Published in Information Research: Build, manage, and evaluate: Information practices and personal reputations on social media platforms

My paper, “Build, manage, and evaluate: Information practices and personal reputations on social media platforms”, has been published in Information Research. The paper is co-authored with my PhD supervisors, Professor Hazel HallPeter Cruickshank, and Alistair Lawson and was first presented at the 10th Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS) conference in Ljubliana, Slovenia in June 2019.

The research draws from some of the findings from my doctoral investigation on the use of online information in the management of personal reputation and considers a single research question: “How do information behaviours related to personal reputation building, management, and evaluation on social media reflect citation practices related to the building, management, and evaluation of academic reputation?

You can read the full text on the Information Research website here.

ABSTRACT:
Introduction.
 The broad theme of this paper is the use of information to build, manage and evaluate personal reputations. It reports the findings of a study that considered the extent to which social media users replicate in online environments the established information practices of academics when they assess their peers. The three platforms considered are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Method. A multi-step data collection process was implemented for this work. Forty-five UK-based social media users kept journals and took part in semi-structured interviews.
Analysis. A qualitative analysis of the journal and diary data was undertaken using NVivo10. Information practices were analysed to considered the similarities or difference between social media practices and related practices deployed by academics related to citations.
Results. The findings expose the ways in which social media users build, manage, and evaluate personal reputations online may be aligned to the citation practices of academics.
Conclusions. This work shows where the similarities and differences exist between citation practices and related information practices on social media as related to personal reputations. Broadly, the findings of this research demonstrate that social media users do replicate in informal online environments the established information practices of academics.

Below are the slides from my presentation at the CoLIS conference to help visualise the paper a bit. And, as always, please do get in touch if you have any questions about this paper or any of my other research.

My thesis: The findings

I am well and truly into the thick of thesis season now! In fact, I have now added an additional three chapters to my master thesis document. The new chapters are my findings chapters, one for each of my three research questions.

Chapter 4 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the first research question, “How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?” The findings in this chapter show that people use online information to present aspects of identity, rather than to build or create identity in its own right. It also highlights the fact that identity is comprised of multiple personas which are showcased in a way that highlights different aspects of an individual’s identity for different audiences. These practices are generally undertaken to manage the blurring between both individuals’ professional and private lives and their online and offline environments.

Chapter 5 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the second research question, “How do individuals use online information to build and manage their reputations?” The findings show that participants deploy different information sharing practices based on the platform they are using and the perceived audience for that platform. This is generally viewed as a way of managing the blur between participants’ professional and private lives, with an emphasis on managing their professional reputation.

Chapter 6 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the final research question, “How do individuals evaluate the reputations of others based on the information available to them online?” This set of findings shows that the evaluation of others on the basis of online information is not an intentional practice. Further, when evaluations are made, the findings show that the participants use their own information practices as a benchmark for the evaluation of others. Interesting, it has also been shown that reputational evaluations are not static. Instead, they are often impacted by additional information that the participants have in relation to of the individual being evaluated.

There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. But you will have to wait until the whole PhD is done and dusted before you can read all about it!

The next big step is to complete the discussion chapter. After that, I will finalise the introduction and conclusion and review the entire thesis in preparation for my submission. Things are starting to come together now, and I am very excited about my progress.

Thesis season: September update

As thesis season continues, I am starting to feel more and more confident that I will manage to complete my thesis without (too terribly much) stress. And as September begins, I am excited (and nervous) about the next 61 days. (Yikes! Only 61 days to finish writing. How scary!)

My progress in August was steady, though slow. I worked on my three findings chapters and my methods and literature review chapters. Sadly, none of those chapters are completely completed, but they are fully drafted and are just seeking edits at this time.

The highlights for August were getting all of the main content for my findings chapters completed and knocking out a near-final version of my literature review. I also enjoyed a successful (final!) research progress review at the end of the month.

However, August wasn’t as amazing as I wanted it to be. I didn’t manage to complete the visualisation of the data and I didn’t manage to complete my literature review and methods chapters. Although I am pleased to say that they are all in fairly decent shape and only need a bit of editing. Thankfully, I know what I need to do for each of those chapters and will add that work to my “easy work” list. That list is a variety of tasks that I can do in the evenings when my brain needs a rest, but my motivation levels are still pushing me to get something done.

