‘The Pleasures of an Alias on Social Media’ by Jan Blommaert

Ahead of the 6th International Conference on Multicultural Discourses later this year (which we are sponsoring), plenary speaker, Jan Blommaert, has written an inspiring piece initiating conversation around some of the themes of the conference. 

Jan Blommaert

One of the intriguing things I keep hearing from people who are active on social media is that they use an alias there, because the use of their real name would prevent them from ‘being myself’. This always triggers a critical question from me: isn’t your real name part of your core identity? And how can you really be yourself when you avoid using that absolute and primary identity label of yours – your real name?

While the point might seem trivial to some, it is quite a challenge to widespread perceptions of what it is to be ‘real’. In his classic Seeing Like a State, James Scott explained at great length how important the use of fixed and structured personal names was for the emerging nation-states of Modernity. The names we got (often somewhere in the 18th-19th century) became the alpha and omega of the bureaucratic system of governance: when a name could be conclusively stuck on an individual, that individual was ‘known’ and could be treated as a subject with rights, entitlements, duties and obligations derived from bureaucratically administered laws and rules. We carry our names, consequently, on a range of identity documents: passport, social security or health insurance card, driver’s licence, staff card, library card, and so forth; we write and read our names on the top of thousands of official documents that regulate our everyday lives. Why? Because our names identify us as real, as really existing persons that can be identified, held responsible, involved or excluded from social and political processes. In view of that, avoiding using your real name, hiding it from others or giving a false name when asked for it, is strongly associated with deviance, abnormality, transgression and crime.

On social media, however, the practice is widespread. Very large numbers of otherwise decent and upstanding citizens operate ‘undercover’, if you wish, hiding behind the mask of a bogus name and arguing that it is this mask that enables them to be ‘real’ in interactions with others on social media. It shows us how different the rules and codes of social media interaction are, and how these technologies have shaped a different area of social action operating alongside those of the ‘real’ world of nation-state bureaucratic and social life.

The people I know and had the occasion to talk to about this practice argued that an alias grants them a modicum of freedom of speech on social media. In that sense, it offered them some degree of freedom to speak freely, without the obstacles and restrictions generated by offline life. Their real names, as said above, connect them to the rights and entitlements, but also the restrictions of offline existence, and such restrictions might be compelling. Their employers, for instance, might not be amused by some of the Tweets posted by known employees; such expressions of individual opinion and subjectivity could get them into trouble with political patrons, relatives or other members of the offline communities in which they function. The structures of their ‘real’ offline social existence, in short, prevent them from speaking freely in the public sphere generated by social media.

The use of an alias, thus, is usually an effect of conscious and calibrated decisions in which the opportunities of the online public culture are weighed against the conventional restrictions of offline public culture. Different sets of norms and codes of conduct are measured against each other, and the conclusion for these people is that you can only be uniquely and really yourself on social media when you delete or mask your real name – when you become someone else or remain an anonymous voice, in other words.

I see this as part of ‘the care of the selfie’. We are familiar with the argument developed by a range of scholars, from Foucault to Goffman, that our social existence in Modernity is dependent on large and infinitely detailed sets of norms and regulations for impression management, aimed at appearing as a ‘normal’ subject in the eyes of others. These norms and regulations are socially sanctioned, and all of us are invited to internalize and incorporate them through self-regulation and self-censorship – the things Foucault called ‘the care of the self’. What the use of aliases on social media demonstrates, I think, is how this offline care of the self is now complemented by similar sets of norms and regulations governing our online social lives. The use of aliases, along with a range of other practices, is part of a constructed ‘selfie’, an identity designed solely for online presence.

When meticulously constructed, maintained and applied, this selfie offers us the pleasures of aspects of social life not attainable elsewhere. Or, if you wish, it offers us membership into a community culture that runs in conjunction with the cultures of offline communities but can no longer be detached from it. Which is why we can be truly ourselves there in very different ways from those we practice elsewhere.

You can read more about the themes of the conference in this post on our blog.

