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You may think that your social media profile is largely the same across all the major social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. However, according to researchers at Penn State’s College of Information Science Technologies and King’s College London, that’s not actually the case.
Social media personas
Based on a recent study of 100,000 social media profiles, the researchers found that people tend to subconsciously edit their profiles and the type of content they post to match the culture or personality of the social media platform they are using. And that’s true regardless of age or gender.
Some of the examples suggested by the study are obvious – like the fact that it’s perfectly OK to post a photo of a beautiful caramel latte on Instagram, but it’s not socially acceptable to do so on LinkedIn. Or that some social media sites seem to require a slightly more creative bio, while others are much more linear and factual.
But some of the examples cited in the survey are quite subtle. For example, the researchers found that social media users under the age of 25 are less likely to be smiling in their profile photo than are older users. On the surface, that’s quite odd. You’d expect young adults to be carefree and smiling, right? But it turns out that they are subconsciously adapting to different social norms set by older users, especially in the case of a social network like LinkedIn.
The culture and etiquette of different social platforms
In fact, the culture and accepted etiquette of each social media platform is so defined, the researchers say, that just by showing them the bio and profile photo of a user, they can determine within 60-80% accuracy on which social network it was posted.
What’s fascinating is that we are all creating different social media personas across a wide range of platforms, and somehow unconsciously keeping all those personas straight in our minds. (Much as we might appear in one way to our close group of college friends, but entirely different to a boss in the workplace)
In search of the optimal social profile
The study also opens up the possibility that it’s somehow possible to “optimize” your profile for a particular social media network. The secret to getting more followers might be as simple as just understanding what seems to be working, much as some art historians are working with mathematicians and computer scientists to determine what makes a particular painting “beautiful” to others. (Theoretically, it might be possible to reverse-engineer the “Mona Lisa”!)
For example, you could study a random sample of 100,000 social media profiles, find out how many followers or friends they had, and determine that the optimal profile photo was having your head facing a certain direction, or that it’s optimal to show 25% part of your body in addition to your face. Or it might be optimal to use humor in your Instagram bio, but not in your LinkedIn bio.
The bigger picture is that all of us – even the ones amongst us who think they are doing a great job creating a carefully filtered social media presence online – respond to subtle social clues that we observe around us. Proving once again that man is inherently a social animal. And online social situations are no different from real-world social situations, where we absorb subtle clues about posture, or intonation or appearance from our peers and react accordingly.