In creating an online identity, I have taken a very active and focused approach. I have fully embraced the idea of being both creator and curator of content, “uploading and organizing [my] own content” (McNeill, 2013, p. 39) as a means of self-expression and personal brand building. I have sought to achieve a level of “digital symbiosis” (p. 38) with a specific online community, women entrepreneurs, and I attempt to leverage the tools of new media to serve a specific purpose. In this paper, I will explore where and how I self-represent online, the differences between my online self and my “regular” self, and how my online self relates to my cultural expectations. I propose that my online self is the meeting of performance and projection.
In the online space, I primarily live on Facebook. I have an active presence on Twitter and LinkedIn. I also have a personal website (http://AngelaStalcup.com) and a personal blog (http://curvylife.com). I use YouTube to host videos, but I tend to use those videos on Facebook, my personal website, or my blog. I self-represent through the native technologies of the social networks and applications that I use, as well as through strategic content creation and curation. Elmer (1997 as cited in McNeill, 2013) reveals, there is now “an overwhelming emphasis on aesthetics, graphics, moving and still pictures, and … three dimensional web pages” (p. 39). I take full advantage of the visual elements of my online “home.” In social media, I post lots of pictures, including a lot of selfies, to add to the visual element. On my personal website and blog, I use professional stock photos along with my own photography, and use video on occasion. When creating text-based material, I am very cognizant of my personal brand and business goals, even when posting something “just for fun.”
I am attempting to create a very specific online identity, closely related to my “regular” self, but definitely with a focus on my positive qualities. McNeill (2013) describes three experiences of engagement with a projected identity: authentic, refined, inauthentic. I consider authenticity and transparency to be part of my personality and value system, so I strive to be as authentic as possible; however, there are times when I take a refined approach. I started using Facebook expressly for the purposes of creating my own online broadcast channel, with “commercials” for my business interspersed with entertaining and informative content. As part of this broadcast strategy, I have cast myself in the role of being a fun friend who is in the know about business and events in Atlanta and beyond. Additionally, I am advocate for positive body image, so I have an online identity as “Curvy Angela,” my user name of my blog. Curvy Angela is “curvy, sexy, crazy” (Stalcup, 2008) and is all about being bold and living out loud. I use the tools of Web 2.0 to build, maintain, and grow these identities.
I use the visual and textual elements of my preferred online platforms in an attempt to move beyond a simple encounter-event to move beyond “expression as projection” (McNeill, 2013, p. 29) to an online engagement, an exchange between my projected identity and that of someone else. I am attempting to create a co-emergent experience with others in such as way as to form links and to a collective experience. The visual elements of images and photography are effective means of getting a “pull” response to the “push” of my messages. The Facebook algorithm favors pictures, so whenever I post a picture it is more likely to appear in the news feeds of my friends than simply text alone. Further, people like to “like” and comment on pictures. (As I write this paper, a picture that I posted thirty minutes ago of me performing on stage has already gotten 25 likes.) The goal in this is to strike a balance between the authentic (I post before and after pictures of getting my hair colored, gray roots, foils, and all) and the refined image (professionally produced headshots and video), so as to seem professional, yet at the same time “real.”
While I consider my online presence to be a facet, if not a complete mirror, of my “regular” self, there are parts of my life that I choose not to share. My goal for my online presence is to establish a personal brand as well as to engage and create community for women entrepreneurs. I consider the impact to the community of my personal beliefs and lifestyle choices, and if I think that the sharing of these aspects of myself would be unnecessarily controversial, I do not share them. I have very strong personal beliefs on politics, religion, sexuality, and a host of other issues. However, these do not particularly relate to the community that I am trying to engage, women entrepreneurs. I seek to create an inclusive experience for anyone who wants to engage my digital identity. If was on online simply for the purposes of self-expression, I would be more vocal on personal issues. Thus, I allow others to interpret my identity in a way that serves my purpose for being online.
Culturally, I navigate multiple cultures in my online engagements. As a middle class, white, American woman, it is not unexpected in my culture to have a large online presence and to spend a lot of time in social media. I also interface with Southern culture, both from a family perspective (400 years in North Carolina on both sides) and in terms of where I live (21 years in Atlanta). When dealing with Southern culture, I am aware of certain sensitivities, particularly related to religion. Atlanta in a multi-ethnic community, and I have a diverse set of friends—black, white, Asian, Latino, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, gay, straight, transgendered—and I attempt to maintain a cultural sensitivity regarding race, religion, and background. Finally, I consider the female entrepreneurial community to be a type of culture, and I attempt to support an inclusive environment based on positivity and reciprocity. I cannot always keep all of these cultures happy; however, I find that even in disagreement there are ways to be respectful in engagement and dialogue.
When I consider the nature of my online identity, I see it as the intersection of performance and projection. McNeill (2013) describes the difference between the two terms: “the encounter of the performance relies on a linear structure, which contradicts the essence of projection and the emergent encounter-event” (p. 50). To an extent, the encounter-events that I initiate are a form of performance. I am performing the role of “Angela About Town,” “Business Angela,” or “Curvy Angela.” Yet, these performances lead to engagement and interaction with others and become co-emergent, with my projected-identity engaging with other projected-identities in digitally-projected communities. Having been in the online space for over six years, my online self and my in-person self have developed a symbiotic relationship, a relationship that I enjoy.
McNeill, S. (2013). Concepts in new media: Online communication, culture, and community. Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Solutions.
Stalcup, A. (2008). In Facebook. Retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/angela.stalcup