Self-Presentation on LinkedIn: From the Perspective of Mediation

Shuqui Liu

Abstract

LinkedIn, as the most popular and reliable social media platform in the field of professional career, exerts an increasingly indispensable influence on social network establishment and jobs’ applications. The paper focuses on the role LinkedIn plays in the process of it from the perspective of mediation. Technically speaking, LinkedIn is an innovative remediation of previous media and technologies and affords more scenarios and allows bilateral communications online. As a meta-medium representing other media, LinkedIn has personal portraits, online resumes, and homepage as tokens to convey meanings of professionality and reliability based on default social consensus. Online presentation on LinkedIn is a simulation of authenticity essentially. Self-presentation on LinkedIn has to face a severe issue that who the audience is.

Key Words: Self-Presentation; LinkedIn; Social Media; Mediation


Introduction

LinkedIn, launched in 2003, is the largest online social media that mainly focus on professional networking, job seeking, and recruitment (Girard & Fallery, 2010). It targets those who have needs to seek jobs or employees. It is a platform both for employers to promote themselves and post recruitments and for job applicants to demonstrate their resumes to leave positive impressions. In addition, people take advantage of LinkedIn to build their new social network and gain more social resources. For example, they search for someone who works in their ideal companies or industries and send messages to them via LinkedIn to grasp useful information.

Out of these unequivocal purposes, users of LinkedIn are playing the roles that they expect to be seen in order to achieve their occupational goals. In other words, they are making self-presentation. It is “the use of behaviors to communicate some information about oneself to others. (Baumeister, 1982)” With the word, Erving Goffman stated in his The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, people are making “impression management” on a front stage, LinkedIn. According to Goffman, a self is a dramatic effect, which is revealed from demonstrative scenarios (Erving Goffman, 1965).

Though interaction on social media is still based on humans, coincide with the alteration of a whole interactive framework, skills, and consequences that individuals interact and present themselves vary obviously as well. Because of the virtuality of social media, all information expressed on it is symbolic and meaningful, which can be differentiated from reality in real lives’ performance (Hogan. B, 2010). At the same time, it is due to the fact that social media is equipped with abundant symbols and meanings that it becomes a popular platform for individuals to show themselves.

Extant research on self-presentation mainly concentrates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which cover a broad range of people’ lives. By comparison, fewer papers are about segmented or vertical social media, such as LinkedIn in a professional field. Moreover, the majority of studies focus on psychological or social factors influencing self-presentation or placing it in the context of social constructionism. Therefore, this essay starts from the perspective of social media design, trying to combine media theory, semiosis, and information theory to explain roles that LinkedIn plays in the formation and demonstration of users’ performative self. That is to say, it is necessary to de-blackbox LinkedIn as a social media in the context of self-presentation. What are design principles LinkedIn follow? What’s the characteristics of it as a profession-oriented social media? How does it mediate performative self?

Understand LinkedIn as a Social Media

Tracing back to the origin of the term “medium”, it means “in the middle” or “in between” (Martin Irvine, 2018). It connects two or more things together and establish mutual relationships, such as carriers and content, or signifiers and signified. Depending on the development of technology, forms of media evolve simultaneously, from paper, telegraphs, radios, TVs, to the Internet and so on. Various media forms result in various systems of expression, transmission, and consumption. Thusly, de-blackboxing LinkedIn might be necessary to better understand it as a unique social media which is relatively new compared with preceding media.

Affordance. Prior to the emergence of LinkedIn, there still existed strong needs to both hunts for occupations and personnel, and thusly generating other intermediate actants to bear the same duties. Some newspapers or magazines have a whole page for recruiting advertisement. Offline career fairs or meet-and-greet events are of great necessity as well. Nevertheless, these existing approaches still have disadvantages. For instance, newspapers’ advertisement is a linear transmission of information, lacking sufficient communication between employers and applicants. Career fairs have limitations of time and space, which constrains the scale or increase the costs of searching for matched candidates.

