In 1956, Erving Goffman introduced his theory of impression management. His book, The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, contended that individuals always strive to manage their impressions during social settings. To do, individuals must first identify the social setting they are in (e.g., a theatre or dinner party), adopt the most appropriate behaviors for these settings and take actions that will foster a positive impression on others. For instance, picking one’s nose during a formal party may negatively impact one’s impression, while introducing new topics for discussion during a dinner party may lead to a positive impression. For Goffman, all of life was a stage and all are men and women were actors putting on elaborate shows so as to win over audiences.
Fortunately for Goffman, he did not live to see the age of social media. For what are social media if not grand stages and giant theatres on which individuals manage their impressions. The Presentation of the Self on Social Media is far more demanding than that envisioned by Goffman. The reason being that on social media one manages his/her impression on an hourly basis. Frequent status updates are a prerequisite of social media usage. Those who post and tweet the least experience a form of social death, they are cast aside and thrown to the backstage of social media. Those who post the most attract attention to their shows. Moreover, on social media the ‘show’ never stops, and the curtain never falls. Well-choreographed performances, meant to elicit a certain impression, are posted by individuals from sunset to sundown.
The Presentation of the Self on Social Media is confounded by the fact that different social media platforms constitute different social settings. Twitter is akin to a dinner party where important topics such as politics, art and capitalism are debated; Facebook is a housewarming party where one stumbles into old acquaintances and close friends; LinkedIn is a professional conference filled with ‘meet and greet’ events while Instagram is a fashion magazine in which one must make love to the camera. As each network offers a different setting, individuals must manage multiple impressions while performing multiple shows. The result is often social fatigue.
However, the differences between social media platforms can also serve as an advantage, especially in the realm of diplomacy. For while an Ambassador may use his Twitter account to comment on breaking news or offer an analysis of global events, he may also use Facebook to offer followers a glimpse into his personal life, his home and family or his hobbies. In these cases, the Ambassador’s audiences are supposedly given access to the backstage of his official, Twitter performance. Yet this reveal is merely a slight of hand for an Ambassador’s Facebook page is also a tool for impression management. In other words, the backstage is in itself just another stage on which the Ambassador performs, while creating a sense of intimacy that cannot be fostered on Twitter.
In this post, I analyzed differences between two impressions of Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). To do so, I focused on Russian MFA Tweets that feature Zakharova (who does not manage her own account) as well as her personal Facebook page. The differences between the two impressions are profound and shed light on how different impressions may be used toward the same diplomatic ends.
Zakharova’s Impression Management on Twitter
The impression that Zakharova manages on Twitter is that of the consummate professional. Tweets containing her hashtag are uniform and display the spokesperson behind a podium briefing journalists or foreign dignitaries. In these Tweets, the podium serves as a prop, or a barrier that prevents followers from creating an intimate relationship with Zakharova.
MFA spox #Zakharova: Russia put maximum effort to save #OpenSkiesTreaty, offered members to provide guarantees not to hand over their flights’ data to US. Regrettably, they put political orientation towards Washington above maintaining vital instrument of pan-European security. pic.twitter.com/1Q5wRz6ZHb
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) January 16, 2021
???? Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria #Zakharova will hold a #briefing on current foreign policy issues at 10 am MSK (GMT+3) on January 15. She will answer media questions received by the call centre. https://t.co/Re2IBAJ75M pic.twitter.com/ou2SaB7gNv
— MFA Russia ???????? (@mfa_russia) January 11, 2021
????????Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria #Zakharova, Moscow, December 24, 2020
… and more.https://t.co/7vwvhYE3ek
— MFA Russia ???????? (@mfa_russia) December 25, 2020
In addition, Zakharova’s Twitter impression seems to be based on two additional elements- an abrasive and combative tone when commenting on foreign affairs and a specific attire, that of a suit. This impression is almost Thatcher-esque, or at least a 21st version of Thatcher who championed the wearing of suits and was blessed with a quick, sharp tongue. Whether there is a deliberate attempt by the MFA to brand Zakharova as Russia’s Iron Lady is open to debate.
The American internet platforms’ decision to ban the head of state can be compared to a nuclear explosion in the cyber environment. The action dealt a blow to the democratic values declared by the Western community.
— MFA Russia ???????? (@mfa_russia) January 14, 2021
Zakharova’s Impression Management on Facebook
On Facebook, Zakharova’s impression is the antithesis to her daily presentation on Twitter. Unlike her Twitter impression which is strictly professional, Zakharova’s Facebook accounts are a mélange of the professional and the private, the insightful and the banal, the official and the satirical. Whilst this is not wholly surprising, given that impression management changes from network to network, the difference between the two impressions is significant. Presently, Zakharova’s Facebook posts can be categorized into five themes.
1. The Personal
Much of the content shared by Zakharova on Facebook is personal, or even private. Her feed consists of posts depicting her daily life such as preparing to go to the office or returning home after a long day of briefings. Here, the curtain Zakharova’s Twitter impression is lifted and the backstage is revealed. Indeed, Zakharova’s posts often attest to her emotional state, ranging from elated to fatigued. One notable example is a post updating followers on the health of Zakharova’s pet dog, and the emotional roller-coaster that has followed the pet’s untimely demise. This is by all means a non-diplomatic message as it deals with the home and one’s status as an individual and not as a spokesperson, or surrogate for the state.
Панди нет. Боролись неделю. В стационаре. Но энтерит, паравирусная инфекция и ещё какая-то гадость победили. Ещё два…
Other times Zakharova uploads pictures taken ‘on the go’. These feature snit bits of her daily life such as passing by a well decorated Christmas tree. These images seem to be haphazard, taken on a whim, ill light and at times even out of focus. Yet they too contribute to the impression of the personal and not the professional. They may thus be deliberately devoid of aesthetics and staging.
Со старым Новым годом! В МИДовском особняке в этом году никаких новогодних мероприятий не проводилось, но ёлку не обидели ????
2. The Banal
Zakharova also uploads images of the banal or the mundane. Here again is a notable clash between the spokesperson, who comments only on the imperative, and the person who comments on the trivial. One example is a video of the first snowflakes to blanket Moscow. In this video, Zakharova offers her followers a respite from international crises and multilateral confrontations. It is a moment in which the world falls silent, along with its woes and trials.
После прошедших 10 месяцев на это можно смотреть бесконечно
Posted by Maria Zakharova on Friday, November 20, 2020
Zakharova even offers followers an inside look into her banal daily life; a house entrance covered in snow or a butterfly visiting her Christmas tree.
За окном зимняя сказка. А внутри ресторан для бабочек. Бывает )