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Identity in Communities and Networks

Branding and Identity Construction Through Online Communities

Abstract: Social media platform users aiming to project authentic representations of themselves, however on online communities, social media users follow the branding principles as companies to execute carefully constructed online identities. Through the discussion of the principles of company brand formation, the lucidity of identity construction, company and brand identity, self-branding through online communities like Tinder, nature of social identification, and online company communities on Instagram, it is clear that careful identity formation and self-branding on online communities is utilised by Instagram and Tinder social media platform users.

Although social media platforms such as Instagram and Tinder seemingly project authentic representations of users, construction of identity on online communities is congruent with company brand formation, expressing a carefully articulated online identity. Despite the nature of social media platforms users aiming to present authentic presentations of users, the users are actually utilising branding principles to construct their ideal identity. Through discussion regarding branding, self-commodification, self-branding and identity formation, for companies and consumers alike, internet users are aiming to accrue positive recognition through branding themselves correctly via online communities.

Principles of company brand formation

The basics of company brand formation is utilised by social media users to construct their desirable identity representation through online communities. By encompassing the brand essence, image, character, positioning, equity, culture and reputation of a company, an overall branding strategy can be constructed to deliver the desired brand identity (Gronlund, 2013). These include the characteristics of branding through visual elements such as logos and symbols, the core values and principles, traits and emotions, values, worth, relationship, benefits and differences to other brands (Gronlund, 2013). Relating to branding through social media platforms such as Instagram, the procedure is the same involving either an individual or a company. They will both carefully select images, aesthetics, captions, reply to comments, and post stories, formulating their unique brand identity (Best, 2018 & Gronlund, 2013). With this understanding, it is clear that branding is not exclusive to companies selling products, but also relevant to all internet users, where construction of overall identity is the reality of social media platforms.

The lucidity of identity construction

Despite the nature of social media platforms users aiming to present authentic presentations of users, the users are actually utilising branding principles to construct their ideal identity. In businesses and in personal settings, both online and offline, the construction and manipulation of identity is managed for beneficence. Affirming Giddens’ (1991) notion about the controllability of identity, the self is perceived as a project whereby an individual’s own actions need to be consistently monitored and assessed. He states that in present times of ‘late modernity’, the accountability and responsibility of identity lies in self-mastery of personality, physical looks, habits, actions and relationships (Giddens, 1991). Therefore, identity is not something that is designated to an individual but rather the character of their own creation. Featherstone (1982) describes this concept of modern society as the ‘performing self’, where a strategically articulated identity is constructed through control of personality, appearance, actions and behaviours. We perform as actors in our lives, carefully selecting our words, facial expressions, voice, mannerisms and appearance, in the same manner that companies articulate these characteristics to build brand identity (Gronlund, 2013).

A individuals’ character presentation is lucid and fluid strategically to formulate the correct identity characteristic, much like that of a company. The ‘performing self’ however, does not always play the same character, and instead, moulds and shifts situationally to achieve the desired recognition and suit the presented environment (Featherstone, 1982). Identity characteristics are not always projected the same, but instead lucid and everchanging depending on the circumstances present. This may include the people surrounding, the environment, and the position of power an individual may obtain. For example, Sarah is a 17-year-old girl whom aims to present herself as likeable. To her parents and teachers, she presents herself as studious and well mannered, but to her friends she presents herself as a fun, ‘life of the party’ kind of girl. She tells her parents she is going to a study group, but instead goes to parties and drinks with her friends. In this way, Sarah’s identity characteristics of behaviours and actions have conditional terms, dependant on the community she is with. Neither Sarah is good or bad, just more appropriate in the separate settings to accrue positive acknowledgement. Her difference in character is Sarahs’ ‘performing self’ constructing her identity favourably to accrue the correct reaction from both her parents and friends. This is not to say that manipulation of actions, behaviours and appearance falsely presents Sarah (or any individual) in either situation, instead displays difference parts of her self-representation. Richins (2005) literature on the ‘regulatory focus theory’ presents further understanding of the motivations behind the ‘performing self’ and why identity construction is important in human interactions. He depicted the ‘regulatory focus theory’ as the innate human desire to pursue pleasure and avoid pain (Richins, 2005), therefore, ‘the performing self’ seeks pleasurable reactions from each community it presents itself in (Featherstone, 1982). Another example to illustrate this concept is in a job interview, the individual may dress nicely and withhold from swearing during the interview to hopefully get the job, therefore he is altering normal behaviour to pursue pleasure. Control over how individuals are presented and perceived by other community members is a natural human desire, decoding why personal branding and expression is closely manipulated to achieve an appealing identity presentation. These theories describe how in different situations behaviours and expressions are articulated strategically in order to express a desirable identity. This is congruent with the public relations mastery that a company will project in order to initiate a positive brand identity.