With LinkedIn, whereas, these drawbacks diminish in a sense because it enables bilateral communication and transcends time’s and space’s limits based on the popularity of the Internet. It affords more scenarios than conventional approaches that serve the same functions. Affordance is introduced by perceptual psychologist James Gibson and used by Donald Norman to describe the action possibility perceivable by an actor (Norman, 1999). In the case of LinkedIn, LinkedIn is the actor that takes the responsibilities of newspaper and career fairs.

From the perspective of self-presentation, LinkedIn provides two specific affordances for users. Firstly, we can exhibit or demonstrate our digital imprint (Tufekei, Z., 2008). That’s to say, if we don’t delete or hide our information on our own initiatives, our homepage can be accessed to all visitors all the time. Besides that, self-presentation on LinkedIn often lacks specific contexts, so information is fragmented and isolated without underpinning of an understandable environment. Some scholars named it as “cue-reduced environment” (Walther, J.B., 1996), and some researchers entitled it as “context collapse”(Marwick. A. E, & Boyd, D., 2011).

Remediation. With the boost of multiple online social communication platforms, what we usually name “social media”, such as Facebook and Twitter, increasing amounts of segmented and professional social media emerged, like LinkedIn. It is designed to simulate or re-mediate earlier forms of media that already existed for a long time in human history, such as paper resumes, blogs, instant-messaging tools. In this sense, there is nothing new about LinkedIn. It doesn’t invent anything but merely figures out an innovative to organize modules that we have and make them better to serve its purpose. As a result, with the help of knowledge and using principles that ingrained in people’s cognitive system, LinkedIn is very user-friendly. Even a new user can be familiar with and handle LinkedIn in short time. Besides that, its remediation of previous media forms also turns it into a meta-media which represents other media, such as writing, images, videos, and intercommunication tools.

LinkedIn’s Design and Its Career-Oriented Meanings

Based on what we discussed above, LinkedIn acts as a social media bearing multiple media forms and functional modules. Why does it apply these media and functions? How do they enact influence on personal self-presentation? Charles Sanders Peirce’s trichotomy of signs can be applied to explain that.

Personal Portraits. On LinkedIn, the most direct way to showcase oneself and leave a profound and positive impression on others is personal photos. A professional and attractive photo can catch people’s attention instantly and incite their interest in you at the first glance in the absence of any other background information. Usually, those who have desires to make appealing impression take photos especially for seeking employment.

There are a couple of characteristics of such photos. First of all, it is universal that most people wear formal attires or professional uniforms to take pictures. Obviously, dressing decently make people look more reliable and intelligent, even though it’s hard to tell how strong the correlation is. But it is like a default setting. People follow social norms sometimes unconsciously. In the process of socialization, such as receiving education and affected by mass media, concepts like business formal, business casual, and causal are implanted in people’s mind. Relations between dress codes and appropriate occasions are not established naturally but went through a long history of fashion development and social agreement. According to Piece’s theories, these are symbolic tokens that are built upon social consensus. Aside from dress code, facial expressions and background images are also strictly and potentially regulated (Sigal Tifferet, Iris Vilnai-Yavetz, 2017). The majority of people choose smiling or serious expressions instead of exaggerating or hilarious ones. Background images are usually of pure colors or meaningful representamens.

From these latent norms, an apparent difference of personal images between LinkedIn and other common social media is that photos on LinkedIn are objects which are supposed to convey meanings of professionality and reliability. The meanings behind photos are socially constructed. On the contrary, users can utilize whatever photos they like as their personal images on other social media. Because in that case, they can reveal their personalities and uniqueness.

Online Resume. A resume is the main arena for self-presentation in LinkedIn. It condenses all relevant background information of a job applicant in one page, which sometimes plays a decisive role whether an employer is interested in you. There is a popular saying that, “an employer doesn’t spend more than 5 seconds to scan through a resume.” It could be a little bit exaggerated, but it sheds light on how significant it is to present oneself via resume.

