PhotoWhat kind of person are you when it comes to your social media persona? Are you the selfie-taker who posts daily? The frequent commenter on others’ posts? The news sharer or poster of cute cat videos? Or do you prefer to remain aloof and not post much at all?

According to a new study, how you portray yourself online might have a lot to do with fitting in with those around you. Researchers from Penn State and King’s College compiled data on 100,000 consumers who used multiple social media outlets and found that they modified their personality to fit in with the tone of each site.

“In the social media era, without realizing it, people are leaving their marks. If we can tap into these digital footprints, then we can learn a lot about their behavior,” said researcher Nisanth Sastry. “Social media consumes an increasingly large portion of our lives. Therefore, understanding how we interact with each other on social media is important to understanding who we are in the online world, and how we relate to each other in virtual but still meaningful ways.”

Common trends

Using the site About.me, which acts as a social media directory for users who volunteer their information, the researchers analyzed consumers’ profile pictures, biography information, and other ways that they portrayed themselves online. The findings showed some similarities for certain demographics on each site.

For example, the researchers found that women tended to avoid wearing corrective glasses, like reading glasses, in their profile pictures. Users under the age of 25 were also less likely to be smiling in their profile pictures.

The researchers said that when presented with the profile description and photo, models could identify the platform it was created for between 60% and 80% of the time.

The "perfect" profile?

Sastry and her colleagues don’t believe that users are consciously changing aspects of their profiles to fit a certain norm. Instead, they say that users subconsciously modify different profile aspects to fit in with the users around them.

“[The data shows that subtly], despite our best efforts, we do still fit stereotypes of gender and age in the way we tailor our personas,” said Sastry.

The team believes that further research into this area could help social media users tailor their profiles to best fit in with the tone of each site. “We should be able to choose and suggest the best images from their personal collections for putting up on each of these platforms,” said Sastry.


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