Winter, S., Haferkamp, N., Stock, Y., & Krämer, N. C. (2011). The Digital Quest for Love – The Role of Relationship Status in Self-Presentation on Social Networking Sites. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 5(2), article 3. Retrieved from https://cyberpsychology.eu/article/view/4247/3293
 The Digital Quest for Love – The Role of Relationship Status in Self-Presentation on Social Networking Sites

The Digital Quest for Love – The Role of Relationship Status in Self-Presentation on Social Networking Sites

Stephan Winter1, Nina Haferkamp2, Yvonne Stock3, Nicole C. Krämer4
1,3,4 University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany
2 University of Dresden, Germany

Abstract

Social networking sites (SNS) offer various opportunities for communicating personal information, thus providing an ideal setting for getting in contact with other users. This study investigated whether a person’s relationship status presented on his/her online profile is related to virtual self-presentation on the German Web 2.0 site StudiVZ. Considering the social psychological concept of the “need to belong” (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), we assumed that users who are searching for a relationship make use of certain self-presentational strategies, for example by creating a more detailed profile and placing high priority on the display of a large network of social bonds. An analysis of 100 online profiles showed that singles disclosed more photographs of themselves on their profiles than people in relationships. The highest numbers of friends and wall postings were shown by people who did not reveal their relationship status. Singles displayed more groups on their profile and were more likely to join user groups dealing with parties, sexual statements as well as fun and nonsense. Results therefore indicate that – although SNS are not especially dedicated to dating behavior – self-presentation is nevertheless affected by the potential to form romantic relationships. Therefore, relationship status is suggested as a further factor which affects online impression management, besides, for example, socio-demographic aspects, personality traits and culture.

Keywords: social networking sites; self-presentation; impression management; need to belong

Introduction

Human beings are motivated to form and maintain interpersonal relationships (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). In this context, self-presentation and self-disclosure have been described as strategies to initiate the formation of relationships (Derlega, Metts, Petronio, & Margulis, 1993; Metts, 1989): Especially in early stages, people have to attract the attention of others by means of self-presentational behavior (Vittengl & Holt, 2000). Therefore, presenting him- or herself in a positive and elaborated way can be seen as one way to establish new contacts and thereby satisfy the so-called need to belong. The term “impression management” aptly describes this strategy "to convey an impression to others which it is in his interests to convey" (Goffman, 1959, p. 4). In real-life situations, these impression management behaviors (Goffman, 1959; see also Leary & Kowalski, 1990; Mummendey, 2006; Schlenker, 2003) consist of intentional verbal communication (speech, written texts) as well as of possibly unintentional nonverbal expressions.

Nowadays, with the help of social networking sites (SNS) on the Internet such as Facebook, further possibilities are given to present oneself to others: Users can, for instance, upload photographs, join groups, and provide personal information. Thus, each profile owner can make use of these specific features by selecting information which presents him/her in a positive and attractive manner. This online impression management can therefore also be useful to attract potential partners. According to previous studies on Web 2.0 (e.g. Banczyk, Krämer, & Senokozlieva, 2008; Jung, Youn, & McClung, 2007; Raacke & Bonds-Raacke, 2008), self-presentation is one of the major motives for using these websites, besides communicating with friends and finding new contacts. In a study by Subrahmanyam, Reich, Waechter and Espinoza (2008), about one fifth of the participants (young adults) also named “flirting” as a motive for the use of SNS.

In general, online impression management must be seen as a very complex phenomenon that is affected by the expectations of the audience as well as by personality characteristics (e.g. Buffardi & Campbell, 2008; Krämer & Winter, 2008; Mehdizadeh, 2010), socio-demographic aspects such as age and gender (Hargittai & Shafer, 2006; Madden, 2006; Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010), cultural background (Banczyk et al., 2008), social relationships in “real life” (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2011), and the goals of communication (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). As previous studies were only partially able to explain the specific forms of self-presentation, the question of which other factors determine the specific form of users’ online impression management remains open.

