Ratings on human and self-presentation and personal branding

Written By Ermelinda Nici

The consequences of ratings on human-beings and the facilitation to false and improved self-presentation and personal branding.

Imagine a future where we through our augmented-reality contact lenses, will be able to see each other’s ranking and social feed and how we through our synched mobile-device are able to rate each other. The rating, scaling from 1-5, will decide our position in the society and affect our personal brand. Our rating will further determine to what extent we can receive a loan, which area we are allowed to live in, what car we are able to rent, where our kids can go to school and what jobs we are qualified for. The rating is improved proportionally as ones popularity increases. Impressing the people around you through what is posted on your online platforms will generate higher rating from the viewers and will facilitate a stronger personal brand. This in turn is dependent on how you portray yourself and digitally self-present yourself, so you need to be very cautious of what you say or do. Moreover your rating increases for every positive interaction you generate, for example if you compliment someone’s outfit even if it you do not actually like it. But you are trying to mask and block all the negative or honest opinions you have, because uttering them will affect the way people rate you. This in turn will affect your personal brand, and you do not want to risk receiving a low rating and a lower position in the society (Lee, 2016).

The episode “Nosedive” in the Netflix series “Black Mirror”, depict a society where the explanation above is the reality. Everyone’s lives depend on the rating they have, which in turn creates a society where people are trying to impress each other and generate as high ratings as possible (Lee, 2016; Gilbert, 2016). The society is depicted in pastel colors, fake smiles and polite small talk – all in order to receive a better ranking in the society (Stern, 2016). In this world, the rating has become the new currency.

 Rating human-beings in the future? (Johnston, 2016).

Rating human-beings in the future? (Johnston, 2016).

What is further striking is the fact that China is planning to employ such a system in their country (Denyer, 2016; Nguyen, 2016; Hatton, 2015; FlorCruz, 2015). The rating will help the government decide who is good enough for what in the society. This in turn is implemented in order to help the population become better people by doing better through social pressure (Stern, 2016; Denyer, 2016) . The paradox lie to whether this system will actually generate better people, or will create a need for an improved self-presentation through false and forced acts among the individuals.

When hearing about such a system, one might be met with perplexity. However the director of the episode “Nosedive” explains the following in an interview on YouTube: “Nosedive is a satire of acceptance and the image of ourselves that we’d like to portray and project to others. […] Everyone is a little bit tightened and false because everyone is terrified of being mocked down, because the consequences of that are unpleasant. So it’s basically the world we live in!” (Netflix US & Canada, 2016). As a matter of fact, there is already an app, called “Peeple”, explained as Yelp for people (iTunes Preview, n.d.). It allows ranking of any individual around you, where everything you do is judged, recorded and published (Gilbert, 2016) which might be perceived as “gone too far”. But when reflecting upon it, we already rate each other through Facebook, where we can either like, love or hate the content shared, and the same with Instagram. Additionally we rate our UBER driver, and our UBER driver rates us etc. Nevertheless, rating and reviews have been found to be the second most trustworthy source of information (after ones inner circle) when looking for information about a brand or company (Belew, 2014). The online rating system has been explained to have a great importance as it operates as a tool for building and improving trust and authenticity online (Keymolen, 2013).  

 The App “Peeple” (iTunes Preview, n.d.)

The App “Peeple” (iTunes Preview, n.d.)

However, this opens up for the paradox and important question that has not yet been asked: Does ratings on humans too generate authenticity in our world? Or do human beings in turn (digitally) self-present themselves in a non-authentic way in order to build their personal brand to receive good ratings?

Ratings and Reviews Online

In order to answer the question asked above, some important factors have to be pointed out. One of the most important factors is the Web 2.0, which was a game-changer for the marketing industry that had previously had all the power in their hands to steer the message and trustworthiness of their brand (Pragnell, n.d.). The disruption as a consequence of web 2.0, was in the power shift from company power, to consumer power (Jussila, Kärkkäinen and Aramo-Immonen, 2014). Web 2.0 allowed interaction between various consumers to take place, and hence share information and experiences with each other (Simonson and Rosen, 2014). Furthermore findings has shown that consumer trust their peers opinion more than they trust the company’s/provider’s message (Shen, Rees Ulmer and Hu, 2015; Belew, 2014; Simonson & Rosen, 2014). On Web 2.0 consumers provide the ratings and reviews through sharing information about their purchase/experience in order to guide future consumers in their decision-making (Bronner and de Hoog, 2010) The result of this has been refined into a toolbox of ratings, review and recommendations for online platforms, which are argued to increase trust and guide users/consumer to whether to trust or distrust a provider (Barnes and Mattson, 2015; Richardson, 2015). The rating system allows the user/consumer to reward or penalize the trustworthiness of the provider by a scale from 1-5 (Keymolen, 2013), which plays a determined role in where users/consumers decide to place their trust (Dambrine, Jerome and Ambrose, 2015; Benlian, Titah and Hess, 2012). The incorporation of these rating- and review-tools has increased significantly during the last couple of year (Xie, Zhang and Zhang, 2014), both on product-based and service-based websites. We make use of ratings when we decide if we are going to accept the UBER driver with a rating of 4.2, to the apartment on Airbnb with excellent reviews, to the restaurant on our trip to London with a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor, and whether we should invest in that expensive Chloé-bag with a mere rating of 2.5 stars. We might have started to take ratings and reviews for granted and just mechanically accept their existence, but the consequence they have on our decision-making is more significant than we might think. Furthermore the consequence of a low rated item is practically excluded from our consideration, which require providers/companies to step up their game to increase their rating (Keymolen, 2013).

