Identity and the digital world
According to research from Jagdish Sheth, Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing, and Michael Solomon (UNC), the idea of identity is evolving, impacted by the growing influence of the digital world. The authors’ groundbreaking study builds on a seminal paper from Russell Belk, written in 1988, which identified the role that possessions play in an individual’s life and how external elements are critical to how people self-identify. The duo uses Belk’s findings on consumer behavior, taking it a step further by applying his concepts to current day, with the online world in mind. Sheth and Solomon found that traditional boundaries between an individual’s offline and online life are increasingly blurred, resulting in what they term the “digital extended self.” People are creating a new sense of identity, courtesy of the information posted, the persona created, and the relationships developed online. They write, “A social footprint is the mark a consumer leaves after she occupies a specific digital space (e.g., today’s Facebook posts), while her lifestream is the ongoing record of her digital life across platforms (e.g., registrations in virtual worlds, tweets, blog posts).” Not surprisingly, the notion of just what defines a consumer is changing. User-generated content and online consumer reviews have altered the nature of relationships between the producer and consumer. The authors’ findings have critical implications for marketers looking to get a better understanding of consumer behavior.