The Imagined Audience: Who Am I Writing For?

When I write this blog, who am I writing for? I’d say it’s mainly for myself, and maybe the odd passerby. But there’s always the thought that some of my followers may be reading, a friend may have a quick look or a stranger may accidentally come across it. This is my imagined audience.

Marwick and boyd (2010) state that “participants have a sense of audience in every mediated conversation, whether on instant messenger or through blog comments. This audience is often imagined and constructed by an individual in order to present themselves appropriately, based on technological affordances and immediate social context.”

The imagined audience may be completely different to the actual audience but it still influences how people present themselves online. To put it into simple terms, if you’re going to a job interview you will dress smartly, speak more clearly and maybe try to smile more. Your imagined audience is the interviewer. But how many people do you meet on the way to that job interview? That is your actual audience.

When Twitter users with a small following were asked who they are writing for they said they are just writing for themselves, like an online diary, or to update friends. Whereas those with a larger following they treat their imagines audience like fans.

“Part of the difficulty is that ‘friends’ is an overloaded term in social media (boyd, 2008). One user described her friends as people she followed, while another talked about writing to her ‘IRL friends’ to signal people she knew outside of Twitter.”(Marwick and boyd, 2010)

So actually when the users referred to friends they actually meant potential friends as well as real-life friends. Similarly, celebrities writing to their fans are actually reaching fans, potential fans and everyone else.

“We may understand that the Twitter or Facebook audience is potentially limitless, but we often act as if it were bounded.”(Marwick and boyd, 2010). We write for our imagined audience when our possible audience is everyone. Once you put something online it has the potential to reach anyone.

But how does this affect what people write? Or is it too easy to forget that there’s a wider world out there?

The Twitter users writing for ‘just me’ know that they have an audience but it’s easier for them to ignore it, while they’re writing at least. “What emerges here is not that these individuals lack an audience, but that they are uncomfortable labeling interlocutors and witnesses as an ‘audience’ […] In other words, consciously speaking to an audience is perceived as inauthentic.” (Marwick and boyd, 2010)

It’s not that these Twitter users don’t want to be seen or followed. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. This sense of authenticity is all part of how they want to be seen by their imagined audience. They are ‘branding’ themselves as an authentic person, as larger companies do when trying to attract customers.

Although I feel like I may have fallen into the trap of writing for my imagined audience it’s a flawed concept. I see that companies can gain more followers by marketing themselves as ‘authentic’ because no one likes talking to an automated robot man. But why are so many normal people going to that trouble when behind all that blogging, tweeting and emailing we are all real people? We’re faking our own authenticity.

(This is my first reading summary so any feedback will be appreciated)

Marwick, A. E. & boyd, d. (2010) I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience. New Media & Society.

The online version of this article can be found at:
http://nms.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/06/22/1461444810365313

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