Publishing FAQs: The Marketing Process

The marketing process is managed by me as Head of Marketing and I am assisted by Flo who is Marketing and Publishing Coordinator. Together, we make sure that we publicise each book to booksellers, retailers and individuals as well as across our social media channels. We also produce print catalogues and regular email newsletters to promote our books and ensure we inform relevant organisations and groups. We receive all kinds of queries throughout the marketing process so I’ve attempted to answer some of the most common questions here.

When will you start marketing my book?

Elinor and Flo about to have their monthly marketing meeting

As soon as a book goes into production we begin the marketing process. This will be approximately 6 months before publication. We create an individual marketing plan for each title and incorporate both the commissioning editor and the author’s suggestions. You can read more about this process in Flo’s blog post.

Can I buy copies of my book at a discount?

Yes, as an author you are entitled to a 50% discount on all our titles, including your own book. We will also provide you with a discount flyer for you to send to all your friends and colleagues and take to any talks you are giving or conferences you’re attending.

The price of my book is incorrect on Amazon / My book isn’t available on Amazon. Can you fix this?

We can’t make changes directly to Amazon’s site but if there are any errors such as prices, publication date, title etc we can request for these to be updated as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we’re unable to prompt Amazon to place an order so sometimes your book may be marked as unavailable due to a delay in them ordering stock.

Will my book be on sale in my local Waterstones?

It’s possible that Waterstones will stock your book if it’s a university branch and the book is a course book at your institution. Otherwise it’s unlikely that your book will be available as they stock very few high level academic titles in their high street stores. However, the main sales of our titles come from other sources so please don’t be concerned if your local bookshop isn’t stocking your book.

Will you be marketing my book on social media?

Yes, definitely! We market all our books through our various social media channels. Campaigns are always more successful when the author is involved so we send our authors a detailed guide to marketing on social media at the start of the marketing process.

Can I post about my book on Facebook?

Yes please do! Although we market all our books through our own channels, it’s always far more effective for authors to utilise their own personal contacts to sell their book.

Can you send a review copy of my book to X journal?

We are happy to send review copies of your book to relevant journals and will be asking for suggestions at the start of the marketing process. Please be aware that some journals don’t have a book review section and therefore will be unable to review the book.

Do I have to fill in an author questionnaire?

Yes you do, and your commissioning editor will send it to you at the appropriate time. The information you provide on your author questionnaire is vital for helping us to understand how best to market your book and to reach the appropriate audience. It is also the best way of sharing any of your own existing contacts and any other ideas you have for marketing your book.

Will you be organising a book launch for my book?

We’re not able to organise book launches for every book but if you are organising an event, please let us know so that we can arrange for copies to be sent in good time, and if it’s local or we happen to be in the area, we may even be able to attend. Equally, if there is a conference where a book event is appropriate we would be happy to support you with marketing materials.

Will my book be featured in mainstream media?

Our books do occasionally get picked up in mainstream media but these are exceptions, not the norm. However, if your book relates to a topical or controversial issue that is currently being covered in the media then it’s possible that it can be featured. Any media contacts you have or ideas for publications for us to approach are very helpful.

Can I have a free copy of my book for my mum?

Yes of course! On the author questionnaire you can list people who you would like to receive a copy of your book. We usually suggest that you list influential people in your field who will be interested in your work and may help promote it, but of course you can list your mum as one of your recipients.

Will all the contributors to my book receive a free copy?

What the contributors will receive is stated in the contributor agreements which are signed early in the editorial process. If you have any queries about this, please contact your commissioning editor.

My conference displayWill my book be on display at X conference?

If you have listed the conference on your author questionnaire we will do our best to get some publicity there. Unfortunately we don’t have an unlimited budget and the costs of some conferences are so prohibitive that we’re unable to attend all those that we would like to.

Why isn’t my book going to be published in paperback?

The decision of whether to publish your book in paperback and hardback or hardback only is made by the commissioning editor and the rest of the team. Your commissioning editor is your best contact for this question.

