Ever stop and wonder why you posted that selfie on Instagram? Or why your friend shared something on Facebook?
As it turns out, there is a seminal theory of motivation that explains some of that behavior. Goffman writes of Impression Management, suggesting that people have many motives for wanting to control what others thing about them. When we convey information about ourselves, it helps others know things like our interests, social status or competencies.
Baumeister & Hutton expand on the idea of impression management, parsing motivations for behaviors of self-presentation into two different groups. In the first group, pleasing the audience, a person is sharing to match the audience’s expectation with their communication. For example, if someone is an athlete, he or she might share with their network a picture in athletic gear, reinforcing to others how athletic they are, solidifying an athletic bond with friends.
In the other form of self-presentation, Baumeister & Hutton suggest a person creates an impression to create their own identity, or construct a narrative (for myself) by telling others about who they are. For example, someone greedy with a guilty conscience might share online a story about a generous act during the holidays. If you are paying attention, you can probably see through the facade.
Examining your own identity, beliefs about yourself and acts of impression management might help you to understand what your motivations are.
I would like to suggest a third approach to online social media posts. Rather than pleasing an audience, or constructing your own identity, make your online posts a one-way mirror. Throw impression management out altogether. Anyone who looks into the mirror should see who you are and what you’re doing – but when you look at it, you only see a perfect reflection of yourself.