Against this background, we aimed to analyze the role of relationship status in online self-presentation as one important factor that has not yet been considered. Based on the social psychological concept of the need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), it is plausible to assume that single persons in particular are likely to present themselves as attractive and socially accepted, which leads to the assumption that they will present their physical appearance and their social network in more detail than people who already have a partner. Through a detailed analysis of 100 randomly selected profiles of the German social networking community StudiVZ, we aimed to investigate how self-presentation strategies of singles, persons in a relationship, and users who do not reveal their relationship status differ.

Impression Management on Social Networking Sites

According to boyd and Ellison (2007), SNS can be defined as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system”. In their profiles, users are able to show or highlight different facets of their life and personality. In addition to basic information (name, age, hometown, university), photographs and information about personal preferences (e.g. music and movies) allow subtle descriptions and an individualized presentation of the profile owner. A further very popular feature is to join one of the countless user groups that are based around shared interests or activities (e.g. “Basketball – I love the game”), attitudes (“Barack Obama – one million strong for Barack”), social behavior (“Love is a name, sex is a game – forget the name and play the game”) or simple nonsense (“We wear sunglasses at night”). Haferkamp and Krämer (2009) showed that users do not actively discuss or contribute postings within these groups, but select them carefully in order to influence the impressions that readers might form. Many users also reveal information that is usually seen as private, e.g. political attitudes or their relationship status. In most SNS such as Facebook or its German equivalent StudiVZ, people can state whether they are single, in a relationship or engaged/married.

Due to the reduced cues-setting and potentially asynchronous communication in computer-mediated situations, profile owners can strategically select which information they want to present in order to create a positive impression (Walther, 1996, 2007). However, unlike in face-to-face communication, self-presentational behavior on SNS cannot be adapted to a specific interaction partner such as for example a dating partner in a rendezvous (“packaging”; Leary, 1995). Although users of the current Facebook version do have the ability to constrain access to specific site features or prevent certain “friends” from seeing the wall due to privacy concerns, it is not possible to create different self-descriptions for different audiences. According to research on privacy (Debatin, Lovejoy, Horn, & Hughes, 2009), the potential risks of disclosing private information can be outweighed by the anticipated benefits (social rewards such as finding friends), which suggests that profile owners engage in a ‘cost-benefit analysis’. As a result, with regard to the rather broad audience in SNS, users have to compromise between different self-presentational goals and privacy concerns (Krämer & Haferkamp, 2011). This constraint may lead to a high importance of personal characteristics and socio-demographic aspects that impact the form of the virtual self-display.

In this line, several studies demonstrated a relationship between personality traits and online self-presentation: For instance, Buffardi and Campbell (2008) and Mehdizadeh (2010) showed that narcissism is associated with self-promoting information. Krämer and Winter (2008) investigated the relationship between personality characteristics and the individual design of the online profile: While self-esteem was not related to the way in which people presented themselves, and extraversion had only a mild influence, self-efficacy with regard to self-presentation had an impact on several aspects of the actual design of the profile. Users with high values in self-efficacy – people who feel competent in presenting themselves in offline contexts – had larger numbers of friends and gave more information in terms of completed fields and number of words. Furthermore, the information given was presented in an informal style. Next to personality traits, socio-demographic aspects such as age and gender as well as cultural differences seem to be important for the analysis of virtual impression management (Banczyk et al., 2008; Hargittai & Shafer, 2006; Madden, 2006; Lenhart et al., 2010). For instance, Banczyk et al. (2008) showed that US-American users tend to disclose more information about themselves on their MySpace profile than Germans do. What remains open is the question of whether relationship status as another factor of “real life” also impacts the virtual impression management.

