STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — What you find out about someone on one social network may very well not be what you find about them on another, a new study finds. That’s because people are often taking on different personas when it comes to social media, depending on which network they’re using.
Researchers at Penn State University looked at over 100,000 social media users and their profiles through the curated service About.me, hoping to find similarities and differences in how personas were presented by platform.
Those conducting the study made the hypothesis that differing personas across platforms were due to individuals attempting to abide by the standards or mood of a particular site. Some pictures— e.g. a selfie or Frappuccino— may be appropriate on Instagram, but not LinkedIn, they explained as an example.
The researchers used social links from About.me’s directory because “users volunteer their own profiles, which makes it an extremely reliable dataset,” says lead researcher Dongwon Lee, an associate professor of information sciences and technology, in a university news release.
The fact that About.me allows for easy comparison across multiple sites was also cited as being beneficial for the research.
“It allowed us to go from pairs of social networks, which we had been studying recently, to all the major social network platforms today: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram,” Lee shared. “The users tend to portray themselves differently in these different worlds.”
Certain observations concerning online personas within specific demographics were rather captivating.
Women, for example, were found less likely to wear glasses in their profile pictures. More broadly, it was found that individuals under the age of 25 were less likely to be smiling in their profile pictures than those older than 25.
Furthermore, given no more than a profile description and photo, a model that the researchers created was able to predict with 60-to-80 percent accuracy the social network that the presented content appeared on.
Although we don’t deliberately model our profiles after others, “we do still fit stereotypes of gender and age in the way we tailor our personas,” the researchers argue.
In other words, we unconsciously mimic the profiles of our peers.
Further inquiry could be made into how to craft the “perfect” social media profile for each platform, allowing individuals to select their best images for any given site.
The study, “Wearing Many (Social) Hats: How Different are Your Different Social Network Personae?” will be presented at the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM) next month.