I’ve been thinking a lot about what sort of a person I am in terms of how I come across. Identity is something that really quite interests me. I once did a radio show centred around the idea of identity.
It went fine. Thanks for asking.
I was a bit of a latecomer to the whole social media thing. I didn’t have a Myspace account until 2009, and even then it was only because a friend of mine made one for me. I think I used it maybe once.
I was slightly quicker on the uptake when it came to Twitter.
That doesn’t mean that I was any good at it. I’ve had my account for about 6 and a half years now, and reflecting on this, it’s become quite an important part of my online identity. I use Twitter much more than I use any other social media platform. Most of the time I’m just tweeting out dumb jokes, but that’s the type of identity I want to create online. I want to be the funny guy. I like the response that I can get from people when I can make them laugh. This is also true of my offline identity. I like making people laugh.
I used to be a professional wrestler. And yes, before you ask, the fake one, exactly like the one you see on tv. Over a span of 10 years I played a character by the name of BJ Hudson. The last couple of years saw me use Instagram and selfies as a part of the character.
The character connected with people, both in person and in the online community. I had created a Facebook fan page and an Instagram account where I posted all the photos that my tag team partner and I had taken during shows. I’ve since stopped wrestling altogether, but I still have access to those accounts. Wrestling has (and to a point) still is a large part of my identity. So much so that when I first started on Twitter, my handle was @bj_hudson, not my current @benjaminallan_. I had switched my handle 3 years ago, but because I felt such a strong connection to my wrestling identity still, I started a second account under the handle @bj_hudson, mostly so that in case I ever return to wrestling, I have the account ready to go. Radio has also played a large part in my identity, both online and off. As such I also have a Twitter account for a character that I played in radio sketches. Again, I haven’t used it yet, but I have the account just in case I ever want to.
While using these ‘character’ accounts, I was engaging in a parasocial relationship with the fans of these accounts. By posting updates in character, I would play up the relationship with followers in an effort to garner support, or as Marshall (2010, pg. 43) describes, we were ‘not fully fledged friends with all the people that may follow them but superficially, at least, (we) are.’
Most of the status updates that appeared on the Facebook page were of the parasocial variety.
In posting in this manner, it was our intention to create the illusion of friendship between our characters and the fans in attendance. If we were able to convince more fans to attend the events, we may be looked upon more favourably by the people in charge of these events, therefore providing our characters with more work on future events. As Ibrahim et al. (2017, pg 328) states, ‘Interactions facilitated by social media have become an integral part of people’s daily lives in contemporary society and a powerful instrument for promoting interactions between customers and online retailers in business sector.’ By increasing our brand in the online community, we were able to increase patronage to events that we were featured in, therefore increasing business for the companies that had hired us.
In building my online identity, I have used Twitter predominantly as a joke telling medium. Even when using the #ALC203 hashtag, I am trying to be entertaining while contributing to topic discussions and the like.
I’ve developed a persona that doesn’t take itself seriously. The accounts that follow me now expect that same level of seriousness, in so much that I find that I am rewarded for my sillier, less serious content. One of my most popular tweets to date is this one:
Not exactly the most serious of tweets, but successful nonetheless. In a way, my personal Twitter account is another character that I play online. When I say that, I mean that in both the figurative and literal sense. The joke-telling, jovial nature of my tweets is an extension of myself, turned up by another 10%. This profile is essentially myself, with the best bits of my personality amplified.
Benjamin Allan is not my real name. The name that I have on all of my social media accounts, my Facebook, my Twitter, my Instagram, all of them have the same name attached to them, but that name isn’t mine. Well, it is mine, but it’s not my real last name.
The reason for this is to do with privacy. I’m not going to go too far into it, but having a largely performance based history, I have had some fans contact me via various methods. Due to this, I decided to change my name on my social media accounts in an effort to preserve a small bit of my privacy. It may not be much, but I still feel much more comfortable knowing that I have something that I can keep to myself in terms of personal information. As stated by Garbasevschi (2015, pg 16), ‘contributions online can be accessed with ease by virtually anyone, tracked back to their originator and re-assembled in synchronic and diachronic order, as online identities’, and honestly, that frightens me slightly.
In my online lifetime, I’ve played quite a few different characters (as seen above), and no doubt, I’ll only continue to create, curate and play with more characters as time goes on. As shown, the various hats that I wear as different characters all have different hats themselves. In the circles in white, I’m known by the connecting circles. In radio circles, I’m known for the connecting shows, in pro wrestling, as BJ Hudson. To a stranger, I may be, ‘that wrestling guy’, or ‘that radio guy’. Identity is contextual, and that’s what I like most about it.
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Ibrahim, NF, Wang, X & Bourne, H 2017, ‘Exploring the effect of user engagement in online brand communities: Evidence from Twitter’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 72, pp. 321 – 338, doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.03.005
Garbasevschi, D 2015, ‘Online identity in the case of the share phenomenon. A glimpse into the on lives of Romanian millennials’, Journal of Media Research, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 14-26, retrieved 8 April 2017, EBSCOhost.