Narratives: Narrating the Self

Having changed my idea from firstly being a fictional narrative that I have created and then distributed across social media, I am now working on making social media the story itself. Originally each fictional character within my story was going to tell their part of the story which fitted as part of a bigger picture. This therefore makes the character the narrator, narrating about themselves. Emerson and Wortham (2001) describe how this method of narration uses the “representational power of language to describe a particular version of themselves” (p.8). This is even more relevant than initially realised because it reflects the performance online and particularly the method employed to construct identity online, because “the act of telling an autobiographical narrative is a performance that can position the narrator and audience in various ways”(p.9). Each character I created took on a stereotypical social media role as previously explained. Although the idea changed slightly with me no longer constructing the characters, I still want this idea to come through and for the audience to reflect on their own performance online.

“Autobiographical narratives do more than represent events and characters; they also presuppose a certain version of the social world and position the narrator and audience with respect to that social world and with respect to each other…Autobiographical narratives may give meaning and direction to narrators lives and place them in characteristic relations with other people, not online as narrators represent themselves in characteristic ways but also as they enact characteristic positions while they tell their stories.”

Social media is an example of a collection of autobiographical narratives. Each person logs in to tell their own story and interact with other ‘narrators’.

“A self emerges as a person repeatedly adopts characteristic positions, with respect to others and within recognisable cultural patterns in every day social action. Because the positioning that partly constitutes  the self depends on social context that shift over time, and on the unpredictable counter positioning of others the self is an ongoing, open ended, and often heterogenous construction.”

The journey that social media users go on to construct themselves changes and adapts to fit whatever social norms and cultural patterns. As social media networks themselves have grown and evolved, so have their users. Each user is telling their own story and each user is part of a larger story and take part in other peoples story. There is no structure nor pattern the narrative of social media is multi structures and so is the story that it has to tell.

Identity Theory and Social Media Participation

Identity Theory in regards to Social Media participation:

Individuals employ a social identity online…. Tajfel (1981) combines   “four linked concepts: social categorisation, social identity, social comparison and psychological group distinction” to construct better understanding of self-identity.

The social categorisation process is the “bringing together social objects or events in groups which are equivalent with regard to an individual’s actions, intentions and system beliefs” (Tajfel 1981, p.254). So this means that for a transmedia story to work, it needs to “bring together social objects or event in a group” in order to make it desirable by a large audience.

Leary and Tangney (2005) explain how social identity is when the representation of the self is recognised as part of a social group, suggesting that social media users construct an appropriate ‘self’ to portray themselves online.

Ashmore et al. (2001) highlights the complexity of self and identity concepts, offering a further breakdown of social identity as the belief of group belonging, in which receiving acceptance from other group members is deemed an important facilitator of successful group membership. In terms of social media, this could be represented by the number of Facebook ‘friends’ or Twitter ‘followers’.

Leary and Tangney (2005)  states how social identities are “not simply individual cognitive constructions” (p.480), instead they are developed with shared attributes and beliefs of other individuals in mind.

Tajfel (1981) includes a relevant description of ‘social actions’, which play in construction of the social self.

The social comparison concept offers explanation linking social identity theory with social categorisation (Tajfel 1981). Leon Festinger (1954) concludes that social comparison is the drive humans have to evaluate their own opinions and abilities, by measuring them against the opinions and abilities of others who make theirs available. Social media facilitates communication between one to one, and one to many, allowing for social comparison to take place. The active users, are either consciously or unconsciously offering information about themselves to other users, hence making social comparison in an online space possible.

The social comparison theory offers insight  into social media networks “as a system of orientation which creates and defines the individual’s own place in society” (Tajfel 1981, p.258). Users are able to participate online and  in order to construct themselves socially and personally.

Social identity is very complex and social groups cannot necessarily be defined fundamentally. Psychological group distinction discusses how social attitudes; intentions and actions can be used to express the characteristics of a particular group (Tajfel 1981). The benefits, opportunities and other “consequences of membership” within a group can only achieve true satisfaction and status if defined in relation to an alternative group because “groups are…capable of any definition because of their insertions into a multi-group structure” (Tajfel 1981, p.259).

Ashmore, R.D., Ussim, L.J., Wilder, D., 2001. Social Identity, Intergroup Conflict and Conflict Reduction. London: Oxford University Press

Leary, M., Tangney, J., 2003. Handbook of Self and Identity.  NY: The Guildford Press

Tajfel, H., 1981, Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology.  Cambridge USA: The Cambridge University Press

Online Character Development: Facebook Users

1. The Tell Everything Bore – A constant update of day to day trivial things and a running commentary on their lives. Regularly Checking in.

2. The Self Promoter – posting achievements, or blog post links, or article you’ve written or competition you have won

3. The Friend Padder – One who has thousands of “friends” and feels the need to show off about it

4. The Town Crier – Posts about breaking events and news stories as if they are the first to have heard about it

5. The TMI-er – Too much information. See no boundaries regarding what to share and what not to share.

6. The Bad grammarian. Those who take digital speak to a whole new level and sounds ridiculous due to text speak

7. The Lurker – very rarely posting or updating but always very aware of what is going on online. Watching from afar without getting involved.

8. The Stalkers – tirelessly traipsing through pages and pages of profiles in order to find out the nitty gritty gossip or merely for their own amusement

9. The Chronic Inviter – “Support my cause”, “…invites you to play candy crush”, “sign my partition”, “do my survey” . They mean well but it can get very annoying.

10. The fearful user – has their profile on lock down, vets all friend requests and never likes anything.


Online Character Development: Twitter Users

Types of Twitter User

1. The Egg. Every user starts Twitter life as an egg but many of those Twitter Eggs never hatch. Studies have shown that a quarter of Twitter users have never Tweeted. Some eggs may send a few tweets but then give it up and go quiet when they receive no responses

2. The Lurker. Studies have shown that 40% of uses logged in during a given month but did not tweet during this time. There is an overlap of eggs and lurkers, but lurkers tend to be active users just consuming news through the twitter feed without actively tweeting

3. Contester. Users who only really use there profile for the sole purpose of entering competitions or running promotions

4. Retweeter. Less confident Twitter users who only share other peoples posts. They may feel a bit daunted by the whole concept and struggle to let their true personality shine through

5. Bot. The non human twitter account posting automated tweets

6. #TeamFollowBack. Those wishing to embark upon world domination by having a most ridiculous amount of followers. Tweets include too many hashtags, particular ones encouraging a follow or a retweet. High number of followers and high number of followees.

7. Celebrity. Celebrities can include musicians, athletes, actors, the prime minister… anybody known by the masses. Celebrities have millions of followers and with have anything they post retweeted hundreds of times so they can use this influence to do good or purely for self promotion

8. Social Star/”Guru”. Those who have amassed a serious following on twitter and become pseudo celebrities online. Provide a string of content.

9. Business. Advertisers engaging with the world in a way not possibly before social media

10. The steady eddie’s. Core user base of Twitter. Some tweet, some don’t, but they are generally engaged and are essential to the success of twitter as they act as the main audience that advertisers are going to reach with their promoted tweets. Usually very socially engaging on a regular bases with all types of users.