Online Self-Presentation and Romantic Relationships

The possibilities of selective self-presentation are, on the one hand, particularly appealing for people who are searching for romantic relationships online because they can embellish information on their personal life. On the other hand, they also have to find a compromise between impression management pressures and the desire to present an authentic image of themselves (Ellison, Heino, & Gibbs, 2006; Gibbs, Ellison, & Heino, 2006; Gibbs, Ellison, & Lai, 2011). In this light, Toma, Hancock, and Ellison (2008) showed that users of online dating sites tend to lie about personal data (age, weight, height) in order to appear more attractive; however, the degree of deception is only mild. The authors concluded that deviations from reality are “ubiquitous but small in magnitude” (p. 1023). This can be explained by the anticipation of future face-to-face interaction, which would make obvious lies visible. Besides this, self-verification theory (e.g. Swann, 1990) predicts that people want interaction partners to see them in a way that is similar to their ‘real self’. Moreover, Haferkamp and Krämer (2010) found in qualitative interviews that SNS profile owners place high priority on conveying an elaborated but realistic impression of themselves. They carefully choose information and spend some time thinking about possible effects of certain profile features.

With regard to the formation of relationships online, a considerable body of research has analyzed the patterns of self-presentation and deception on dating sites (e.g., Hall, Park, Song, & Cody, 2010; Toma et al., 2008; Toma & Hancock, 2010). SNS have been discussed in the context of jealousy in existing relationships, for instance, when seeing that the partner communicates with an attractive stranger on his wall (Muise, Christofides & Desmarais, 2009) – but according to Utz and Beukeboom (2011), SNS also offer increased opportunities to communicate with the partner, which may enhance relationship happiness. However, SNS also provide a lot of features to get to know new people (for instance, by writing personal messages or browsing others’ profiles) and find new partners, even though the sites are not especially dedicated to dating behavior – SNS might even have the advantage that users do not have to identify themselves as singles publicly, as they would have to on declared dating sites such as Match.com.

On a general level, the fundamental basis for an elaborated impression management in connection with the formation of relationships refers to an evolutionary aspect: Nobody wants to be lonely in life. The need to form and maintain strong interpersonal relationships (friendship and a stable romantic relationship) has been shown to be relevant in almost every situation (need to belong, Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Similarly, Deci and Ryan (2000) and McClelland (1987) describe the need for relatedness or affiliation as basic human needs. Therefore, we can conclude that people who are searching for a romantic relationship are particularly affected by the pressure to present an idealized (or at least elaborate) image of themselves in order to appear more attractive, which can be achieved by showing, for instance, selected photos. As Vittengl and Holt (2000) pointed out, self-disclosure and self-presentational behavior are relevant means of facilitating the formation of relationships (in offline situations) and thereby one way to satisfy the need to belong (see also Derlega et al., 1993; Metts, 1989; Taylor & Altman, 1987). Considering the perceived social rewards of SNS usage (Debatin et al., 2009), the potential benefit of finding a partner (or at least flirting with an appealing counterpart) via SNS may particularly outweigh the risk of disclosing private information.

Following this idea, it seems plausible to assume that singles (who reveal their relationship status on their profile) engage in more elaborate self-presentations on SNS and show a higher degree of self-disclosure online. Thus, we posit the following hypothesis:

H1: Singles present more photos of themselves on their SNS online profiles than persons who are in a relationship.

Popularity as an Indicator of Social Attractiveness

Research on the “need to belong” has shown not only that people strive for relationships with others, but also that a large number of friendships and a stable arrangement of social bonds is a reason for attractiveness: A person is evaluated more positively if he/she is connected with many other people because it is socially desired to be part of a large social network. As Baumeister and Leary (1995) pointed out, the size of a person’s friend group can in itself convey certain positive impressions such as popularity among peers and a social nature.