A resume is not a creative invention at all. However, putting resumes on a social media and make them available to all can be another story. An online resume is the most popular and useful modules of LinkedIn. On the one hand, it is for users to present themselves. They dive into all experiences they had before and try to figure out a few spotlights from them. They list their educational and working experience, skills and honors, volunteer history, and other interests, in order to meet requirements that an ideal job sets. On the other hand, headhunter firms or human resources departments are able to have a basic understanding of possible employees efficiently. Compared with online searching and browsing resumes, traditional ways to recruitment are easier to miss people with talents.

In these dual processes, symbolic meanings of resumes reveal. Educational experiences show how intelligent or hard-working a job applicant is. Working experiences reflect competence and experience. Skills examine whether one is equipped with essential skills that a position requests. Nothing is meaningless, because of limited attention of potential employers. All information is based on a default social contract that everything mentioned on resumes is of priority when considering if one is qualified.

Homepage. Technically speaking, the homepage on LinkedIn is similar in appearance to counterparts on Facebook and Twitter. It is a subsidiary platform to exhibit oneself. It allows posing texts, photographs, and videos on your homepage that anyone following you can see.

Though social media mentioned above share analogous functions, they are placed in distinctive contexts so that contain different meanings and purpose. Self-presentation on common social media vary greatly depending on what genres of images one wants to present. In the case of LinkedIn, whereas, the goal is quite clear that everyone wishes to demonstrate an enterprising and responsible self. In consequence, nearly all content posted on one’s page is picked up and organized delicately for the potential audience.

For instance, someone might upload a couple of photographs with working overtime to show how diligent he is. According to information theory, photographs here are encoded with hidden meanings. However, the audience might decode these photos into a completely different meaning that the person is inefficient. What distorts information in the process of transmission is noise. Anything interfering the accuracy of transmission can be regarded as noise, such as cultural barriers and personal understandings. It is due to the clarified purpose in this case that any misunderstanding can be deadly disastrous. No one is willing to take risks to detriment his career life. Thusly, in order to avoid the distortion of information, most people on LinkedIn will take up relatively conservative strategies to promote themselves. That is to say, what they pose usually are with clear expressions and direct connotations.

Characteristics of Self-Presentation on LinkedIn

Essentially, from what stated above, self-presentation on LinkedIn is a self-promotion campaign. LinkedIn acts as an online social platform for users to reconstruct and renovate their self-images to establish a social network and to hunt for jobs. It is similar to a traditional interview, but the most distinguished difference is that LinkedIn is like a comprehensive interview with no time and place, so applicants have no choice but to wear masks to perform professionally whenever they are using it. Once you log in your LinkedIn account, the curtain opens, and the show gets started.

Some previous studies examine self-presentation on social media from the perspectives of perfectionism, narcissism, and personality traits. Undoubtedly, these aspects also affect how individuals present themselves on LinkedIn, but it doesn’t have the strongest explanatory power. Self-presentation on common social media results from needs of self-fulfillment and self-appreciation. Those who immerse in self-presentation usually set high criteria for themselves and attempt to achieve the ideal images via social media. Nevertheless, self-presentation on LinkedIn is out of certain pressure, because people have needs to enhance social resources and lay foundations for a future career. Even if you are not outbound or articulate, profession pressure still urges you to stand on the stage. Therefore, Ervin Goffman’s dramaturgical theory might be more appropriate in the case study of LinkedIn.

Simulation and Authenticity. In early studies of self-presentation, Goffman spotlights interpersonal interaction via languages’ symbols or non-languages’ symbols in face-to-face communication in real lives, which can be compared to live shows. For example, that a waiter smile at his customers doesn’t imply he is really welcoming them but just a universal ritual. He acts as a waiter so that he has to smile.

In the circumstance above, self-presentation fades out in a few seconds and cannot be recorded and reproduced by cameras in most occasions. Unlike its counterparts on LinkedIn, if the subject doesn’t delete it specially, its data can remain for a quite long time. Though there exist some differences between what Goffman said and what we experience on LinkedIn, concepts he provided can still be applied to online communication.

