In this exploratory study, we assessed differences among adolescents in their focus on self-presentation on social media, and whether these differences were related to gender, age, SES, lifestyle factors, or personality. Over 2,000 Norwegian senior high school pupils participated in the study. The results showed that feedback-seeking, strategic self-presentation, and social comparison on social media could be combined into one factor, here called “focus on self-presentation”. The experience of it being easier to be oneself on social media did not correlate with the other aspects of self-presentation measured in this study and was excluded from the self-presentation scale. It is possible that this item taps into other aspects of social media use. For example, some people may be less shy and withdrawn online than offline [50–52], or aspects of the self that are hidden or suppressed in offline interactions can be more freely expressed on social media .
The latent class analysis identified three groups of adolescents who varied in their focus on self-presentation. We named the classes “low focus on self-presentation” (class 1), “some focus on self-presentation” (class 2), and “high focus on self-presentation” (class 3). Group membership was associated with gender, lifestyle factors, and personality traits, where female gender, intermediate and high extraversion, low and intermediate emotional stability, consuming alcohol, and having tried cigarettes and snus, increased the likelihood of a higher focus on self-presentation. There was some indication that those with high agreeableness and high conscientiousness were less likely to have a high focus on self-presentation. The associations between focus on self-presentation and SES and between focus on self-presentation and low/moderate physical activity both became non-significant when controlling for gender. Focus on self-presentation was not related to age or the personality trait of openness to new experiences.
Using the same self-presentation items as in the present study, Skogen et al.  found a higher focus on self-presentation among adolescent females than males. Our results corroborate these findings, using a larger and more heterogeneous sample (pupils from twelve schools in rural and central areas). Class 1 (low focus on self-presentation) was dominated by males, while class 2 (intermediate focus on self-presentation) and class 3 (high focus on self-presentation) were characterized by successively larger estimated proportions of females. On a similar note, studies have shown that females both post selfies and retouch selfies before posting them to a greater degree than males [11, 54]. The higher proportion of females in class 2 and 3 can be understood in context of the stronger tendency among adolescent females to have a relational orientation and increased reactivity to interpersonal stressors compared to males [55, 56]. Some studies suggest that the association between social media use and negative mental health outcomes is stronger among females [57, 58]. The increased focus on self-presentation may be one contributing factor to this relationship.
There was some evidence for a relationship between SES and group membership, with an increased relative risk of having high focus on self-presentation for those with intermediate as compared to high SES. This relationship, however, became non-significant when controlling for gender. To the authors’ knowledge, no other studies have assessed the relationship between self-presentation and SES, but SES has been related to other aspects of social media use and, more generally, to screen use. For instance, low SES has been associated with social media addiction among children and adolescents , and access to media devices in the bedroom is more common among adolescents from low-income families compared to high-income families . Overall, our sample was characterized by relatively high SES, and studies on more diverse populations should be conducted to better illuminate the relationship between focus on self-presentation and SES.
The lack of an association between age and group membership may be due to the limited age range of the participants in this study. Social media use is common from a young age, and among Norwegian children, one fourth of boys and one third of girls use Snapchat already at the age of 9–10 years . Adolescents’ online self-presentation has been shown to change with age  and to be influenced by identity development . Among 13–18 year-olds, Fullwood et al.  showed that younger adolescents were more likely than older adolescents to present an idealized or false version of themselves online, and to experiment with multiple self-presentations. Among emerging adults, Michikyan  found that those high in identity confusion were less realistic, less truthful, and more socially desirable in their self-presentation online than those high in identity coherence.
We found that the personality traits extraversion and emotional stability was associated with class membership. Those with high extraversion were more likely to have a higher focus on self-presentation than those with low extraversion. These findings correspond to the findings of Zywica & Danowski , who found that a larger proportion of extraverts relative to introverts reported that it was important to look popular on Facebook. Associations between extraversion and other aspects of social media use may also be related to the present findings. For instance, meta-analytic evidence has shown that extraversion is positively associated with the amount of social media use , the number of friends on social media , and using social media for social interaction . One may speculate that extraverts use social media to fulfil their social needs, and that they consequently consider social media as an important part of their social lives and become more focused on how they appear online, compared to introverts.
Emotional stability was even more strongly associated with class membership than extraversion, where the estimated proportions of low, intermediate, and high emotional stability shifted substantially with increasing focus on self-presentation. The proportion of intermediate and low emotional stability increased with higher focus on self-presentation, and high emotional stability decreased. This can be seen in context of the results of Twomey & O’Reilly , who showed that neuroticism (i.e., low emotional stability) was associated with individuals’ tendency to present an idealized or inauthentic version of themselves online. Neuroticism has also been associated with posting more status updates . More generally, emotional stability is negatively associated with the amount of social media use [64, 66].
For agreeableness and conscientiousness, those with high scores were less likely to have a high focus on self-presentation. This is in line with a study of undergraduate students, where agreeableness and conscientiousness were associated with a lower likelihood of using social media to seek attention from others . Importantly, the associations of agreeableness and conscientiousness were not supported by the linear regression or the non-parametric analyses, and this association is thus less clear than for extraversion and emotional stability. There was no relationship between class membership and openness to new experiences. High scores on openness has been associated with more social media use in studies of adults [66, 68], but as social media use is ubiquitous among adolescents, this personality trait may be a more important predictor of social media use among older people .