Kleck, Reese, Ziegerer-Behnken, and Sundar (2007) underlined that this assumption is also relevant for judgments on SNS. The authors presented different online profiles with 15, 82, or 261 listed friends. Results showed that the number of friends had an impact on the perception: The participants’ evaluations of popularity and pleasantness were higher when profile owners had a higher number of linked friends. Tong, Van der Heide, Langwell, and Walther (2008) also showed that high numbers of friends were associated with more positive impressions: Profile owners who had 302 friends were evaluated most positively – however, beyond that level, ratings of a person’s attractiveness declined, suggesting that extremely high numbers (profiles with 502, 702, and 902 friends) might also raise doubts. Similarly, Donath and boyd (2004) pointed out that extreme numbers of SNS friends appear implausible (which is also expressed in terms like “Friendster whore”). Apart from the mere number of friends, Walther, van der Heide, Kim, Westerman, and Tong (2008) also emphasized the role of cues posted by social partners onto one’s online networking profile: People who had wall postings of attractive friends on their profile were evaluated in a more positive way.

Therefore, from the perspective of impression management, presenting a large number of friends (without presenting an overabundance of friends) and indicators of social relationships (group memberships, interactions on the wall) can be regarded as a promising strategy. This technique of ‘basking in reflected glory’ was first described by Cialdini et al. (1976) for social (‘real-life’) situations: They stated that people associate themselves with specific others who will make them appear in a positive way. Given that SNS offer the direct opportunity to show with whom one is related, this effect is likely to be even more relevant for online situations, especially when searching for new contacts. Unlike the selection of profile photos or group memberships, numbers of friends and wall postings depend on interaction with others but clearly also have self-presentational aspects, since these cues can be modified by actively sending friend requests or fostering communication on the wall. We thus posit the following hypotheses:

H2: Singles display higher numbers of friends than people who are in a relationship. H3: Singles display more group memberships on their profile than people who are in a relationship. H4: Singles display more wall postings on their profile than people who are in a relationship.

Since, for instance, user groups allow detailed descriptions or statements about interests and attitudes (see Haferkamp & Krämer, 2009), we additionally wish to investigate whether the search for a romantic relationship also has an influence on the content of these profile elements. Therefore, we posit the following research question:

RQ 1: Is relationship status related to the specific type of groups a person joins?

With regard to gender differences, Haferkamp and Krämer (2010) showed that female users intentionally pick a profile photograph and select information that is suitable for them while male users do not seem to be as reflective. However, the question of whether and how the self-presentational behavior between male and female singles differs remains open. Thus, we ask:

RQ 2: Are there differences in the virtual self-presentation of men and women in relation to different relationship statuses?

Method

Sample

We randomly selected a total of 100 online profiles of the social networking site StudiVZ (www.studivz.net), which can be regarded as the German equivalent of Facebook. At the time of the analysis, StudiVZ was the most frequently used social network in Germany and mainly focused on students. The profiles were accessible via the search function of StudiVZ – only users (mean age = 22.41, SD = 2.63) who had hosted their profile for more than one year and whose profiles were open to the public were selected. 25 profiles for each relationship status (“single”, “in a relationship”, “engaged/married” and “not specified” (people who do not reveal their relationship status)) were analyzed. The distribution of gender within the groups was balanced.

The content analysis was conducted in summer 2008, at a time when the majority of users hosted a profile that was open to the general public (see Utz, 2008; Utz & Krämer, 2009). This is important not only with regard to the accessibility of the profiles for content analysis, but also since we can derive that the users assumed that their profiles were visible to strangers.

Measures

First, we coded the relationship status, which was seen as independent variable, as well as gender. We decided to rely on the self-reported data on the relationship status as displayed on the profile since previous studies have shown that information that is easily verifiable by acquaintances is usually not communicated incorrectly on SNS (Gosling, Gaddis, & Vazire, 2007). As dependent measures, the numbers of friends, photographs that are linked to the profile owners, groups, uploaded photographs, and wall postings were assessed. Furthermore, the number of characters written in the categories “Work”, “Life up to now” and “Personal Information” was coded. Apart from these quantitative variables, we used qualitative categories focusing on the type of groups a person can join. These measures were based on previous research by Krämer and Winter (2008, see table 1). The coding was conducted by the third author and 10% of the material was coded by an additional person. For every user, the number of groups in each category was assessed. Intraclass correlations (ICC; Shrout & Fleiss, 1979) of the two coders were significant and showed a coefficient of .544 to 1.0 (see table 1).

