What Is Impression Management? Definition, Techniques, Ethics

A man shaking hands with a woman

Whether you realize it or not, impression management plays a huge role in personal branding, business success, and everyday life. After all, most people want to be well-liked and successful.

Impression management is the process by which people attempt to control how they are perceived by others. This can be either conscious or subconscious and involves highlighting positive aspects while downplaying negative ones. It is also known as “self-presentation.”

Impression management is an aspect of online reputation management, along with review management, Wikipedia editing, public relations, and persuasion.

The impressions you create can have a major impact on how well your next product launch is received, whether or not you can secure investment funding for your business, or if you’ll impress the recruiter at your next job interview.

Impression management is a delicate process that must be managed thoughtfully and carefully. While there are many tactics that can be used to impact the impressions people form of you or your brand, there can be negative effects if things are not handled correctly.

This article will cover what impression management is, why it’s important and techniques for using it in daily life and for your business or personal presence online.


Impression Management Defined

Impression management is the effort to control or influence how people perceive you, your brand, or your products. It is an aspect of reputation management. It serves as a means to achieve your professional or personal goals, whatever those may be. In simple terms, it’s putting your best foot forward.

The concept is by no means a new one. It was originally explored by sociologist Erving Goffman in his award-winning 1959 book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” While it was initially meant to deal with face-to-face interactions, the concepts and ideas are still relevant today, especially in the domain of personal and corporate branding.

“Perception precedes reality.” – Andy Warhol

To see prime examples of modern impression management, one needs to look no further than the online presence of celebrities and influencers. They spend countless dollars to craft a very specific image so people will go to their movies, listen to their songs, and purchase their products. Often there are entire teams getting out the perfect public image for these celebrities. Sometimes, they are very true to the private life of the person. Take Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) for example. The actor and former wrestler shares the impression of his life as a hardworking gym fanatic, philanthropist, and family man, which, for all intents and purposes, is close to how he lives his private life.

Now, take a look at Lady Gaga or the Kardashians, who have crafted public images that have allowed them to build massive creative and business empires. Even the public glimpses that we see of their “private lives” are carefully crafted for social media. While they are extensions of their personalities, Gaga probably doesn’t lounge around her house in a meat dress.

Chart showing the various aspects of impression management.

However, you don’t need a branding team or cutting-edge fashion choices to implement impression management for your personal or professional image. You just need to understand what impression management is and how it works.

For example, if you are meeting with a prospective employer, you will want to make a good impression by dressing your best, highlighting your best personality traits, and providing memorable talking points. You may also want to brush up on the six principles of persuasion while you are at it. You probably wouldn’t show up in sweatpants and talk about your tendency to steal office supplies from work.

Likewise, if your business produces soda, one of your goals is probably to increase sales. So when you’re marketing your product, you will likely focus on the positive attributes of the drinks you sell (the refreshing taste, the caffeine boost, or the cool factor of having them at parties) and shy away from the negative aspects of them (they’re full of harmful additives and sugars, they ruin your teeth and they can lead to weight gain).

In both scenarios, impression management plays a key role in shaping the opinions that other people form about you. Because of this, it can be a useful tactic in improving your online reputation. Impression management can be used to improve:

  • Public opinion on your brand, services, leadership, etc.
  • Negotiation skills
  • Social influence
  • Relationships
  • Emotional experiences

Importance of Impression Management

Impressions count, and that fact reflects the importance of impression management. Impressions count so much that our brains are making thousands of computations within seconds of meeting someone new. We’re assessing and judging them on how they dress, their body language, and if they seem trustworthy, confident, or approachable. The list goes on. Once someone forms an opinion on you or your brand, it can be difficult to reshape.

The same is true online. Within seconds of Googling your company, someone will already determine if they trust you or not – they may not even consciously know they’ve already done it. You’ll want to work your best to put your best foot forward online, too. This can mean cleaning up your reviews and ratings, removing negative search results, and creating more positive content. Even a single negative review can be enough to change someone’s mind about doing business with you.

While controlling someone else’s opinion is virtually impossible, impression management gives us an opportunity to present ourselves in a way that may be more likely to evoke a positive opinion from others. At the absolute least, the positive initial impression can open the door and create the opportunity for you to share more about yourself or your brand.

As important as impression management is, it’s also not a good time to make any false claims. When you lie to make a good impression, the truth will often surface in some way or another, and then your reputation will suffer. It’s just like going into a job interview with fake information on your resume. They are going to find out and it’s not going to look good for you.

It’s always best to take a good, strong reflection and ensure that you or your brand actually measures up to your claims while making any impressions.

Impression Management Techniques

So, with all of that in mind, here are a few impression management techniques. Consider these techniques when you’re trying to make a good impression on someone.