Will my book be listed in your catalogue?

Yes all our recent books will be included in our main catalogue which is printed each year in September. Go to our website to join our mailing list to ensure you receive a copy.

If you have any queries about social media or review copies, please contact Flo at flo@multilingual-matters.com. For all other marketing queries please contact me at elinor@multilingual-matters.com.

Elinor

How do we use social media to market our books?

We at Multilingual Matters/Channel View Publications are very active on social media and have built up substantial communities across all our accounts. We enjoy interacting with our authors, publishing contacts, readers and people with a broader interest in the topics on which we publish, and have strong followings on both Facebook and Twitter, with nearly 2,000 contacts across our Facebook pages and over 15,000 on our two Twitter accounts.

Social media has also become an integral part of our marketing campaign for each book that we publish. In the weeks and months leading up to and following a book’s publication, we in the marketing department use our various social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, this blog and YouTube) to announce its publication and publicise it as much as possible. It’s the easiest and most effective way of getting news to lots of people at once and on top of that, it allows people to engage with and discuss our publications, both with us and amongst each other. Of course, social media doesn’t come at the expense of our traditional marketing strategies and we still follow usual marketing techniques such as catalogue mailings, email newsletters, sending information to the book trade, attending conferences and book fairs and so on, but it does offer something new and different to our marketing repertoire.

Commissioning editors with books published in January

When using social media to market a book, it’s a real advantage if we have an author who is active themselves on social media and can help us to spread the word. Authors are best placed to reach their book’s key audience as their own colleagues and peers are likely to be those interested in the research. We often find that some of our bestselling books are ones where the author hasn’t been afraid of get stuck in! For example, you could create a Facebook page for your book like our authors Christian W. Chun and Leanne White did, where you can keep people up to date with the book’s progress and share useful information and news, including the 50% preorder discount flyer we create for all our books. In addition, if there are any relevant events that tie in with your book’s publication, do let us know! For example, we’ve previously promoted Hongliang Yan’s book, Heritage Tourism in China, in conjunction with World Heritage Day. Facebook is also the main place where we post photos of office goings on, so your book may well end up in a photo like the one above of our commissioning editors with their books published in January. If you have any ideas for a relevant photo opportunity for your book, just let us know and we’ll see what we can do!

Twitter is a great place to get book news out to the right people, and we do try to “mention” relevant accounts with publication news where we can. If you have any ideas about popular hashtags used by the community you’re trying to reach or users who would be especially interested in your work, let us know on your AQ and we’ll include them in our marketing plans. Each of our books are assigned three or four tweets during the month following its publication giving a taster of what to expect from the book, and we also announce it on both Twitter and Facebook on publication day. By using relevant hashtags, the word about a new book gets out to people who might not have heard about it otherwise, and we often see people mentioning friends or colleagues with recommendations of our books.

We ask all our authors to write a piece about their book for our blog, which we schedule to coincide with its publication. This is a really good way to publicise the book and provide interested readers with a “behind the scenes” insight into how the book came about, giving authors a chance to sell their book beyond the blurb on our website. If you can send us photos or even videos to include in the post to grab readers’ attention, even better! We always announce new blog posts on Facebook and Twitter ourselves, but again, the braver authors are about sharing their post and telling the world about their work, the greater the number of views and the more engagement we see.

One of the videos to accompany Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Behavior

For those authors that are feeling especially creative, we also have a YouTube channel where we post videos authors have produced to accompany their book. For example, we recently posted a video by Wayne E. Wright and Colin Baker where they spoke about the latest edition of Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism and one by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren introducing their new book Early Language Learning. For their book, Optimizing Language Learners’ Nonverbal Behavior Tammy Gregersen and Peter MacIntyre produced a series of accompanying videos, such as “Say it with your Hands!”, all of which can be accessed on our YouTube channel. If you’d like to do something similar for the publication of your own book, just get in touch with us to discuss your ideas.

