Accepted for publication: “Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online”

Last month, I was notified that a journal paper I wrote has been accepted for publication. The paper, “Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online”, was co-authored with my PhD supervisors, Peter Cruickshank, Professor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson. It began life as a peer-reviewed conference paper at the Information: Interactions and Impact Conference (i3) in Aberdeen, Scotland and has since been expanded and refined for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science.

This paper considers online information sharing practices used to build and manage personal reputations – specifically as it relates to the blurring between individuals’ private and professional “selves”. The findings are formed from my larger doctoral investigation into the role of online information and reputation. The main findings show that:

  1. The portrayal of different personas online contribute to the presentation (but not the creation) of identity.
  2. Online information sharing practices for reputation building and management vary according to social media platform.
  3. The management of online connections and censorship are important to the protection of reputation.
  4. The maintenance of professional reputation is more important than private reputation.


My own use of the three platforms considered in this research (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) share a lot of commonality with the findings in this paper. (Note: There are many variations, which you can read in the full paper.)

Like most of the participants in this study, I use LinkedIn as a professional networking platform and as an electronic CV. I have connected with a few people from my private life, but it is overwhelmingly filled with professional contacts. I only post information related to my professional life there, and I am quite put off by the idea that the site even asks me for my birthday and marital status (two bits of information that I don’t feel need to be divulged on a professional networking site).

I use Facebook as a private social networking site. I am quite strict about not connecting with current colleagues on Facebook (I have allowed for one exception) and only connect with former colleagues if they pass the “friend” test. I do not use Facebook for professional networking. I do, however, share some information related to my professional life on Facebook, as I find that my professional life blurs with my private life and personal interests at times.

Twitter is a mixed bag for me. For a while, I mixed my private and professional personas on one account (it was started as a private account). But then I realised that I needed to have two separate accounts, so I’ve branched off a bit.

When I share information on LinkedIn or my professional Twitter account, I have a standard rule of thumb: It should be related to my professional activities or interests. I rarely have to consider the negative implications of information I share because I try to avoid the political side of academics. (Though this is not a hard and fast rule.)

Sharing information on Facebook or my private Twitter account requires a bit more thought. This is because I am aware that (1) information shared in a private setting can find its way to a public or professional setting and (2) my social and political views are contrary to those of many of my connections. To address the first issue, I ask myself if the information is something I would be happy to share with my grandmother or my (fairly liberal) priest. If the answer is no, the information does not belong online. To address the second issues, I ask myself if I will stir up trouble with or offend certain connections. If the answer is yes, I will consider (a) not sharing the information, (b) sharing the information in an altered state, or (c) changing the privacy settings to hide the information from some people.

Of course, there is a lot more to how I manage the blurring between my professional and private information online—just like the participants in this study. To read more about how they manage the blur, you can download the paper here.

As always, I am very happy to answer questions about this paper or about my research as a whole.

Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online

Ryan, F., Cruickshank, P., Hall, H. & Lawson, A. (2018 in press). Blurred reputations: managing professional and private information online. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science.

And please do share!

Building identity online at #ASIST2017: A poster presentation

I am leaving for Washington, DC tomorrow morning to attend the 80th Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIST), where I will be presenting some of my research in the form of an academic poster. The presentation will be held during the President’s Reception on 30th October (6.30-8.00 pm) at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (Independence Level, Center A).

The poster is titled “Building identity in online environments: an Information Science perspective” and was co-authored with my PhD supervisorsPeter CruickshankProfessor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson. The research draws from some of the findings from my doctoral investigation on the use of online information in the management of personal reputation. Specifically, this work concerns an aspect of information behaviour and use related to the creation of online identity, which is addressed in one of my four research questions: How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?

This qualitative study used participant diaries and in-depth, semi-structured interviews as data collection tools. It involved 45 UK-based participants, and data collection took place between October 2015 and January 2016.

The content of the poster shares findings related to three areas of identity building. These are:

  • The creation and use of online “personas” and identities
  • The use of anonymity and pseudonyms through information sharing – or concealment – practices
  • The ways in which private and professional selves blur or merge together in online environments

The main finding presented in this work is that individuals present elements of their offline lives using online information to showcase different “personas”. However, they do not do this with the intention of building identity. The findings explored in this presentation are contextualised with reference to identity building in the more formal setting of academic reputation management, i.e. through the use of citations.

Please stop by the poster session to learn more about this research and my doctoral studies as a whole. You can also find me during the coffee breaks or other social activities.

Not in attendance? Don’t worry! As part of my “professional persona” I like to share information online. The links below will allow you to engage with my presentation from afar!

⇒  Poster download (low-res for online viewing)

⇒  Poster handout with further information

⇒  Full abstract from Edinburgh Napier University’s repository

If you have any questions about this research or the doctoral study as a whole, please contact me.

If you wish to interact in real-time, you can ask me questions on Twitter (@FrancesRyanPhD) or follow along with the conference using the hashtag #ASIST2017.