My plans for September are fairly ambitious, but I am confident that I will manage them without too much agony. I am including a few late nights in my work plans, which will include taxis home as my local bus stops running at 6.30pm. However, I will be doing some teaching again this term which will give me the extra money to pay for the taxis. (Yay!)

Here’s my plan for September:

  • Create a full “primary draft” of my discussion chapter. This means that I will have that chapter written to completion (based on content), but the draft will (likely) need further edits for language and grammar.
  • Complete all visualisations for my three findings chapters. This work will happen in dribs and drabs as my brain needs a break from the “extreme” thinking that is needed for the discussion chapter.
  • Complete all edits for my literature review and methods chapters. As above, this work will largely take place as a break from the discussion chapter.
  • Finish all appendices needed for my literature review and methods chapters. These are largely complete at this time, but I need to do some formatting. As with the other edits, this will be done as and when my brain needs a break.
  • Draw up a final completion plan for October. Yikes! That document might be a bit scary, especially if September doesn’t go as planned. But if all goes well, the plan will be largely focused on writing up my introduction and conclusion chapters and making edits to my discussion chapter. I will also give myself plenty of time to do all the fiddly little things like formatting the full document.

 

Yes, September is going to be crazy! But I am feeling quite confident about it and I am sure that it will be a productive month.

Thesis season: August update

With August now upon us, I am aware that there are only three months remaining for “thesis season”. And that is a scary realisation when I stop to think about how much work I have yet to do. And so, the next three months will be spent writing, writing, writing… and writing a bit more.

I am pleased to say that my July thesis goals were (largely) met. And that means that I have now (mostly) completed drafts of five chapters. These are the methods chapter, three separate findings chapters, and my literature review (submitted to my supervisors for their comments last night).

Today and the first half of Friday will be dedicated to making updates to my findings chapters, ahead of Friday afternoon’s meeting with my supervisors to go over my literature review. Then the rest of August will be spent making edits to the chapters I already have drafted whilst making notes to develop the structural outline for my discussion chapter. I expect that to be a very challenging chapter to write and will dedicate much of September to completing it.

So, what do my thesis plans look like for August?

In a nutshell, it looks like a lot of time in front of computer screens and very little time enjoying the great outdoors! More specifically, August will be spent making edits and notes for September’s work.

In August, I will:

  • Make updates to my literature review. This will include incorporating edits, comments, and suggestions from my supervisors as well as adding new literature sources where relevant.
  • Review my findings chapters. This will be done with consideration to my literature review so that I can ensure that I have not missed out on literature that should have been included.
  • Make notes for my discussion chapter. This will be done in conjunction with the review of my findings chapters. These notes will help to form the narrative structure for my discussion chapter, which I will write in September.
  • Prepare for my next (and final!) progress review meeting. This should be fairly straightforward and will include sharing an update on the progress of each of my thesis chapters and a plan for completion. (There will be about two months left to submit by this time.)
  • Work on updates to my methods chapter and appendices. This work is fairly simple (as compared to the literature review, at least). Because of that, it will be done in between other work as a “treat” when my brain needs a bit of a break.

 

And, as always, I will be attempting to take care of my physical, mental, and emotional health. This will include my (sometimes faltering) healthy eating habits, regular 5K runs, a minimum daily step goal, and a bit of “me” time each week. (All easier said than done!)

There is much work to do, but I am feeling quite confident about it. (For now.) Stay tuned for a September thesis season update!

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!

iWeek in Aberdeen: #iDocQ2017 and #i3RGU

This past week was spent in Aberdeen attending what I like to call “iWeek”. It included a one-day doctoral colloquium (iDocQ) followed by a four-day international conference (i3)—both at Robert Gordon University.

The first day the sixth annual Information Science Doctoral Colloquium (Twitter hashtag: #iDocQ2017), a doctoral colloquium for Scottish PhD students. The annual colloquium is organised by students at Edinburgh Napier University, the University of Strathclyde, the University of Glasgow, and Robert Gordon University.