Nowadays social media is an invaluable tool for getting publication news out there, and we do our best to publicise your book as much as possible, but there’s no doubt that the more active the author is in promoting their book through their own channels, the better. So get Facebooking/Tweeting/Blogging/YouTubing!

Follow us on Twitter: @Multi_Ling_Mat / @Channel_View

Like our Facebook page: Multilingual Matters / Channel View Publications

Check out our YouTube channel

A-Z of Publishing: T is for…

T is for TwitterT is for Twitter. We are active on social media and have Twitter and Facebook accounts for both imprints. If you use social media, please like or follow us to keep up-to-date with our latest news. The links to our listings are: MM Facebook page, CVP Facebook page, MM Twitter page and CVP Twitter page.

This post is part of our ‘A-Z of Publishing’ series which we will be posting every Monday throughout the rest of 2015. You can search the blog for the rest of the series or subscribe to the blog to receive an email as soon as the next post is published by using the links on the right of the page.

Social Media and Minority Languages

Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, co-editor with Enrique Uribe-Jongbloed of Social Media and Minority Languages, the first collection of academic essays on this topic tells us a little about how the book came about…

Social Media and Minority Languages

This collection of essays brings together writings by over thirty scholars working in the field of minority language media studies. Some are well established researchers having contributed to the development of this specific area of study over several decades, while others are new entrants, either as newcomers to academia itself or as researchers who are now embracing social media as an integral part of their work in other disciplines. Minority Language Media Studies is itself an interdisciplinary meeting place – as the many conferences and seminars held over the years have shown – drawing on the discourses of sociolinguistics and media studies. Yet, new approaches to linguistic diversity, the pervasiveness of social media, as well as the impact of convergence in the creative industries require a rethinking of research questions, methodologies and theoretical frameworks as we aim to enhance our knowledge and understanding of these phenomena.

Most of the contributors to this book met up at the Mercator Network conference on Linguistic Diversity and Media Convergence held at Aberystwyth University in Wales with the support of the European Commission. Since 1988, with the support of the European Union, the Mercator Network has brought together academic researchers, practitioners, activists and policy makers in the fields of education, legislation and media in the context of minority languages communities. The Mercator Network is currently working on a three year programme of expert workshops and conferences (LEARNMe), funded by the European Union and Mercator’s host institutions: the Fryske Akademy (NL), Aberystwyth University (Wales), CIEMEN-Barcelona, the University of Stockholm and the Research Institute for Linguistics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

The book was developed within the framework of Mercator European Network of Language Diversity Centres funded by the European Union through the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission in 2008-2011.
The book was developed within the framework of Mercator European Network of Language Diversity Centres funded by the European Union through the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission in 2008-2011.

Working in an international context is an indispensable part of minority language studies: the condition of being a minority – or minoritised – language community, can mean that the very issues that are significant to the community are often marginalised from and peripheral to the mainstream public discourses within the state. This also includes academic discourses and collaborative work with colleagues in different countries is necessary, in order to create innovative research frameworks and rigorously debate findings in comparative contexts.

Since its creation in 1988, the Mercator Network’s philosophy has been based on the following principles:

  • an engagé approach: aiming to improve the conditions of minority languages through research based on critical distance and rejecting attempts at a false neutrality of observationalism;
  • a bridging approach: create a dialogue between the scholarly study of minority languages and practitioners, professionals, policy makers, advocates and activists;
  • a grounded approach: located in the geo-political areas where minority languages are a lived experience and to use the languages as widely as possible;
  • a multi-disciplinary approach: recognising a wide base of knowledge and varied methodologies;
  • a comparative approach; to produce research paradigms that can usefully link theory and practice across a range of different social realities;
  • a networked approach: to create and develop sustainable networks of organizations and institutions active in this field and to enhance contact between people by hosting and supporting events and fora that facilitate discussion and the exchange of knowledge and ideas in order to create new discourses that engage with minority languages beyond the confines of state borders.

We hope that this book will contribute to dialogue in this field and we would like to thank all involved in its publication.