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Eke panuku, eke tangaroa! How Black Ferns 7s athletes navigate Instagram and inspire the next generation in Aotearoa

This thesis considers the role of Instagram in the lives of players on the New Zealand Black Ferns 7s rugby team, and audience engagement with players’ social media accounts. Using a mana wāhine methodology, this study explores how Black Ferns 7s players utilize and navigate Instagram, through mixed-methods enquiry, including a social media analysis of 8 players’ accounts, interviews with 3 Black Ferns 7s players, and talanoa sessions with members of the women’s rugby community in the Bay of Plenty, supplemented by input from Black Ferns players and fans via direct messages on Instagram. The quantitative social media analysis identified 4 key themes in players’ Instagram posts: achievement, team & rugby, life outside rugby, and culture & vulnerability. The analysis reveals that players post the most regarding their “team & rugby”, generating an “athlete first” self- representation. It finds a statistically significant difference in the thematic content of Instagram posts based on squad seniority and the number of followers a player has. Followers were found to engage most with posts regarding “achievement”, and the least with posts regarding “culture and vulnerability”. The interviews elaborate upon these quantitative differences by highlighting why athletes specifically use Instagram, insights into Black Ferns aspirational team dynamics, and the importance of a player’s life outside of rugby. The thematic analysis also reveals the digital economic and collective labour involved in producing social media content as a member of this team, and what it means to be culturally “authentic” online in Aotearoa. It reveals the unique elements generated by the team-sport context of this study, including intra-team differences in social media usage. Furthermore, hauora, Indigenous role modeling, and Tall Poppy Syndrome emerge as factors particularly unique to the cultural context within which this study takes place. The discussions culminate in the establishment of a layered understanding of the external, internal, and individual factors which shape Instagram posting habits, and the features which most significantly impact why audiences follow the curated displays Black Ferns 7s athletes provide online. This project contributes to international literature on sportswomen’s use of social media, demonstrating the powerful ways that players support one another in what, when, and how they post, and the importance of cultural identity in Māori and Pasifika players’ social media engagement. It further reveals the importance of team culture in shaping individual players’ social media and audience engagement. This thesis also highlights the significance of sporting and cultural histories and intersectional identities in digital self-representation and fan engagement with sportswomen’s social media usage.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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