Corporate Eye

Image Management and Social Media – How to Connect With an Invisible Audience

fishing-fliesThink about the last time you tried to make a first impression.

Did you gauge the reaction of the person or people with whom you were speaking? Did you monitor their body language and gestures and react accordingly? Did you act in accordance to the social context (e.g. work setting vs. social setting)?

Thinking back, you can probably see how you adapted your conversation approach to the reactions you received from your audience. For example, you most likely emphasized or de-emphasized certain things, changing your self-presentation based upon the context of the situation and the gender, race, status, etc. of your audience.

Our identities and sense-of-self are established through interactions with others, making impression-management a collaborative affair. Impression-management is when we constantly monitor how people respond to us, and how we adjust our self-presentation accordingly. It is an essential component of communication, but social media, Twitter in particular, makes impression-management quite complicated. Why? Because the audience is invisible.

Impression-management is easy to do in face-to-face conversation. But what happens when your audience is invisible? Social media removes the ability to gauge the visible reactions of an audience and adjust our behavior accordingly. Twitter makes it even more difficult by eliminating your ability to even know whom your audience is comprised of. To Tweet is to broadcast information into the abyss of cyberspace – and, while you can obtain a glimpse of your Twitter audience through their occasional responses and re-tweets, you can never be completely sure who is listening out there.

This makes maintaining authenticity difficult. You can’t be everything to everyone – especially when you don’t know who ‘everyone’ is. Social media collapses diverse audiences into one conglomeration of varied ideas, cultures, opinions, preferences, race, gender, nationality, etc. This creates a problem for authenticity. One facet of your audience may connect with certain aspects that other members of your audience interpret as fake.

So if authenticity changes according to the characteristics of the audience, then how do you maintain authenticity and connect with an invisible audience? Research suggests two methods: self-censorship and balance.

Self-Censorship –Tweet With Caution

  • Do not broach sensitive topics such as:
    • Dating, sex, relationships, and marital problems
    • Criticisms of one’s job
    • Controversial or negative topics that might alienate followers
  • Instead convey sensitivity, intelligent, professionalism, and diversity.
  • Write for the ‘lowest common denominator audience’, or those individuals who are the most sensitive and easy to offend.
  • Heed to caution, but maintain authenticity by revealing snippets of personality through discussing personal opinion on neutral things such as music, art, or food.

Balance – Appeal To A Broad Audience

  • Use audience feedback to continually monitor follower expectations. However, this must be a multifaceted approach because different followers have different preferences for providing feedback.
  • Be human – include a carefully concocted mix of the ups and downs of daily operation. This will address audiences that are interested in the human side of your corporation
  • Speak naturally – almost all audiences are turned off by corporate jargon
  • Be knowledgeable – include interesting information including new research, or real-life stories involving your product

Therefore, corporations can appeal to their tribe of multiple audiences by mixing the personal with the professional to create an optimum blend for audience connection and engagement.


NOTE: The information included in this article was adapted from:

Marwick, AE &b Boyd, D (2010). I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and Imagined Audience. New Media & Society, DOI: 10.1177/1461444810365313