As statistical tests of the hypotheses, analyses of variance were conducted, with relationship status and gender as independent variables. To control for the effect of age, this factor was included as a covariate.

Table 1. Categories of discussion groups and examples.
fig

Results

General Profile Usage

The average profile owner has 113.27 (SD = 65.29) friends, 132.74 (SD = 121.40) wall postings, is linked to 50.87 (SD = 51.32) photographs on other profiles and uploads 88.40 (SD = 154.11) photographs on her/his own. The category “Work” is filled in with an average of 64.68 characters (SD = 85.06), while the category “Personal details” has 383.71 (SD = 413.81) characters, and the category “Life up to now” 40.58 (SD = 22.25) characters. 93% of the users upload their own photo albums. 82.6% of the participants presumably show themselves (no pictures of celebrities, animals or graphical objects) on their profile photograph. The average number of groups is 37.84 (SD = 25.83). The most popular groups belong to the categories “Own character traits and attitude” (M = 10.89; SD = 12.23), “Fun and nonsense” (M = 4.70; SD = 4.76) and “Hobbies, clubs and interests” (M = 3.07; SD = 3.09). The least frequently used categories are “Politics” (M = 0.16; SD = 0.44) and “Art and culture” (M = 0.09; SD = 0.49).

H1: Relationship Status and Level of Detail of the Online Profile

H1 predicted that singles show more photos of themselves on their profile than persons in relationships. The ANCOVA revealed a significant main effect of relationship status for the number of uploaded photographs (F (3, 88) = 5.696, p = .001, ηp2 = .163). Post hoc contrasts showed that single users upload more photographs than persons in relationships (SE = 42.69; p = .003) and engaged/married users (SE = 43.13; p = .005). Furthermore, the ANCOVA showed a significant main effect for the uploaded photographs which solely present the user (F (3, 88) = 3.311, p = .024, ηp2 = .101). Single users upload more photographs that present themselves than users in a relationship (SE = 4.77; p = .027) (see table 2). Based on these results, we conclude that H1 is supported.

Table 2. Mean values (with Standard Deviations in parentheses) – Effect of relationship status
on number of photographs and number of photographs showing the profile owner (N = 100).
fig

H2-H4: Relationship Status and Display of Social Network

According to H2, it was predicted that singles present more friends than persons in relationships. For the number of friends, the ANCOVA revealed significant main effects of relationship status (F (3, 88) = 3.859, p = .012, ηp2= .116) and gender (F (1, 88) = 8.473, p = .005, ηp2 = .088). Mean values indicate that men display more friends (M = 129.98; SD = 94.38) than women (M = 94.38; SD = 51.72) and that people who do not specify their relationship status show the highest number of friends (post hoc differences between “not specified” and “engaged/married”: SE = 17.74; p = .011; see table 3). Therefore, H2 is not supported.

With regard to H3, our analysis revealed a significant effect of relationship status on the number of groups (F (3, 88) = 7.693, p < .001, ηp2= .208). The mean values (table 3) show that singles present more groups than persons in relationships (SE = 6.63; p < .001) as well as engaged/married users (SE = 6.70; p = .001). Based on these results, we conclude that H3 is supported.

H4 predicted that singles have more wall postings on their profile than people who are in a relationship. Relationship status had a significant impact on the number of wall postings (F (3, 88) = 5.590, p = .001, ηp2 = .160). According to the mean values (table 3), users in the “not specified” group and singles have more postings on their virtual wall than people in relationships. However, it has to be noted that only the “not specified” and “engaged/married” groups differed significantly in post hoc contrasts (SE = 34.27; p = .001). Therefore, H4 is not supported.