  • Conformity: Agreeing with another’s opinion to gain their approval
  • Excuses: Attempting to reduce the perceived impact of an event by downplaying its severity
  • Apologies: Admitting responsibility for an event and seeking forgiveness
  • Self-promotion: Highlighting your best qualities and achievements while downplaying any negatives
  • Flattery: Complimenting others
  • Favors: Doing something nice for someone to gain their approval or friendship
  • Association: Working information about people and things that you have in common with another person into a conversation to enhance or improve the relationship

These techniques are useful both in real life and online, but there are more things you can do to manage your online presence. First of all, be very aware of reviews, articles or other mentions that may cast a negative light on you or your business. Work to have them removed or at least respond to them and show that you are making an effort to rectify any less-than-positive interactions. This also includes unflattering comments, stories or images you may have uploaded or posted yourself on social media or other sources.

You can also clean up your search results so when people do Google you, the best and most positive results are at the top. This can be done through various means including removal, de-indexing, or suppression. Also, creating more content that reflects a positive image and the brand you want to portray, it will push down these negative or unwanted results.

The Ethics of Impression Management

Impression management techniques can be used to enhance relationships, improve your reputation, improve your overall business, and more. Knowing how and when to say the right thing is critical in both developing relationships and portraying your image in the best possible way online.

But can impression management techniques be abused? Yes, impression management can be abused. People abuse these techniques to create overly embellished or outright false impressions of themselves. Not only is that unethical, but the truth tends to find a way of surfacing one way or another, and that can be even more damaging to your reputation. Just like going into a job interview with a resume of lies, the facts have a way of coming out.

A survey by ResumeLab found that about 70% of U.S. workers say they have lied on a resume to land a job

It doesn’t matter if you are implementing these techniques and skills in real life, in branding, or on social media. People can sense the inauthentic.

Imagine that you are in the fitness arena. You live healthy, work out, and promote your lifestyle through your online presence. You might have days where you don’t go to the gym, but you always post inspiring memes and pics from the days when you do go. There’s nothing wrong with this. Everyone has days they don’t work out.

However, what if you posted altered pictures of yourself, claimed to work with certain celebrities, or used certain products? You might be tempted to post achievements that are not only not yours but unattainable. This is when it crosses over into the realm of unethical. You’ve probably heard the stories of influencers who’ve posted overly manipulated photos, stretched the truth, or posted downright lies and been caught in the act. Even celebrities who are skilled in the medium of social media and have experienced marketing teams have fallen into this trap.

Authenticity is key here. As long as impression management techniques are used authentically, there is little risk of failure. Here are a few ways to maintain authenticity while managing the impressions you make on others.

  • Set aside some time for self-reflection. Identify your values, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Make sure that your values are aligned with your goals, and work on improving any weaknesses.
  • Avoid acting out of emotion. Emotional outbursts, both negative and positive, can be seen as immature and create a negative impression.
  • Be confident. Once you’ve taken the time to reflect on what you’re going to say or do, do it with confidence. A little bit of positivity goes a long way here, too.
  • Control the narrative, but make sure what you are saying is factual. Present the best possible version of yourself, but be honest.

Impression management is a collection of techniques used to attempt to control the opinions people form of you. Although it is impossible to control anyone else’s opinion, it can help to actively manage what you say about yourself or your brand to try to make the best possible impression.


Impression Management FAQs

What is impression management?

Impression management is the process by which people attempt to control how they are perceived by others by highlighting positive aspects while downplaying negative ones.

Why is impression management important?

First impressions are vitally important, especially online. When someone Googles you, they almost immediately determine if they trust you or not. This impression is essential as you work to achieve your personal and professional goals.

What are impression management techniques?

Conformity: Agreeing with opinions in order to gain approval; Excuses: Attempting to reduce perceived impact of an event by downplaying its severity; Apologies: Admitting responsibility for an event and seeking forgiveness; Self-promotion: Highlighting your best qualities and achievements while downplaying any negatives; Flattery: Complimenting others; Favors: Doing something nice to gain approval or friendship; Association: Working information about people and things that you have in common with another person into a conversation to enhance or improve the relationship.

How can I manage my impression online?

Have any negative reviews or articles removed – if possible. Generate new and positive content to push down less flattering content.

Is impression management ethical?

Impression management is ethical as long as you are truthful and do not abuse the practice. Always tell the truth and do not embellish the facts. If you do, you will most likely be found out and suffer the consequences.

About the author

Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning reputation management agency based in California. Kent has over 15 years of experience with SEO reputation management, Wikipedia editing, review management, and strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics and is an expert witness for reputation-related legal matters. You can find Kent’s biography here.

Tags: Online Reputation Management Services, Reputation Management, Reputation Marketing.

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