Company and brand identity

One’s individual identity construction is performed congruent with creating a company brand. Coelho, Bairrada and Matos Coelho (2019) describe branding beyond visual nature as the ‘brand personality’, where consumers relate human characteristics to a particular company, formulating a personal identity. Petek and Maja (2013) explain brand identity to be the driving force for brand-building efforts and to express the vision, mission and core competences to build relationships with consumers. Through the anthropomorphism of brands by proceeding beyond basic design elements and developing a voice, stronger consumer community connections and associations can be formed (Lin & Sung, 2013). To be successful in the oversaturated marketplace, it is vital for companies to strategise a strong brand positioning that makes them identifiable and unique (Fairchild, 2008), through developing positive brand attributes and characteristics. Consequently, developing a brand identity through online community platforms, marketing departments can target their ideal market consumer groups (Fairchild, 2008). Creating positive brand identity online is achievable through online media communities. With use on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Websites, Blogsites, YouTube and more, tone of voice, opinions, attitudes and moods of the brand can be projected, in the same manner that personal identity can be projected in online communities. Therefore, the practises of company branding, and self-identity formation are homogenous in utilising online platforms and carefully articulating projected content.

Self-branding through online communities like Tinder

With this understanding of identity, it is appropriate to propose that individual and companies alike engage in self-branding through online communities. Social media platforms and communities including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tinder, all support the foundations of self-commodification and self-branding. Hobbs, Owen and Gerber (2016) examine the necessity of users of social media platforms to “engage in self-branding activities to market themselves as desirable commodities in a crowded relationship marketplace” (p.280). Another term presented to describe self-branding is “edited authenticity” (p.281), as we pick and choose aspects our authentic selves to present an ideal identity display online (Hobbs, Owen & Gerber, 2016). Therefore, individual self-representation has similar nature to that of a company branding. This can be explained through the using of dating sites like Tinder. Through online dating sites, users aim to present themselves in the best way, to gain desired attention from potential matches (Hobbs, Owen & Gerber, 2016). A user’s photo and short biography are the determinants of whether another player chooses to pursue or pass, assigning high importance to portray a desirable impression (Hobbs, Owen & Gerber, 2016). Best (2018) examines Baumans’ (2007) literature regarding consumer society he explains that people need to present themselves as commodities to, “meet the conditions of eligibility defined by market standards” (Bauman, 2007, p.62). Therefore, as evolving with present times, it is essential that presentations of identity online portray desirable characteristics in the same manner as commodities are presented.

Nature of social identification

Community is important in the formation of identity as both identity of the individual and the community co create each other. The cultural norm, opinions and current community situations alter the behaviours of individuals, as well as the perceived desirable characteristics. Social identification, which explains the unified sense of belonging within a community or group, influences behaviours and expectations of an individual (Kim, Han & Park, 2001). Identify formation can be based on the social norms of the groups of social identification. For example, if Sally and her friends all skate together and suddenly the other members all dye their hair pink, due to Sally’s social identification with the group, she may feel that dying her pink will represent her identity with this group. Lin & Sung (2013) describe this similarly as identity fusion, whereby groups may feel committed and mutually obligated to each other, like a ‘family’, that develops beliefs and meanings for the self. Communities and groups act as the formation of expectations, beliefs, opinions and consequently identity formation (Lin & Sung, 2013). Therefore, communities facilitate the expectations of ideal characteristics of online identity.

Online company communities on Instagram

For company brands this aspect of online community serves influence and importance to brand personality and identity. The human-like attributes of a brand form an identifiable brand character and as a result engages an audience. Consumers may engage with the company if they socially identify, have similarities or aspirations that match the presented brand personality (Kim, Han & Park, 2001). In regard to a clothing companies Instagram, if the brand chooses to post photos of models or consumers in the clothing, this will greatly influence the brand identity and personality. The characteristics of these people will influence potential customers. If the brand presents photos of very sophisticated feminine girls on their Instagram page, then potential customers may socially identify with this group, then follow the brand and perhaps make a purchase. In contrast, if the audience member feels they do not fit this particular character, they may quickly move on without questioning whether the company offers an item of value. Therefore, brand communities and individual identities are closely linked and constructed strategically to achieve the correct attention from other internet users.

Conclusion

The presented literature argues that through online communities, individuals project their desirable characteristics in the same manner as company branding, in attempt to formulate their identity. As a consequence of brand identity, the performing self, the commodification of self, use of online platforms such as Tinder and Instagram, brand personality and social identification of communities, identity can be strategically constructed and presented to the surrounding community. Despite the nature of social media platforms users aiming to present authentic presentations of themselves, the individual users are actually utilising the same company branding principles to construct their ideal identity.