Table 3. Mean values (with Standard Deviations in parentheses) – Effect of relationship status
on social network (N= 100).
fig

RQ1: Relationship Status and Type of Group

RQ1 asked whether relationship status is related to the type of group a person joins and presents on their profile. The ANCOVA revealed various significant differences (for mean values, see table 4). Groups of the category “Personal data” (F (3, 88) = 3.803, p = .013, ηp2 = .115) are more often added by singles than by persons in relationships (SE = 0.59; p = .025) and the “not specified” group (SE= 0.59; p = .034). Furthermore, singles joined more groups dealing with sexual statements (F (3, 88) = 4.401, p = .006, ηp2 = .130) than persons in relationships (SE = 0.81; p = .010) and people who do not reveal their status (SE = 0.81; p = .029). Similar effects were found for party groups (F (3, 88) = 3.478, p = .019, ηp2 = .106 / post hoc differences between “single” and “in a relationship”: SE = 0.68; p = .022), groups about alcohol (F (3, 88) = 3.281, p = .025, ηp2 = .101 / post hoc differences between “single” and “not specified”: SE = 0.77; p = .021) and fun and nonsense groups (F (3, 88) = 6.571, p < .001, ηp2 = .183 / post hoc differences between “single” and “in a relationship”, SE = 1.26; p = .007, as well as “engaged/married”, SE = 1.27; p = .001). Additionally, singles display more groups about their own character traits (F (3, 88) = 4.207, p = .008, ηp2 = .125 / post hoc differences between “single” and “in a relationship”: SE = 3.11; p = .008) and meta-groups on StudiVZ (F (3, 88) = 3.282, p = .025, ηp2 = .101 / post hoc differences between “single” and “engaged/married”: SE = 0.30; p = .020).

Table 4. Mean values (with Standard Deviations in parentheses) – Effect of relationship
status on type of group (N = 100).
fig

RQ2: Interaction between Relationship Status and Gender

RQ2 asked whether and how gender is related to online self-presentation in connection to different relationship statuses. Apart from the effect on the number of friends reported above, there were no main effects of gender and no interaction effects with regard to the level of detail of the profile and the display of the social network. For the type of groups, the ANCOVA solely revealed that women are more often members of “personal data” groups (F (1, 88) = 3.937, p = .017, ηp2 = .063 / Male: M = 2.00; SD = 2.01 / Female: M = 2.87; SD = 2.14) as well as of groups about their own character traits (F (1, 88) = 7.653, p = .007, ηp2 = .080 / Male: M = 7.36; SD = 6.80 / Female: M = 13.66; SD = 14.74), whereas men are more likely to join sports groups (F (1, 88) = 8.137, p = .005, ηp2 = .085 / Male: M = 2.32; SD = 2.86 / Female: M = 0.77; SD = 2.09).

Discussion

The goal of this research was to analyze whether the form of virtual self-presentation on a social networking site (StudiVZ) varies between people with different relationship statuses. Since impression management and self-disclosure have been shown to be relevant in the formation of relationships (Derlega et al., 1993), it was assumed that singles who reveal their relationship status in their online profile (people who are typically more likely to be searching for a new relationship) engage in more detailed self-presentation online.

As hypothesized in H1, singles disclose more visual information about themselves on their profile than persons in relationships: Our analysis showed that singles generally present more photographs in their profile albums and also show more pictures on which they are visible. As mentioned by Toma et al. (2008), the presentation of one’s physical appearance is important to attract the attention of others. Based on our results and on notions regarding the importance of the need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), it can be concluded that singles in particular try to make use of the opportunities that are offered by SNS for getting in contact with other users and therefore create a very detailed online profile of themselves. Considering cost-benefit-analyses of online self-presentation (Debatin et al., 2009), the opportunities to flirt or find a partner can be seen as relevant potential social rewards for a higher degree of self-disclosure.

With regard to the display of social bonds, singles present a higher number of groups (H3), which can also be seen as an attempt to give more detailed information about oneself. There is a trend for them to have more wall postings than people in a relationship and more friends than people who are engaged/married; however, these effects were not significant (therefore, H2 and H4 were not supported). Instead, people who do not reveal their relationship status have significantly more friends than people who are engaged/married. As we have no further data on these people and do not know, for example, whether they are in a relationship and have privacy concerns (Utz & Krämer, 2009) or are singles but do not want to identify themselves as such, we have no means to further interpret these data.

