You can’t impress everyone…can you? Using Multiple Online Identities vs a Single Online Identity

One of the results of the Web 2.0 and the rise of social media has been identity construction in online settings. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s scholars studied ‘online’ identities versus ‘offline’ but in the last decade the surge in use of social media has meant that the distinction between personalities on and offline has started to blur (Cover, 2015). The rise of access through mobile devices and the physical distance between the user and the audience has meant that the notion of impression management has changed (Bullingham and Vasconcelos, 2013).

Impression Management


Impression Management is a concept introduced by Goffman (1959) who argues that within all social interactions we all have a front stage where we perform for an audience, these are known as our identities and they change depending on audience and to maintain good impressions of ourselves. If we fail in our performance we then ‘lose face’ (or get embarrassed) and our social relationships damaged or severed. This theory of presentation of identity has been heavily adapted to online and can be used to be a good argument for or against creating multiple identities.

Within professional identities, reputation is very important thus you want good impressions for a variety of reasons, but usually you want it to further your career.

Similarly within personal identities you want to make good impressions in order to seem authentic and maintain good relationships.

As you can see in figures below there are advantages and disadvantages of both perspectives.


Credit: Luke Gibbins (2018)


Credit: Luke Gibbins (2018)












Using Marwick and boyd (2010) and the concept of contextual collapse it is heavily regarded as beneficial to have multiple identities online as you can disclose carefully to a chosen specific audience. However single identities match more of a post-modern coherence approach where people expect you to narrate your life and be authentic and trustworthy.

van Dijck’s (2013) distinction between  ‘self-presentation’ and ‘self-promotion’ highlights where you can do both on social media.

If you’re serious about finding a job, definitely keep all of your personal profiles private in order for any innappropriate pictures to be seen by employers. Maybe think about creating a LinkedIn account. (Jones and Swain, 2012).

Word count: 330


Bullingham, L. and Vasconcelos, A. (2013). ‘The presentation of self in the online world’: Goffman and the study of online identities. Journal of Information Science, 39(1), pp.101-112.

Cover, R. (2015) ‘Digital Identities: Creating and Communicating the Online Self.’ London: Academic Press

Goffman, E. (1959) ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life .’ New York, NY: Random House

Jones, T. and Swain, D. (2012). Managing your online professional identity. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 38(2), pp.29-31.

Marwick, A. and boyd, d. (2010). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society, 13(1), pp.114-133.

Patani, A. (2016) ‘Online Self Presentation: An application of Goffman’s Theory.’ [online] Available at: (Accessed 23 April)

van Dijck, J. (2013). ‘You have one identity’: performing the self on Facebook and LinkedIn. Media, Culture & Society, 35(2), pp.199-215.

University of Southampton (2017) ‘Learning in the Network Age.’ [online] Available at:


3 thoughts on “You can’t impress everyone…can you? Using Multiple Online Identities vs a Single Online Identity

  1. Hey Luke,

    Such an interesting read, I had never come across this impression management concept until I read your blog!
    I don’t know if you have heard of the ‘Finsta’ hype at the moment but it is basically people making instagrams that are for their close friends rather than their hundreds of followers that they are merely acquaintances with, on these Instagrams you can post whatever you like, you can read about them here if you want ( I would say that these are peoples most authentic forms of social media, they are kept very private and only to a small group of friends, their is very little need for ‘impression management’ on these profiles as I think that people are portraying themselves in the most similar way to their offline self. What do you think about them?
    Secondly, when people make them they often use a funny name that will not be linked back to them, do you think that in the future people will have issues getting jobs as a result of these? Despite keeping them private



    • Ah I haven’t heard of that actually, but that’s a good idea and well, I’d argue that impression management happens with even close friends (as would Goffman) – as we want to maintain good relations with people we’re close with. Hmm, it depends on how close the companies look I think, I really doubt it unless its offensive!



  2. Pingback: Identifying my Identity – chloe cripps

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