Impression Management

Bombarded with information, our brains find it more and more difficult to separate facts from fiction (or wishful thinking).

Today, United Kingdom left European Union. The decision to do so was reached in a 2016 referendum, where one of the key figures of Leave camp was Nigel Farage. 10 days after winning the referendum, he stepped down as a leader of UKIP, leaving the country in turmoil for the next 3 to enjoy his seat on the EU Parliament.

The Brexit vote, as many other political campaigns that followed, remains shrouded in a mystery of social network manipulations. Simplified, they all follow the same scheme:

Kittens, likes and reposts (no fact checks). Boom, you’re a president.

First, build the audience using kittens, babies or any other content attractive to your target demographics. Then, groom them a little by dropping a flag (national, regional, party, whatever) here and there. Finally, introduce the plug.

Why is it so simple? Because evaluating information isn’t. A digital pamphlet published by University of Illinois lists dozens of factors to take into consideration when analyzing content. Most of them require certain intelligence, knowledge and – most importantly – a will to do so. On the contrary, pictures of cute kittens, sexy models or tasty food engage our most primitive receptors. No thinking required, just more content please.

The plug, once he (it’s mostly a he, sorry) takes the stage, has one job: to keep the appearance. As one of Goffman’s key sign vehicles, it’s much more powerful compared to more subliminal and difficult to extract features, like “facts” or “truth”. Remember: democracy is a numbers game. Keep convincing the masses you know what you’re talking about, and you’re in. At that point, it’s time to reap the benefits. And pay the bills – online marketing campaigns ran by Cambridge Analytica don’t come cheap.

Cooper gets promoted. From overseas.

Impression Management also pays off when roles are reversed, and you answer to a higher power. Like Cooper Harris in Eurotrip [1] or university students in Karen Sterhnheimer’s case studies [2]. Yet still, neither of them can compare with the ultimate stage for making impressions: corporate environments. If you think than in an era of digital oversight there is no room for appearances, think again. The number one performance factor in corporate world remains your activity. Write pretty emails, leave comments on every ticket you can find, walk straight in front of your office CCTV. And enjoy your upcoming promotion.

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