Impression management as a term was first coined by Canadian-American social psychologist Erving Goffman, a pioneer in the study of everyday human behavior and social interaction. Impression management is a process used by individuals and businesses to try to control the impressions other people form of them.
Understanding impression management
Impression management can simply be defined as self-presentation, or how an individual tries to control the impression others form of them. In his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman theorized that self-presentation:
- Sets the tone and direction of social interaction.
- Plays an important part in defining an individual’s role in the social order, and
- Facilitates the performance of rule-governed behavior.
There is also a second aspect to the way impressions are managed. This occurs when third parties control the impression businesses, celebrities, countries, and politicians make on the general public.
Regardless of the context, impression management is a form of social manipulation that presents something as true even if it is not.
Here is a look at some typical behaviors used in impression management during social interaction:
- Intimidation – or any aggressive tactic used to force others into submission.
- Gossiping and lying – both are used in combination to avoid or influence a specific outcome, situation, or person.
- Flattery – a common form of impression management where the individual flatters someone with the hope the other person will like them more.
- Clothing – most people dress to be seen a certain way, whether that be friendly, respectable, professional, authoritative, sexy, or trendy.
- Boasting – in the vast majority of cases, boasting is an excessive form of self-promotion designed to positively influence others. However, it can also have the opposite effect.
- Conformity – where an individual agrees with the opinion of their counterpart to gain approval.
Impression management in business
Impression management in business is seen in the presentation of merchandise through advertising and marketing. Here, every business endeavors to present its products and services well by highlighting certain features over others.
With that said, impression management is vital for businesses selling products that are unhealthy, dangerous, or controversial for whatever reason. For example, a company selling chocolate bars would not market its products as causing tooth decay. Instead, it may focus on the delicious taste and the experience of sharing chocolate with friends and family.
For online businesses, impression management involves:
- Monitoring reviews and ratings – often the first and most important interaction between the consumer and business.
- Crafting content that paints the company in a positive light – particularly if reputational harm has occurred.
- Removing defamatory search results – this includes negative or malicious reviews, but many businesses also suffer from content that is spammy, sexually explicit, derogatory, or violates copyright and identify theft laws.
- Impression management is a process used by individuals and businesses to try to control the impressions other people form of them. The term was first coined by social psychologist Erving Goffman.
- Impression management during social interaction is facilitated by boasting, gossiping, lying, flattery, conformity, and choice of clothing.
- Impression management is an important part of the marketing of products and services – particularly if there is potential for negative consumer opinion. Businesses must also monitor their online presence to ensure their reputation is not threatened by malicious actors.
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