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.

Download:
Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online

Cite:
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.

Why am I still writing?

I am still writing my thesis. Still. Yes, still. I am still writing my thesis. Oh my goodness, I am still writing my thesis!

When I began my PhD more than three years ago, I was confident that I would be one of those irritating students who submitted their work spot on time. And then, I hit a bump or two in the road. One of those bumps was more of a mountain than a bump, which didn’t help. But that was fine; I would survive!

After I recovered from that pretty miserable first year (a year that led me to reconsider if a PhD was for me), I got back on my PhD Pony and began to ride again.

I was picking up speed and making up for some of the time I’d lost in the first year’s Pity Party. The way I saw it was that I could still submit within three months of my three years. Yeah, that would be good. I could be happy with that.

And then, I hit a bump or two in the road. I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed. And then I got sick. And then there were more social stresses. And then I broke my ankle. And then, and then, and then… And let’s not forget about the second bout of extreme self-doubt that led me to reconsider if a PhD was for me…

[Enter more excuses, rationalisations, and justifications here… Then enter a few more for good measure…]

But it was all fine. I was starting to feel confident again and, even though I would definitely miss my three-year [impossible] goal, I was going to submit within three months after the three years. Well, maybe four months. Five? Six…? OK, seven. Seven months. Definitely no more than seven months. Three years and seven months. And that’s it. Really. That. Is. It.

So here I am, three and a half years into my PhD and I am still writing.

Because I can’t do it. The work has been so very overwhelming and I have struggled to find a way through my massive mountain of data. And it doesn’t help that my own physical health has been less-than-brilliant which has added to my stress, creating a crazy cycle of, well, crazy. (You can read about my May madness on my personal blog.)

However, I have been working some new approaches to my writing, and to my entire work-life balance system. And I think I am finally starting to gain some traction. Some of those changes mean that I am spending less time in front of a computer but, happily, I am more productive when I am working on a computer.

Over the next week or two, I will be busily (and manically!) working on completing my findings chapters which has been a massive, ugly, furry beast of a task. But if my new approach to work (and data analysis) continues to go smoothly, I should be able to succeed in this goal.

I am hoping (desperately!) that I will not face as many challenges when I start putting together the rest of my thesis. Because let’s be honest, my supervisors (as wonderful as they are) are probably getting really fed up with my ongoing delays!

And that, in a rambling nutshell, is why I am still writing. (But hopefully not for long!)

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.

Abstract
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.

A full set of data, at last!

This week marked a very exciting, very important part of my PhD research: I completed my data collection! That means I now have a full set of data from 45 participants. Which is even more exciting for me, as I have experienced a few delays in my data collection.

At this stage, my participants have been divided into three sets: Generation Y (born 1981-1997), Generation X (born 1965-1980), and Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). It is possible that I will divvy them up into narrower age groups for some or all of my findings, but this is where the groupings are at this time. Regardless, my intentions are to analyse my data through an age-based lens. (With an open mind to considering other ways of looking at the data.)

Each participant provided three general types of data: Some general background information about their education levels, employment, and social media history; information from a week’s worth of data collection; and the responses from their interviews. The background information will be used to help me classify my findings during the analysis stage and may help to determine sub-groups within the generations or other age bands. The data from diaries and interviews, however, will largely be treated as the same type of information—at least in the beginning.

Now that I have all of my data, I need to complete the transcription of the interviews. And then it will be time to code everything up before the all-important analysis stage. I will share a bit of insight into each of these steps as I go along.

Things are certainly looking up in my world of PhD dreams… and I am feeling more and more confident about those dreams becoming a reality. And that means that I will likely be sharing a bit more of my progress and thought processes with you. But for now … it’s time to crack open a bottle of Prosecco to celebrate this great research milestone!

Data delays

I began recruiting participants for my main study in early-September. At the time, I had this silly notion that I would be finished with my data collection by the end of October. Easy-peasy, right?

Wrong.

