“Taylored”: Taylor Swift’s Social Media Performance

Having over 35 millions fans on Facebook,  Taylor Swift is definitely good at utilizing social media to gain public presence. As I went through her Facebook page, which I’ve been subscribed to for quite a while, the identity performance she gives caught my attention and made me wonder if it is her “real” self posting all these things. Let’s start from looking at her “About Me” page.

I. About Page

As we can see from her “About Me” section on Facebook, which features a relatively long biography Taylor wrote herself. In this bio, she casually shares her interests and pursuits, loves and fears. By talking about her friendly hometown, her blurry eyesight, her cat (who’s named after her favorite character on Grey’s Anatomy), her struggles and dreams and her passion for music, Taylor showed us an identity that is down-to-earth and utterly real. It seems as if you’re reading a note from that shy girl from next door, instead of an international award-winning superstar. According to Liu‘s Taste Statement Theory, the 22-year-old country star is trying to shake off her stardust and “conveying authenticity” by writing in a genuine, sincere, and relatable demeanor. And, in my opinion, she did a great job.

However, that is the only major “authentic statement” she has on her Facebook Page. If you look above the Biography, it says “RED October 22”, which is her new album RED‘s release date; if you look below it, you see a promotion for her fan network – “Taylor Connect”; if you look to the right, you see her record label’s name, links to her official websites, and her past concerts/events/album/etc. history listed. With all the popular identifications and official-ness, these can all be identified as “prestige statements”.

II. Home Page

As we move onto her main home page (shown above), we see both the cover photo and the profile picture are set up using the cover of her new released album, RED. The featured information shown on the “abstract bar”, showcasing the release date “October 22” (again!) in the About section, a RED campaign photo in the photo album, and an “iTunes download” tab, is predominated with RED too. Beside all the “REDness”, the 35-million “likes” are shown alongside with a logo of Taylor Swift’s perfume, Wonderstruck. Here we see the carefully arranged performance of identity (in the order from left to right): the headline, the event, the music download, the showcase of popularity, and the merchandise.  This is a coherent and showing-the-best-side- of-me performance of “prestige”.

III. Likes Section

There are only 6 likes on Taylor’s Facebook page: Taylor Connect, Taylor Guitars, XFINITY, American Greetings, Sony, and CoverGirl – besides the first one being a forum for her fans, all of which follows are companies she has/had a business partnership with. In Marwick’s article, “I’m More Than Just a Friendster Profile: Identity, Authenticity, and Power in Social Networking Services”, the author argues that SNS gives commercialism a platform to impose its consumerist ideas onto its users and sees them “not as a citizen, but as a consumer” (9). Here, we see Taylor using her social capital, or in other words, her fan subscriptions to her page, and turning them into monetary capital.

This is a snapshot of Taylor’s photo album on her Facebook Timeline, all of which is related to promoting her RED album: from straightforward album cover photos, to tie-in merchandises (Papa John’s Pizza, Wonderstruck Perfume, fan “value packages”); from showing Ellen DeGeneres’ celebrity support, then to the seemingly authentic Instagram countdown pictures for the album release… I had to go back 37 photos, which contained magazine cover shoots,  event/concert posters, music and merchandise promotions, to finally see a non-commercial/promotion related post: the picture of her cat, Meredith.

Rather than using Timeline as an archive of life happenings and events, T.Swifty’s Facebook has been “commodified” into a 24/7 ongoing commercial about her records and brands and products. We see her trying to mix the commercials with the “authentic” biography and the once-in-a-blue-moon posts of her cat pics, along with her “prestige” performance.

It is clear that she tries to address a specific kind of audience on her Facebook – the fans. When we perform identity, we always have an audience in mind, an imagined audience. Marwick and boyd talked about in their essay that “[w]e may understand that the Twitter or Facebook audience is potentially limitless, but we often act as if it were bounded. Our understanding of the social media audience is limited” ( 115). Maybe it’s totally normal for a Taylor Swift diehard fan to purchase anything and everything the superstar promotes on her Facebook, which is probably what she imagined what her FB audience would be. But in reality, it is not the case. Because of “context collapse”, Taylor’s fan page can be subscribed to not only fans but also people who are only interested in her music, even in some extreme cases, haters. For me, a person who’s only half-interested and half-indifferent about Taylor Swift, her album countdowns and “fan blanket” promotion seemed utterly bizarre.

