Millennials want (and don’t want) authenticity on Social Media

In the northern spring of this year, Linnaeus University Masters students Guia Tina Bertoncini and Maria Teresa Schmaltz published their study on the millennial generation and their perceptions on social media through various lenses.

The Take Aways
Called “What’s on your mind?”, the study included a survey  sample size of 264 people who claimed to be between the age of 18-31 in 2013, putting them solidly in the millennial generation. Ninety-nine percent of respondents indicated they had a prsence on Facebook. Respondents came from 85 universities in 37 countries. Although there were a variety of questions in this, here are the graphs relating to my favourites:

social-media-authenticity

A majority of the respondents indicated they felt that social media increases the chance to represent a distorted self-image to others. At the same time a majority of respondents indicate they represent “nothing but my authentic self” on social media.

A majority of respondents also indicated that they put both positive and negative aspects of of the “real me” forward to others (generally); which is interesting, as research has shown–especially on social media–that people tend to display more positive versions of themselves on social media, as this “positive bias” is what generates the most positive response from an online audience.

Although the survey sample and analysis is limited, it is interesting how the individuals in this survey perceive social media presences to be likely to be distorting for others, but not themselves.

The conclusion the authors come to is that “…it is questionable…whether millennials are aware that social media revolution is not only altering our minds by influencing our brains and behaviors but directly the way in which we young individuals develop our sense of self-esteem and identity (p.87).”

This is an issue not exclusive to the millennial generation; the experiences we have, and the expectations of others, do distort the way we see ourselves and others.

Existential and Constructive Authenticity
Whether the perception that we are more authentic than others can be attributed to the Actor-Observer effect or the Hawthorne Effect (or both); the fact is we change our behaviour when we are being watched. 

Constructive Authenticity is a dimension of authenticity that looks at authenticity in reference to the cultural context. On Facebook, there are expectations around appropriate behaviour. Acting in accordance with those rules is not inauthentic; in fact to act against those norms may be considered inauthentic (as though you were doing something to intentionally upset someone else). However, the argument that Bertoncini and Schmaltz seem to be making is that millennials are confusing their online personas with offline ones. Perhaps partly because people may be pressured to be as happy and gorgeous offline as they portray themselves to be in social media?

Existential Authenticity is a dimension of authenticity discussed in several posts on this blog. One aspect of existentialist philosophy is addressing the pressure we feel from others to be a certain way. Cultural programming is strong, and can create anxiety when our inner selves do not align with the outer selves we portray–and a main cause of that anxiety is the expectation of others. Certainly social media has become the root of much more anxiety than we have had in the past. Growing up with it, millennials have an almost inevitable draw to use social media, no matter how it makes them feel. 

This question around identity will inevitably spill out into what millennials perceive as authentic as well. Although marketers view every generation as a segment with their own specific attributes based on a variety of factors, perhaps it is time for marketers to attempt to quantify and analyse this type of “distortion” in regards to authenticity and the affect it has on the millennials’ perception of it.

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