From the perspective of impression formation, Kleck et al. (2007) and Tong et al. (2008) showed that users of networking sites with a large number of social bonds were evaluated more positively. Our results can thus be interpreted as suggesting that people who are likely to be looking for a relationship anticipate these interpretation processes when creating a profile and place high priority on displaying a large network of social bonds. With regard to the list of friends, extremely high and unrealistic numbers have been shown to create a negative impression (Donath & boyd, 2004; Tong et al., 2008) – the finding that singles do not present very high numbers of friends could mean that they also anticipate this interpretation and hesitate to collect an overabundance of contacts. However, it has to be noted that friends and wall postings do not only depend on self-presentational strategies of the particular user but also on others who place this information on the user’s profile or accept the friend requests: These cues cannot be manipulated as easily as profile pictures or group memberships (Walther & Parks, 2002; Walther et al., 2008), therefore, the possibilities of self-presentation are limited.

With regard to RQ1, a content analysis of the type of groups which users present supports the notion that singles try to present themselves in an appealing way: For instance, singles more frequently joined groups which belong to categories such as “Party” and “Fun and Nonsense”. As people use group names for impression management rather than for communication with others (Haferkamp & Krämer, 2009), it is perfectly plausible to assume that singles join these groups to reflect their attractiveness and their vitality. We additionally found that singles more frequently joined groups which belong to the categories “Personal Details” and “Sexual Statements”. While the former underlines that singles prefer a detailed self-presentation and are willing to disclose more private information, the latter also indicates that singles tend to present more sexual hints than persons in relationships. It is important to note that none of the differences shown for singles compared to people in relationships result from potential age differences between the groups, as we controlled for this potentially confounding variable in the analyses.

In addition, our analysis considered gender as a possible factor influencing self-presentation in connection with relationship status (RQ2). However, with regard to the level of detail of the profile and the display of social bonds, there were no effects of gender, which suggests that the influence of relationship status is relevant both for men and women. Gender differences were only found for the number of friends (men have more StudiVZ friends than women) and the types of groups insofar as women prefer groups on “personal data” and their “own character traits”, whereas men are more likely to join groups with sports-related themes.

One limitation of the present study is that there is no further data on the motives of the profile owners members to use certain self-presentational strategies or the amount of time they spend using StudiVZ (which is also likely to be related to the number of contacts and the detail level of the profile). Furthermore, the sample size is relatively small so that all the diverse facets of impression management in SNS cannot be captured completely. However, despite these limitations, the results show that there are relevant differences between online self-presentations of users with different relationship statuses. Even though SNS are not especially dedicated to dating behavior and users have a rather broad audience, it appears that singles engage in more elaborate self-presentation – the qualitative analysis of user groups they join particularly shows that they tend to present themselves in more detail and as social and attractive.

Conclusion

To conclude, our results indicate that impression management in connection with the engineering of romantic encounters, as shown by Ellison, Heino, and Gibbs (2006) for dating platforms, can also be applied to the arena of social networking sites. Moreover, our study suggests a further factor which affects self-presentation on social networking sites: Apart from personality traits as shown, for instance, by Buffardi and Campbell (2008), Banczyk et al. (2008) as well as Krämer and Winter (2008), and age (Hargittai & Shafer, 2006; Lenhart et al., 2010), gender (Haferkamp & Krämer, 2010) and culture (Banczyk et al., 2008), relationship status seems to be another factor that is relevant for the way in which people present themselves on an online profile. Further research is needed to highlight the interdependencies between these variables.

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Correspondence to:
Stephan Winter, M. Sc.
University of Duisburg-Essen
Department of Social Psychology: Media and Communication
Forsthausweg 2
47057 Duisburg, Germany
Email: stephan.winter(at)uni-due.de
Phone: +49 203 379 - 2442