What Are You Typing?

You may or may not be aware of the pattern and path you are building with your social media activity.  So I ask, what are you typing?

9628814_sOn social media you get to decide what you post, what you respond to and what you share.  This provides users the power to present, preserver or project what they’d like.

In this post I am not proposing to dramatically change how you use social media, but I am asking you to be aware of what you post and what it says about you.  In other words, to reflect.

Much of the research I share on this blog is rooted in college students use of social media, showing the reality to educators what our role is in developing positive and productive citizens through digital means.  Social media leadership to students starts with educators themselves, from pre-school and even past college through formal education, mentorship and role modeling.

And now I ask, what are you (and your college students) using social media for?  Because why and how we are using it could mean everything.  Below I will share three areas of research, that explore social media user categories, self-presentation and fronts.

User Categories.  Understanding the patterns of behavior based upon user-type provides a big picture to activity online.  Studying 2,000 Norwegian age 15-75 online users over three years, Brandtzaeg (2012) reported five types of social media users:

  1. Sporadics (low usage)
  2. Lurkers (use social media, but do not interact)
  3. Socializers (use is socially based)
  4. Debaters (seek out discussion and debate through SNSs)
  5. Advanced (high frequency for all purposes)

In this study, it was socializers, those who use social media primarily to socialize with friends and family, who received the most benefits to online tools, such as higher social capital.  In this study, over half of participants fell under a Lurker or Sporadic category.  From these significant results, the researchers reported:

Passive consumption and quite low-interest or low-skilled use of social networking sites for the majority of the social networking site user population.  They may reflect a new kind of digital divide, where a large part of the population is not suited to adopt, utilize, and reap rewards of the new-networked society. (Brandtzaeg, 2012, p. 485)

I recently wrote about the concepts of digital divide, as well as digital natives.  Access does not mean literacy; growing up in and around technology definitely does not equate to awareness or ideal utilization of social media platforms.  Brandtzaeg study stressed that it was important to consider the type of user when considering the behavior and potential impact social media will have on users.  For example, those who fell under the category of Socializer reported increases in face-to-face interactions, in addition to offline relationships, and tended to feel less lonely than the other users.

Based on your online activity, what category would you fall under?

Self-Presentation Methods.  Looking specifically at college students, studies have identified young adults using self-presentation and performance behaviors on social media.  This means they are altering behavior on their own.  Formally called self-presentation, this phenomena happens on and offline (Boyd, 2007).   I would argue that due to the lack of digital education to students (and even to educators) in addition to positive and negative online activity by peers, this could inadvertently serve as models for behavior and impact formation of digital identities.

Early research by Goffman (1959) labeled an identity performance as an ability to alter one’s behavior in influencing how one is seen.  Considering mediated technologies, Slater (2002) declared ‘you are what you type’ because of users ability to have such a choice in creation, modification, as well as, even having multiple identities.

So I ask, what are you typing?

Social Media Fronts.  Birnbaum (2013) studied college student fronts on Facebook.  Through an eight-month participant observation conducted in a residence hall, 30 undergraduates were studied.  Birnbaum based this study from another by Martinez Aleman and Wartman (2009), which discovered students were aware of how their profiles presented their identities.  Birnbaum’s study did confirm this as well, college students are aware not only what they are posting, but the impression it has on others.

Through observation, as well as, interviews, the following six fronts were established: Partier, Socialite, Risk-Taker, Comic, Institutional Citizen, and Eccentric.  I will highlight a few of these

  • Partier: The most used and recognized college student ‘front’ was the Partier.  On their Facebook profile pictures of alcohol were observed, even to the point of losing control.  Because of the high use of this front, the author proposed that a perception of what it means to be a college student, based upon observing this social media activity, must include intoxication.  “If Facebook profiles do not include these types of images (alcohol/intoxication), students run risk of giving the impression that they are not good undergraduates” (Birnbaum, 2013, p. 161).
  • Socialite: A Socialite front was another common profile type, seen with many friends in pictures, especially with membership in groups such as greek life or campus clubs.
  • Risk-Taker: Next, was a Risk-Taker front, where the person took part in dangerous behavior such as skydiving.  Birnbaum (2013) reported that over 80% of the students admitted that they or a close friend had sought out a risky behavior just to post it on Facebook.  The author again correlated this to the perception this gives to current and future college students observing the ‘college experience.’
  • Comic: On the opposite end of the Risk-Taker Front was the Comic.  This was a profile that included posts that were funny.  An interesting discovery was that the importance of humor on a Facebook profile, setting the tone that the student was interesting, accessible, and fun.  Further, “The comic front was one of the most important self-presentation techniques students used on Facebook profiles to ensure that audience members felt connected to the person” (2013, p. 165).

Birnbaum encouraged college administrators to first be concerned about the Risk-Taking profile behavior that could result in injury.  For other fronts, such as the Partier, a general educational effort of student awareness should be implemented.  No matter the front each student used, each was very aware their behavior online created a perceived impression by their classmates.

11256520_s“Students were aware that profiles represented an opportunity to present themselves positively and were aware that other students did the same” (p. 166).

This awareness is an important puzzle piece when looking at the big picture of social media behavior of college students, even opening the door to conversations of digital identity development.  If students are aware of their activity, then providing digital education to further their awareness is possible.

That being said, the Birnbaum is only one small study, in a sea of social media realities.  Reading this post as an educator, parent or maybe even a college student do you relate with any of the user types, presentation behaviors or fronts?

Call it a digital footprint, tattoo or shadow you must actively take on social media awareness into your practice.  It doesn’t matter if you are performing, fronting or presenting, what you type is what you are, especially in the eyes that view you online.

My challenge: How can you use the ability to self-present on social media to spread positivity, pushing for social change and cultivating an online community of care?

It is here where I believe social media performance behavior will take us beyond 140 characters, beyond finding the most likable selfie or producing the next viral video.  You are what you type.


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For all content cited on this post, explore {here} for all references I have used on this blog.

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5 Responses to What Are You Typing?

  1. Zeb Davenport April 23, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    Josie, this is a thought provoking piece. I only hope that our students and young professionals take the time to read and apply the lessons in this post.

    Thanks for sharing


  2. Lloyd Ahlquist April 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    babe i think ‘m a lurker 🙁

  3. Paul Schantz (@paulschantz) April 29, 2014 at 9:36 am #


    College students use “fronts” in social media?! I’m shocked – SHOCKED – that they’d intentionally use these tools to help shape their self-identification! That college students use social media fronts should come as no surprise…identity politics are typically a big part of students’ lives.

    This normal act of human development, when translated into the digital world, seems to concern people who have a traditional view of privacy and propriety. The media perfectly illustrates this every year with their coverage of spring break. The talking heads all tsk-tsk the wild and crazy students, while pretending that they themselves never participated in such activity (although there are probably polaroids of their antics out there somewhere). The difference for the older set is that the lack of a digital record allows them to more easily suppress that all-too human part of their past. To me, this “privacy divide” is the really interesting part of the conversation.

    I’d like to know more about your thoughts on how user categories and self-presentation methods interact with each other…that’s probably a long post, right? 🙂

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!


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