Published: A Gen-X perspective of online information and reputation management


My paper, ‘Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective’, has been published in Information Research. The paper is co-authored with my PhD supervisors, Peter Cruickshank, Professor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson and shares some early findings from my PhD research, specific to my Generation X data subset.

The paper was presented at the Information Seeking in Context (ISIC) 2016 conference in Zadar, Croatia, this past September. (Slides are available here and can also be found below.)

Some of the results shared in the paper indicate that:

  • Participants view their online identity (or identities) as representations of their offline personas. In some cases, personal and professional personas are kept separate by using different online platforms for different aspects of an individual’s offline life.
  • Self-censorship is a key tool in the management of reputation, with censorship activities varying based on the platform and perceived audience.
  • It can be difficult to identify information behaviours that elicit positive evaluations of others, yet negative evaluations can be made in an instant if someone shares information (for example, a tweet or Facebook post) that is in stark contrast to their own views and opinions.
  • The levels of intentional reputation management vary, and is more often concerned with how the information will be received by others, rather than the impact on their own reputation.

The full study is expected to be completed in spring 2017. The full results will combine the Generation X subset with data gathered from an equal number of Generation Y and Baby Boomer participants. At that time, the three datasets will (most likely) be combined to discuss information behaviours based on the four research questions as a whole, rather than as generation groups. However, I hope to be able to pull at least some generational-based data for future small reports, papers, or posters.

The full text of the paper is available in Information Research, along with other papers from the ISIC conference. Below is an abstract and the presentation slides. Please do get in touch if you have any questions about this paper or my research as a whole.

Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective

Ryan, F., Cruickshank, P., Hall, H., Lawson, A. (2016). Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective. Information Research.

Introduction. The means by which individuals evaluate the personal reputations of others, and manage their own personal reputations, as determined by information shared on social media platforms, is investigated from an information science perspective. The paper is concerned with findings from a doctoral study that takes into account prior work on the building and assessment of reputations through citation practice, as explored in the domain of scientometrics.

Method. Following the practice of studies of everyday life information seeking (ELIS), a multi-step data collection process was implemented. In total forty-five participants kept diaries and took part in semi-structured interviews. In this paper fifteen of these participants are represented.

Analysis. A qualitative analysis of the data was undertaken using NVivo10 to consider the information practices of one of three age group cohort generations: Generation X.

Results. Results generated from this initial analysis show some clear alignments with established knowledge in the domain, as well as new themes to be explored further. Of particular note is that social media users are more interested in the content of the information that is shared on social media platforms than they are in the signals that this information might convey about the sharer(s). It is also rare for these users to consider the impact of information sharing on personal reputation building and evaluation.

Conclusion. The analysis of the full dataset will provide further insight on the specific theme of the role of online information in personal reputation management, and contribute to theory development related to the study of information seeking behaviour and use.

IDIMC: A winning conference

2016.01.15.idimc.winningI attended the International Data and Information Management Conference in Loughborough (England) this week along with some of my colleagues from Edinburgh Napier University. The conference was a great opportunity to meet with other information science researchers—and to present my own research.

It was also a fantastic opportunity for winning! There were four potential prizes for the conference: Best paper, best poster, best 5-minute madness presentation, and a dinner quiz. And Team Napier won them all! In fact, three of the four were won by me! (I didn’t submit for the fourth, so I’m not bitter about not winning that one.)

In order of prize announcement, here’s how the awards went down:

Dinner Quiz
I was on a team with my officemate, John Mowbray. Our team (Winners or Losers, Delete As Appropriate) won by half a point. Another officemate (Iris Buunk) and my PhD supervisor (Hazel Hall) were on the second place team.

Best 5-minute madness presentation (open to PhD students)
I took this prize (which came with a £25 Amazon gift certificate) for my presentation on my PhD research. It was a quick overview of my research themes, methods, and progress to date. The winner was selected by the conference programme committee at the conference, and I was a bit surprised to have won.

Best poster (open to all)
Iris Buunk took this well-deserved prize for her poster ‘Easier, better, faster’. The winner was selected by a delegate vote at the conference. The poster was very well designed with clear, easy to understand text. It was clearly the winner! (And as I didn’t have a poster, I am not at all bitter about not winning!)

Best paper (open to all)
Much to my surprise (and excitement), the best paper award went to me (and to the paper co-authors Peter Cruickshank, Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson). The paper was titled ‘Personal online reputation: the development of an approach to investigate how personal reputation is evaluated and managed in online environments’.

The winner for this category was decided by anonymous peer review of all papers refereed prior to the conference. That means that the award was based on the text and the text alone. Not me as a person; not my presentation of the work. And that is such a great boost for my confidence!

(Read the full paper here or check out the presentation slides here.)

As I said, it was a winning conference. And all that winning has done wonders for my self-confidence and self-esteem. If I can keep this energy up, I’ll be back on track with my PhD submission before I know it!

Also: It really must be said that these great honours would not have happened without the guidance (and co-authorship) of my amazing set of supervisors. So to them, I extend my absolute gratitude!

[Photo credits to Hazel Hall]