Because that naïve notion came with the assumption that people would be so excited to participate in my study that I would have all of my participants identified and signed-up by mid-October. But by the time October came to an end, only seven participants had completed the study—less than 20% of my total sample of 45 people. (I didn’t even have all 45 participants by then.)

So… that was my first delay for my data collection.

But by that time, I had increased my participant numbers enough to where I thought I might be able to finish my data collection by the end of November—so long as I could identify a few more participants. But then, as often happens, some participants withdrew due to other commitments (whilst some just never responded past their initial agreement to participate). It happens. And It’s nothing personal, right?

By mid-November I found myself sending out more calls for participants, wondering just how I would manage to find a full set for each of my three age groups. And I realised—with great disappointment in myself—that I would have to delay my desired data collection deadline to the end of December. That’s OK though, because it’s only a two-month delay, right? And surely I won’t have to delay again, right …?

As November began to crawl to an end, I was excited to see that I had all of the Generation X participants I needed—and I even had inquiries from enough Generation Y- and Baby Boomer-aged people to complete those groups.

Yes, December was going to be my month! I just knew that by the end of December—by the end of 2015—I would have all of my data collected. And for a while, I was actually convinced that I would actually manage it; that I would actually manage to collect data from all 45 participants (15 per group).

In fact, by the 3rd of December, I had successfully completed data collection for Generation X. (Which is my generation group, so I took extra pride in my fellow X-ers for that.) By that time I also had a full set of volunteers who were on track to complete by the end of the month; by the end of the year.

However, as often happens, I lost a couple of people again. Darn! (No hard feelings; I totally understand that other things come up.)

I am now sitting on the very edge of my (delayed) goals of completing data collection by the end of 2015. I have enough volunteers (and a couple of back-ups in case there are more withdraws). I have two more interviews scheduled and another three tentatively scheduled. I also have two participants geared up to start the process next week—which might give me just enough time to get their interviews completed before the Christmas holidays.

In fact, it is possible that I will be able to complete my data collection for Generation Y before Christmas—assuming no one drops out before then. (There are only three more interviews to go for that group, two of whom might be done before next weekend.)

However, I won’t be able to complete my Baby Boomer group until the New Year as I still need one more (confirmed) participant—and two of my participants can’t begin the process until January. (I need a total of six more completed data sets for that group, though one is scheduled to complete tomorrow.)

Am I a bit disappointed with the delay? Yes, of course, I am. Not because of the participants (for whom I am ever-so-grateful) but because I didn’t anticipate the process taking so long. I’m disappointed in myself for not having started to recruit earlier and for not having developed a better way of communicating with potential participants to minimise attrition rates.

However, a PhD isn’t just about the research and the thesis. A PhD is about learning how to do academic research. It’s about making mistakes and learning from them; it’s about creating best practices for the future; it’s about trial and error and coming out on the other end as a successful researcher.

So, are my data delays a failure? No, not really. They are merely a lesson in how best to manage the process for the next time. And explaining these learnings will be a great way to pad out that 80,000-word thesis at the end of it all!

And, of course, at least I can go into the New Year fairly confident that I will have successfully completed my data collection by the end of January. I think. I hope. And I pray.

(And again, I have to say thank you to all of the people who’ve participated so far. Because without you, there would be no data. And no data means no PhD!)

Participants wanted!

I am currently recruiting for my PhD research and would love some help in building my participant list. I am recruiting participants aged 18 and older who live in the UK and use social media and social networking sites.

The study will investigate the role of online information in creating, building, and assessing personal reputations. I am using a combination of participant diaries and interviews to gather data, and aim to complete my data collection by the end of November.

Participants will be asked to keep a diary of their social media use for one week followed by an interview. Diaries can be completed by hand or electronically, and interviews can be face-to-face or via Skype.

If you are interested in participating, please visit my recruitment page.

And if you could please share this page with your connections, I would appreciate it!

And, as always, thank you for your support and encouragement as I work towards becoming Dr Ryan!