Self-representation Online

Digital self-presentation is the term used when displaying your personality, preferences or lifestyle online (Sung, et al., 2016). The digital sphere that we live in today, allows us to be rated by the large mass of people and hence, opens up for self-reflection when operation digitally (Deuze, 2016). This has lead to the growing interest of modified self-presentation on online platforms (Jensen Schau and Gilly, 2003). Social Media has also opened up for a place where individuals can seek self-confirmation and validation through the approval and opinions of others (Bazarova and Choi, 2014). We are also sharing more online (Brandt, 2014; Zigterman, 2013), such as our daily life, and sometimes we share in order to self-present ourselves in a brighter light. Rating one-another calls for the want to highlight the best features we have, and in turn generate a-fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude. Jensen Schau & Gilly (2003) discuss this by arguing that the online environment enables people to hide undesirable aspects of themselves. Deuze (2016) further discusses how the creation of multiple-selves and the lack of reflection around how we contribute to rendering reality through the skew self-presentation online, and by promoting a fake reality, has made media users (us) into products rather than human-beings. Social media enables us to conceal aspects of our true selves that we find undesirable (Jensen Schau and Gilly, 2003). The more digitally visible we are, and the more we know that people are watching and judging us, the more we try to portray ourselves in a good light (Jensen Schau and Gilly, 2003). We love to be congratulated and we hate to be hated.

Personal branding

Because of the increased attention of how we portray ourselves online, a new term has began to grow stronger, namely – personal branding (Philbrick and Cleveland, 2015). Branding was found in the late nineteenth century, as a mean to help distinguish one product from another (Kapferer, 2012). Today we are seeing an increased focus on the building of a brand and a lot of companies have invested in curating and enforcing their brand. But additionally, there has been a progressive focus on personal branding during the last couple of years. One can argue that the focus on this topic is due to the rise of web 2.0, where social media has allowed us to share who we are (or want to be), but also to evaluate who others are, and if they are good or bad people (Stern, 2016). Jensen Schau and Gilly (2003) argue for self-presentation being continuously sales oriented, and that we all are selling ourselves online, whether we are conscious about it or not. We spend hours perfecting our pitch, editing our photos and checking for likes on Instagram after uploading a photo. And of course we only present the better qualities and we downplay the bad things in our lives and in who we are, because we do not want to associate our personal brand with our flaws (Jensen Schau and Gilly, 2003). Interestingly enough, there is a whole manual to be found on how to build your own brand online, by Philbrick and Cleveland (2015). They highlight the importance of your self-presentation and how careful you need to be on what you post and what you say online, because everyone is there to see you and judge you. They explain that as a personal brand you have a promise to deliver and you need to meet the expectations of your audience and promise value and performance. You need to continuously and effectively maintain your personal brand in order to generate a positive reputation, and hence work on how to make people like you more (Philbrick and Cleveland, 2015). This because, having people liking you will generate social, psychological and economical capital (Philbrick and Cleveland, 2015).

From Fish to Fisherman

Deuze (2016) suggests that media is to us like the water is to the fish. It has become such an integrated part of our lives that we take very little time to reflect upon its effect on our lives or on our future. The Netflix Series “Black Mirror” try to depict a reality where media and technology has taken over our lives, and watching the series generates discomfort. However, what we tend to forget is that our lives are already integrated with media and technology and realities such as augmented-reality contact lenses, allowing us to rate each other, is just around the corner. We are already now modifying our self-presentation to better fit the online sphere where millions of people are waiting to judge and rate us. We are shaping and creating our ideal-selves to be presented on our online platforms, and trying to increase our popularity through the building of our personal brand.  And to answer the initial question of this paper, does ratings on humans generate authenticity in our world - the answer seems to be no. So let us try to move away from being the fish in the water, to become the fisherman instead, where we perhaps might accept, but most importantly reflect on the reality we are moving towards.

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