The research article “A social cognitive approach to traditional media content and social media use: Selfie-related behaviour as competitive strategy” by Michael A Stefanone, Zhying Yue and Zena Toh published in 2018 creates and analyzes a relationship between how reality television is consumed and how it affects one’s self-presentation by capturing and sharing selfies on social media. Reality TV contestants are not only on the show to win prizes, but also to generate revenue for the format itself: A huge part of reality TV is showing just how regular the contestants are, making them recount childhood troubles and failed dreams, making them relatable. Contestants disclose information about themselves to a broad mass, making it a different kind of self-presentation than the normal person is used to. Or rather was used to, since social media now enables everyone to disclose personal information to a broad mass. It is argued that heavy viewers tend to adopt the competitive mindset of reality TV show participants and combine it with their social media possibilities, they will orchestrate their self-presentation differently than non-reality TV show viewers. Those individuals will compete for attention online, just as reality TV contestants do on air. One of the media used for self-presentation is the selfie, which gives the capturer full control of the image they want to broadcast. One German reality TV show has grasped these two concepts and their relation to each other and not only incorporated social media and selfies into their show, but also weaponized them to maximize revenue.
In order to understand how that reality TV show utilizes the relation between reality TV and self-presentation on social media, one has to examine the dynamics. According to Werron, competition includes two competitors vying for the same scarce resource with the audience judging and assigning social capital. The scarce resource is not only the ultimate goal of the show (e.g. Winning prize money for being the best singer, baker, …), but also attention. The attention-seeking competitors are all the people shown on screen, so obviously the contestants but also the jurors and guest stars. The third part of Werron’s concept, the audience, however, is no longer passive, but rather slowly becomes reactive. They still do not have direct power over the show unless they are allowed to vote, but they can also engage with the contestants over social media. Werron has recognized the change social media as an intermediate can bring to competition, this study implored that further.
The study correctly identified two big phenomena of our generation: Our love for reality TV and selfies. However, it put its focus on the wrong social media platforms: Facebook does not have the same significance for our generation anymore. It is swamped with Minion memes from our mothers, baby-pictures and pregnancy oversharing, and useful, but unexciting study groups. While we still love Snapchat, it is not the primary platform for self-presentation. Everything gets deleted after 24 hours or instantly after being watched. There is the possibility for selective and small groups, but other than that everything happens in dialogue form, so it is perceived as more of a messenger service like What’sApp rather than a “true” social media platform. The most popular and wide-spread social media platform used for self-presentation in the Western World is Instagram, like mmravi mentioned in their reading response. It has not been overtaken by the Baby Boomers yet and its focus is on pictures, rather than text like it is on facebook. It is most Gen Z’s go-to social media platform for spreading selfies and also offers the story function, where pictures get deleted after 24 hours. Furthermore, the trend of Instagram models and influencers (= people earning money by sharing pictures of themselves using certain products, gaining revenue from the company) emerged, adding further buzz to the platform.
The reality TV show mentioned at the beginning is Germany’s Next Topmodel by Heidi Klum (GNTM). It is the most successful international spin-off of America’s Next Top Model. Both shows roughly follow the same concept and rules with the same goal: Crowing the best up-and-coming model the country has to offer. It is different from pageants since the jury focuses on the character and overall performance (english skills, physical fitness, creativity, competitiveness, toughness, …) of the girls, not solely their appearance. GNTM has run for 12 years now, the first season aired in 2006 and season 14 will air in early spring of 2019. The main member of the jury is supermodel Heidi Klum who is born and raised in Germany.
The show itself has acknowledged the rise of selfies and included some episodes where candidates where challenged to take the perfect selfie to present to a possible costumer. Moreover, GNTM is relevant, because they long have incorporated not only the audience, but also their use of social media. While it is common that audiences may vote in reality TV show finales, for example in the Eurovision Song Contest, this is not the case with GNTM. In this show, the audience stays mostly in its role of a more or less passive consumer. However, every contestant instantly gets an Instagram account after being cast for the show and interacts with the audience before, after and during the show. Many contestants go on to be influencers, even if they do not get a modelling contract, they can still earn money over social media and their self-representation there.
Furthermore, since 2016 the casting call for GNTM involves Instagram. Instead of recording and sending in a video like it was the standard before, possible future contestants can now use hashtags to enter the casting for the show. This years hashtag is #ichbinGNTM2019 translating to “I am Germany’s Next Topmodel 2019”. The very existence of this hashtags proves the connection of reality TV watchers and people presenting themselves on social media, especially on Instagram which is the staple for picture and selfie-sharing nowadays. Although it has to be said that the majority of popular pictures in this hashtag are not selfies, but pictures taken by someone else, presumably in the effort to appear more professional and model-like. However, it is interesting when scrolling through the hashtag and the accounts linked to it, that the pictures tagged do not differ wildly from the regular pictures (selfies and others) posted on these accounts, further showing that the people willing to participate have been adapting to this version of competition and self-disclosure way before deciding to enter the actual competition (= the TV show).
(Image showing some impressions of the 2019 hashtag)
This shows that the producers have long recognized the connection between character traits found in reality TV show contestants and heavy social media users and also found a way to utilize it to benefit both parties: They have developed the perfect strategy to recruit new contestants and further emphasize how reality TV show “celebrities” started off as normal people. GNTM may be in a unique position, since modelling and trying to gain fame on Instagram are not that far apart, nevertheless it has to be acknowledged that the producers were very well aware of their audience and their behaviour.