From the perspective of Ervin Goffman, self-presentation is a daily performance. On LinkedIn, whereas, it gets closer to the demonstration. Bernie Hogan argues that self-presentation on the Internet evolves from performance to self-exhibition (Bernie Hogan, 2010). When considering this issue, there two layers to be discussed. First and foremost, the whole process of simulation has to go through at least three procedures, which are categorizing facts about oneself, sorting by importance, and making decisions. Some less crucial information or something equally critical but the owner wants to conceal will be omitted. A job applicant can hide his recent failure in a project but just show what he succeeded in. Hence, an HR might judge his competence inaccurately. Beyond that, in the absence of contexts, such as the coordinate of time and space, it can be vague or even misleading for the audience to understand. That’s why Benjamin argued that “sphere of authenticity is outside the technical [sphere]. (Walter Benjamin, 1936)” Although Benjamin put forward this concept by stating the reproduction of artworks, it is beneficiary to understand the insurmountable gap between one’s image on LinkedIn and himself. Lacking actual and direct interaction, the aura is eroded. Posing information on LinkedIn can be seen as a kind of reproduction of self. No matter how much information a job applicant gives, it is still hard to know him genuinely.

Audience Isolation and Imagined Audience. Daily self-presentation must be placed within certain boundaries. In other words, people adopt various strategies to manage their impressions in a different context. The reasons why context exerts such an indispensable effect is that it involves role plays and imagined audience. Everyone plays multiple roles in the world, such as a father, a citizen, a worker, and a Marvel fan. It’s difficult for one person to play more than one role at the same time because the requirements and expectations sometimes are completely different. Each role has its corresponding responsibilities and thusly personalities. People have designed a set of behavioral patterns for a certain group of audience. If anyone else interrupts the balance, situations must be awkward. That’s what Goff call “audience isolation”.

But audience isolation has two premises. Firstly, the audience must be identifiable. However, in the case of LinkedIn, that who will visit your CV is beyond your control. It could be an HR, an old friend, or even a stranger. The audience of your homepage is not identifiable anymore but merely a kind of “Imagined audience”. Secondly, the audience can be isolated. On LinkedIn, you can adjust the privacy setting to insulate visitors, which is workable. But meanwhile costs of time and energy consumption is so high, and this action precludes the possibilities of some potential social resources from getting touch with you. As a consequence, users have to choose the tactic of “lowest common denominator” which is to perform neutrally and conservatively to avoid any possible troubles.

Conclusion

LinkedIn, as the most popular and reliable social media platform in the field of professional career, exerts an increasingly indispensable influence on social network establishment and jobs’ applications. For the sake of self-promotion, the majority of users present glorified selves on it selectively. This paper focuses on the role LinkedIn plays in the process of it from the perspective of mediation.

Firstly, technically speaking, LinkedIn itself is an innovative remediation of previous media and technologies, such as blogs, CVs, and instant chatting tools. Before the emergence of LinkedIn, the needs to hunt for jobs and talents also exist but were satisfied by other forms, like career fairs and recruitment advertisements on newspapers. Compared with these prior forms, LinkedIn affords more scenarios and allows bilateral communications online. Although these forms remain today, LinkedIn assumes their roles to some extent.

As a meta-medium representing other media, LinkedIn has a lot of modules designed for self-presentation. The paper emphasizes three of them, personal portraits, online resumes, and homepage. By applying Piece’s semiotic theories, these three modules are all tokens to convey meanings of professionality and reliability based on default social consensus. But they also have nuanced differences based on their own characteristics and function as a whole to set up a positive self-image.

Extant studies mainly engaged in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so it is worthwhile to examine what uniqueness LinkedIn has. This paper has a conversation with Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical theory briefly. Online presentation on LinkedIn is a simulation of authenticity essentially, which unavoidably exits a gap between a real person or real interaction. In the word of Benjamin, aura fades away in this process. Beyond that, self-presentation on LinkedIn has to face a severe issue that who the audience is. Because the audience becomes unpredictable and thusly uncontrollable on LinkedIn, users might be more inclined to perform neutrally and safely.

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