Social Challenge: Impressing Strangers

For the past three weeks, I have been burning the midnight oil to finish assignments for my social psychology course on Coursera. It was my first time to be in a MOOC (pronounced as mook), a massively open online course.

Having been a big fan of psychology, I decided to enroll in this class to understand why we behave the way we do in the context of us being individuals in different social situations.

What you’re about to read is one of the first assignments, a social challenge, which asks students to try to impress strangers by writing a unique profile of themselves.  I took me more than 10 revisions to finally get to what I think was the best version. So let me share it with you and see if I can still replicate that effect. I also had the benefit of great feedback from my peers. This was a peer-graded assignment, thus it was both indeed a social challenge.

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IMG_3000I had an aversion to selling myself to strangers. My ex-boss once told me that I sucked at selling myself in resumes. If I had a choice, I would rather be in the background than be in the limelight. But that was before I became a professional and a journalist.

In this day and age of social media, we are continously “selling ourselves” to a crowd of strangers. I see a lot of cognitive dissonance in what we tell people about ourselves, and what we do on social networks like Facebook. Some recent studies have shown that Facebook has led to some depression among people because we tend to paint a very positive picture about ourselves. However, we rant a lot on Facebook.

Creating an SPN profile came naturally for me, though. I have been painting a public persona in social networks. It’s my job to create a positive impression because that makes us credible. Credibility is an important currency for professionals like me. Without credibility, our work is for naught. We learned that first impressions last–as in the thin-slice theory.

I had at least 7 revisions, the last was a major one due to a feedback from a peer who said I was giving off a “negative impression.”

This brings me to our lessons in self-perception. I’ve just been through a rough year, and somehow it reflects on how I see myself lately. One may call it self-pity. But I feel that creating the SPN profile to a different “crowd” is a challenge because I know that the objective is to make a positive impression. But being told that I was giving off a negative impression of myself pushed me to go back to my profile and overhaul it. I would have stuck with what I have, but thinking that “credibility” is important in this network, I went through it again, and re-wrote my profile.

There’s a lot of persuasion required in “selling yourself” to a group of strangers. My profile initially just gave straight facts about me–the central route to persuasion–but it was clear that peripheral persuasion worked best, as I chose to tell a story about myself, in bullet-points fashion. I used words to paint a picture of me in different situations–not necessarily relevant to who I am. I also used humor to attract people to read further. As Myer wrote in the chapter about the two routes of persuasion, “Messages also become more persuasive through association with good feelings.” Which is why humor writers are often the best communicators. They’re able to sneak in truths, painful ones for that matter, within jokes.

I also used casual language to make a better impression to people who share my values, and culture too.

Reciprocity also seem to work in persuading people to find your profile impressive. Giving them good feedback initially, then asking them to rate your profile gives a better chance that they will say good things about it. So the chances of your SPN getting better ratings is likely dependent on your ability to give them positive or constructive feedback. In my case, a peer told me exactly what was wrong with my profile. That prompted me to revise. Then I got feedback again that the re-work did the trick. So I also paid her a compliment. And so from that, I’ve gained one friend.

Finally, I was able to get more positive feedback through a Facebook group composed of people who are more open to share the burden with other students who want to learn. Having established myself as an active member of this group, I was able to get feedback that are positive and constructive because early one I gave some personal background about myself.

All in all, I was able to create a positive impression through SPN because I used standard persuasion to get people to like my profile. They include peripheral persuasion, reciprocity and liking. These are elements that I also believe works best in social networks like Facebook.

You can read this unique resume on my social psychology network profile.

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Erwin Oliva

Putting a dent on the universe one day at a time

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