Cooperation, Social Media and Personal Branding

Social media provides us with many things, but undoubtedly one of the more interesting developments has been the platform by which we can cultivate a personal brand.  Indeed, so pervasive is online brand management that a recent study from Lund University found that a growing number of us are happy to pay to have ‘unfavorable’ information filtered out.

The study set out to explore how people are curating their image on social media.  The hypothesis was that our ability to manage the image that is projected online would result in a more considered and less impulsive series of behaviors.

The research saw participants complete a series of cooperative tasks with an unknown person, with real money on offer for successful completion of them.  The tasks followed standard game theory directions, with cooperative behaviors costing them money in the short-term, but earning them more in the long-term.  This was because information about their choices would be published online along with their name, although they could pay to have this information restricted.

Curating an image

It turned out that the least cooperative people were perhaps unsurprisingly most enthusiastic about neutering any disclosures regarding their behavior.

“That the image people share of themselves is ‘softened’ on the internet is perhaps not that surprising. What is new is that this is shown under experimental control and that the will to ‘filter out’ is so strong that one is prepared to pay for it,” the authors say.

This trend was further examined in a second series of tasks.  This time, some of the participants were asked to take a selfie, whilst others were not.  The researchers wanted to explore whether taking the selfie changed the willingness of participants to share sensitive information.

“The selfie can be said to increase visibility, and by combining this with the information about subjects’ cooperation, we found that it increased their valuation of censorship. This was especially true for those who cooperated little,” they explain.

This trend of selfie takers cooperating less than non-selfie takers was even more pronounced the more frequently people were found to take selfies.  In other words, those who often take selfies might be falling into a selfish mindset that doesn’t encourage them to cooperate with others.

Reputation is key

Suffice to say, the work was only conducted in a lab environment, but it does nonetheless provide some food for thought.  With collaboration being such a fundamental part of the modern workplace, it’s perhaps to be expected that examining the conditions by which it flourishes has itself thrived in recent years.  Various studies have suggested that cooperation is helped by things such as familiarity and guilt.

A second paper, published in Psychological Science, suggests that reciprocity is key to understanding why, and when, we decide to cooperate with other people.

“Understanding human cooperation with strangers is considered a puzzle by many disciplines. Our findings show that people are relatively influenced more by reciprocity than conformity when deciding to cooperate with others,” the authors say. “This is important because it advances theory on understanding the origin of human cooperation.”

With reputation playing such a crucial part in imparting the information required to decide who to cooperate with and who to stay clear of, it’s increasingly important that the various metrics designed to represent our reputations online can be relied upon.