Online Persona Research: An Instagram Case Study

Kim Barbour, Katja Lee, Christopher Moore


In the last issue’s editorial, “Five Dimensions of Online Persona” (Moore, Barbour and Lee 2017), we turned our attention to the proliferation of public identities through online platforms, and traced key nodes of research that inform how we think about and theorise online personas. We also proposed and outlined five primary dimensions to the online persona that we characterised as public, mediatised, performative, collective, and having intentional value. The scope of that work was deliberately broad and far-reaching—we envisioned that piece as neither tool nor template but, we hoped, a conceptual starting point for further thinking and research.

In this editorial we seek to continue that work by putting these theoretical foundations and concepts into practice through a study of the persona work of Instagram. This work constitutes, in many cases, significant labour: decisions are made and remade around sharing different types of images, along with the use of hashtags, framing, timing, filters, captions, or tags. Abidin (2016, p. 90) describes this as “visibility labour”, which is “the work individuals do when they self-posture and curate their self-presentations so as to be noticeable and positively prominent” to their audiences or micro-publics, and notes that the labour itself becomes invisible in the persona creation process. This distributed visibility labour forms the basis of persona work, where users and their micro-publics, in conjunction with the platform and the algorithms that drive it, are continually iterating on the persona that is produced. 


Persona Work; Instagram; Hashtag; Case Study;

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