So how should Taylor perform her identity online?

Just like how the country star would perform on a light-up stage with the consciousness in her head that down there in the dark, which she can’t really see clearly, that there’s a huge crowd watching her performance and listening to her songs. This “consciousness implies an ongoing front-stage identity performance that balances the desire to maintain positive impressions with the need to seem true or authentic to others” (Marwick and boyd 124). Therefore, as long as you present yourself in a “fixed, singular, and self-conscious way” (115), then at least people would not question your identity and authenticity. As long as she keeps her Sweet Swifty image, she will be “safe and sound”.

Wait, so you want MORE personality, and MORE trust from fans to build “social capital on social media”?

Then I suggest to throw away some disgracefully-made and self-degrading ads like “Papa John’s Pizza with a free CD!” and throw in some (more) cute kitten pictures. A cat lady is always better than a saleswoman.

a cute cat pic from Taylor’s twitter @taylorswift13

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2 comments

  1. I CAN’T AGREE MORE! With your conclusion that is. Partly because her cat is unreasonably cute, and partly because her authentic “about me” is totally at odds with the overtly commercialized page. You write, “Here, we see Taylor using her social capital, or in other words, her fan subscriptions to her page, and turning them into monetary capital.” but it’s only her name that really gives her any social capital–besides the “about me,” her facebook is very inauthentic. I wish you would have talked a little more about the posts on her wall–are they mostly by her, by fans, authentic like her description, or impersonal like advertisements? When I first read about Liu’s taste statements, I couldn’t pinpoint just one for my own profile, but I do think I consistently communicate a combination of taste statements through the various components of my Facebook, so it’s very strange to me that Taylor Swift’s page displays really dissonant taste statements. From your analysis, I can see two imagined audiences–one made up of fans interested in Taylor as a person, probably imagined by Taylor herself; the other is made up of fans as consumers, imagined by the marketing team in charge of maintaining Taylor’s page. Obviously I don’t know who maintains this page or how it’s done, but I think TSwift’s facebook would be a lot more cohesive if it was maintained with one imagined audience, and displaying one taste statement. Preferably, the profile would convey authenticity, which would give her fans a much more interactive (and exciting) social experience rather than totally commodifying this “social” experience. And preferably, there would be a lot of pictures of that cat.

  2. Luli, great blog! (Enjoyable read guided by awesome graphics)
    In my opinion Taylor Swift’s Facebook profile falls under Liu’s “prestige” statement as well. Her Facebook displays one side of her: the musician. That being said, I do see small hints of authenticity. Many posts contain social cues that were clearly crafted by Taylor but the majority of posts refer to Taylor like a publicist. There seems to be an identity battle on her Facebook between herself and the people who market her. She is trying to be real by filling in the ‘biography’ section with meaningful info and sharing funny cat photos. However, the commercial symbols on her page overshadow her authenticity she strives to portray. (Which makes me wonder if Taylor’s cat pictures were inspired by capitalizing on fan interests rather than her own interests.) Interestingly, I learn more about Taylor from her songs or in the media than I do from looking at her profile. It is weird that she has this long biography in her ‘about me’ section because it begins album promotion. Similarly, her cover photo displays six commercial retail logos to buy her album. Clearly her profile operates on behalf of her albums and partnership.
    Moreover, it seems that Taylor knows that her target audience wants to be valued. Taylor does a good job of harnessing the symbiotic relationship with her fans while also promoting herself. It is a good strategy to get her fans involved in her social media outlets especially on Twitter. For instance, she is promoting the hashtag #TaylorFollowers for fans to follow her in real life. I wonder as Taylor gets older how her Facebook image might change?

    Here’s a link to the Taylor Swift Papa John’s pizza box mentioned in your blog http://mashable.com/2012/10/22/taylor-swift-red-media-tour-followers/

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