McGraw-Hill