Finally, our results show that those who consumed alcohol more frequently and those who had tried smoking and snus had increased probabilities of having a moderate or high focus on self-presentation. This finding mirrors the findings of Nesi & Prinstein , who demonstrated that digital status seeking (i.e., efforts to obtain likes and comments), was longitudinally associated with substance use. The authors of that study hypothesized that digital status seekers are at risk of engaging in risky offline behaviours that are considered popular among peers, in an attempt to increase their social status . For physical activity, there were increased probabilities of a high focus on self-presentation for those with low/moderate physical activity compared to high physical activity, although not when controlling for gender. To our knowledge, no studies have looked specifically at self-presentation on social media and physical activity, however, studies have shown that low physical activity is associated with smartphone addiction  and more generally with high overall screen time .
Grouping adolescents by their focus on self-presentation may be one way to bring structure to the heterogeneity of adolescents’ social media use, but further work is needed to assess whether the three-class solution in the present study is relevant in other populations. Given the associations between aspects of self-presentation, such as feedback-seeking and upward social comparison, and negative mental health outcomes [12, 13, 24, 31–33], increasing focus on self-presentation may be associated with a higher risk of mental health challenges. Further work is needed to assess how focus on self-presentation is related to important adolescence outcomes such as mental health, satisfaction with life and educational attainment. Importantly, social media use is likely to differ in other areas than self-presentation as well, however, self-presentation itself seems to be a meaningful dimension that warrants further study. The present results can help identify groups of adolescents that are of risk of experiencing negative effects of their social media use. Our results suggest that among adolescents, female gender, high extraversion, and low emotional stability are associated with an increased risk of being highly focused on self-presentation. Public health interventions promoting healthy social media use could target these groups in particular. Furthermore, it has been hypothesized that self-presentation behaviour on social media triggers an increased dependence on social approval in the form of likes and comments . Thus, efforts to reduce self-presentation behaviour on social media may also reduce focus on self-presentation. Importantly, positive self-presentation, defined as showing positive aspects of the self online has been shown to increase subjective well-being, possibly because it supports a positive self-image . Thus, the relationship between focus on self-presentation, the act of self-presenting on social media, and well-being is complex and needs further investigation.
The present study did not consider how focus on self-presentation may vary across different social media platforms. For example, self-presentation on social media can vary depending on the perceived target audience [73, 74]. In a qualitative study, Taber & Whittaker , university students explained that they were more authentic and less socially desirable on social media accounts where only their close friends could access their content. Furthermore, how one self-presents on social media can be influenced by the level of anonymity, the durability of the content [e.g., ephemeral vs. permanent content; 75], and the visibility of the content . It is unclear whether also one’s focus on self-presentation, beyond how one self-presents, vary across platforms. As focus on self-presentation is associated with personality traits, it may be assumed that it is a relatively stable individual characteristic. But one may also speculate that some social media platforms augment users’ focus on self-presentation, for example platforms with visual content and feedback from others as central features. Thus, it is possible that some of the gender difference in focus on self-presentation is based on gender differences in platform preference, above and beyond any differences in focus on self-presentation between males and females in the first place.
4.3 Strengths and limitations
A strength of the present study is the use of survey items developed based on focus interviews with the target group, increasing the likelihood that the items were relevant to the participants. The data collection is recent, and the study included a large number of participants, allowing for a meaningful investigation of focus on self-presentation on social media and its covariates.
The study also has some important limitations. The study is cross-sectional, which means that we are unable to draw conclusions about cause-and-effect. Furthermore, the participant rate was somewhat low (54%). It is possible that those highly invested in social media completed the survey to a larger extent than those not invested in social media, thus causing a bias in the results. Hence, the estimated proportions of the latent classes should be interpreted with caution. However, associations are less vulnerable to bias caused by low participation rates than prevalences , and the associations between class membership and covariates may be considered valid despite a relatively low participation rate.
As participants were recruited through their school, adolescents not attending school did not have the opportunity to participate in the study. However, the rate of school attendance among Norwegian adolescents is very high, with 94% of 16–18 year-olds attending senior high school . Participants were drawn from a limited geographical area, and the results may not be generalizable to other countries or cultures. For example, Kolesnyk et al.  found that deceptive self-presentation for physical attractiveness (e.g., retouching images to increase attractiveness) was lower in countries with more gender equality.
Only one of the self-presentation items asked explicitly about visual self-presentation, specifically about the retouching of photos to look better. Self-presentation may entail photos of oneself, but also photos of friends or activities, sharing music and movies, posting opinions, among other things. Future studies should consider if self-presentation through posting photos of oneself differ from other self-presentation, for example due to links with appearance-related concerns [79–81]. Furthermore, we used the word “retouching”, which may not fully reflect the range of ways adolescents edit their photos. For example, built-in image filters on applications such as Snapchat are frequently used by adolescents but may not have been captured by the question about retouching. Retouching may have been interpreted as more elaborate and advanced photo-editing.