8 replies on “Branding and Identity Construction Through Online Communities”

Hi Miell,

Your paper was quite an interesting read since it was a similar topic to mine. Your discussion about users using branding concepts to develop an identity was enjoyable because it never crossed my mind that there was a crossover between personal identity and company identity. Your topic of ‘lucidity of identity construction’ is similar to my discussion of a person’s known and anonymous identity shaped by others user’s view of the person which can be found through identity linkage. Overall I enjoyed reading your paper!

My paper discusses the development of online identities within communities such as Subtle Asian Traits and how users are able to develop more than one identity within the digital world through self-branding and identity-linkage. Here is the link to my paper: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/09/the-development-of-online-identities-in-digital-communities/

Thank you for reading my paper Alisha,
I also read your paper and really enjoyed it! You brought my attention to points and groups, such as Subtle Asian Traits, that i had not considered before. It was very interesting that both our discussions had similarities, just explained differently, as well as points of differentiation.

Hi Mielle,
Your paper really stood out to me because you include very intriguing points about identity construction on social networking sites and relating that to branding of self and branding of companies. We both had very similar ideas about social networking supposedly being spaces for authentic expression of self-identity and how it’s usually the ‘performing self’ that is presented. I really like how you explained that the controllability of the identity you present on social networking can also be applied to the image a brand would want to project as well. I absolutely agree with you when you say that if a brand presents sophisticated feminine girls then that will attract potential customers who identify with this. Do you reckon that how these customers view the models’ own identities on their own social media will affect the way customers see them on a brand’s social media?

As I mentioned earlier, we do have some similar points on the performance aspect of identity on social media. If you can, I would love if you checked out my paper.

https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/09/how-and-why-identity-is-presented-on-social-networking-sites/#respond

Hi Julie,
Thank you for taking the time to read my paper. I also read yours and really enjoyed what you said. I agree that we had a lot of the same ideas for discussion, particularly about the act of the performing self like you mentioned. Would be interesting to cross read some of each others references.
In regard to your question, I do think that customers will view the models own presented identity prior to relating them to the brand, if the customer previously knows that model/influencer. If they already follow or interact with this model, then they will have their prior assumptions and ideas about the personality and identity of this model, regardless of the brand that the advertisement is from. I think that how they view the model will set the basis as to how they view the brand. For example if an influencer is an advocate for sustainable clothing, and a customer sees this model on a clothing website, they may have the initial assumption that this brand is sustainable and aligns with the identity of that influencer, prior to even looking at the companies social media. They then may proceed to look into the brand and then form conclusions about the actual brand ethics later. So in this case I do think that the choice of influencer/ model will have a big impact on how customers percieve the company. In a consumers mind, the company and influencer have homogenous identities. It is important for brands to be careful in choosing models/influencers for perceptions regarding their brand identity. And it is equally important for influencers and models (which are their own personal brands) to choose their collaborations with brands carefully and strategically.
I would love to hear what you think about this?
Thank you,
Miell

Hi Miell,
I agree with all your points. I also really like how you considered that the company will choose the model that reflects its identity and vice versa.

Thanks for sharing your insight. Our discussions have been very meaningful.

Julie

Hey Miell! I feel like your paper is really interesting and I like how you give real life examples that makes me reflect on the different “performing self” that I express with different people. I think your paper is very detailed and broad in how you discuss on self-branding in different social media platform and communities.
Do you think that people have to express themselves online based on other people’s standard(what they think it is acceptable in the society) or they can just express their true self freely?
Looking from the example of Sarah, like how she present herself as a “smart,diligent girl” in front of her parents’ eyes, but also she is known as a “party girl” in her friends’ eyes. There are some sayings that people change, but do you think that this is considered as another side of her “performing self” or just a way of revealing her true self? I hope this question make sense:)

Hi Miell,

That was a very interesting and well-executed article, thank you for referring me to this. It posed some interesting thoughts about Self-Branding and Identity amongst different platforms, I touch this subject in my article which is why I appreciated reading yours so much to get different insights and a broader understanding. Its so interesting how different platforms offer a different self-presentation of that individual. It actually reminded me of this conference; how these interactions with each other are sophisticated responses, whilst on Instagram or Tinder we might use casual slang or even hashtags to communicate with each other. I think it is so important to adapt to the situation.

I found your points about branding for companies also interesting. Companies are so different to individuals because they must be kept consistent through all their platforms and networking sites. This doesn’t necessarily mean they must be professional at all times, if that is part of their brand image they are going for; however, consistency is key. For example, if you had a sophisticated theme for your brand one day and then a carefree spirited brand theme the next, this would confuse the audience. Although individuals show different personality types all the time. What do you think?

Chantelle

Hi Miell,
Your paper is very interesting and the section you cover on ‘Online Company Communities on Instagram’ was spot on. I completely agree with you on the brand association and how the consumer must feel connected to the brand and the images they portray to be encouraged to make a purchase from the company. It was interesting to see how many points I related to!
Thanks for a good read!

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