This year’s iDocQ started off with a series of “One Minute Madness” presentations. The slide template we were given was a bit challenging, but I feel that I managed to make it work for me. (See it here!) The big thing I learned from the quick presentations was that I need to develop a couple new versions of my “elevator pitch”. I am quite good at a layman’s explanation of my research (social media and reputation; people get that!). However, I find it difficult to explain my conceptual framework clearly in a short time span because I have to explain what bibliometrcis and citation practice means. And if I mention altmetrics, it’s even harder! The reality is that I will rarely need to explain that in 60 seconds, but it would be great to find a simple explanation that is true to my research. (Note to self: Sort this out before your viva!!)

After the presentations, we enjoyed a keynote talk by Dr Luke Sloan of Cardiff University. (Via Skype: Technology to the rescue after our speaker’s cancelled flight from Cardiff.) Sloan’s talk was titled “Social Science ‘Lite’? Understanding Who Uses Twitter & What This Can Tell Us About the Social World. It was an interesting look at who uses Twitter and asked questions about how we are able to accurately identify those users. The keynote was very fascinating and I took some great notes that (I hope) will help me as I write up my methods chapter for my thesis. (Which is slowly getting written.)

The rest of the day was spent in a series of workshops and discussions on writing, being adaptable (and accepting rejection), and a Q&A panel. It was a very insightful day, though a bit long for me, leaving me to skip out on the after-event pub session.

The rest of the week was spent at the Information: Interactions and Impact Conference (Twitter hashtag: #i3RGU). This was my second time attending the biennial international conference so I knew to expect great things!

The conference was a great opportunity to connect (and re-connect) with other Information Science academics. I was very pleased with the programme’s offerings as there were several papers that were of great interest to me. I especially found great interest in listening to the methods others are using for their research as I am keen to consider new modes of investigation for my own future work. (Though I must finish that darn PhD first!!)

My contribution to the conference was delivering my paper, “Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online”. The paper represents a portion of my PhD work, though rather than addressing a specific research question it shares findings related to one aspect of reputation: the ways in which private and professional lives blur online.

I have been given the opportunity to submit an extended version of the paper for review as a full journal article. I will be working on that article over the next few weeks and hopefully, I will have some good news to share about its acceptance before the end of the year. In the meantime, the slides from my conference presentation are below. (Please get in touch if you have any questions about the presentation or my research as a whole.)

Oh! And as a wee inside joke, I developed a new model to share at the end of my presentation. For those familiar with the contentious topic of “not another [censored] model”, this is a funny thing. Trust me.

Next up in my PhD journey:

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!)

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

My conference paper, Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online, has been accepted for Information: Interactions and Impact Conference (i3) in Aberdeen, Scotland. The paper is co-authored by my PhD supervisors and is based on some of the findings from one of the four research questions being investigated for my doctoral thesis (How do individuals use online information to build and manage their reputations?).

The conference will take place 27-30 June at Robert Gordon University. I will present the paper the morning of the 29th (full programme here). I have 45 minutes (including time for questions) to discuss the paper and share some of the key findings, which I’ve highlighted below.

Blurred reputations: A pre-conference teaser:

The subset of findings to be shared at the conference are concerned with the ways in which private and professional lives blur online. The data analysed is relevant to information behaviours and literacies revealed four primary behaviours deployed by participants. These are: (1) portraying only parts of their personas for different audiences, (2) managing the type of information that is shared on different platforms, (3) managing the means by which they connect with others, and (4) undertaking various levels of self-censorship. For example:

Portrayal of persona parts for different audiences
Showcasing different aspects of a personality or different ‘personas’ is a tactic used to help build or manage professional and private reputations online. Personas may be deployed to minimise the levels of blurring between professional and private lives, with some participants actively and intentionally splitting out parts of their personas to ensure that they were maintaining an acceptable ‘professional’ reputation. This online presentation of personas aligns with Goffman’s seminal work about showcasing different aspects of one’s ‘self’ based on the situation.

Management of different types of information for different platforms
Similarly, participants interviewed for this study noted different information behaviours based on perceived audiences for their social networking sites and their understandings of a platform’s primary use. Whilst these behaviours are similar those related to personas, there is a nuanced difference in how the information shared across different platforms is limited. These behaviours are designed to create or manage a professional ‘reputation’ through the use of intentional strategies for the different types of information and vary based on individuals’ understanding of a platform’s primary purpose. For example, LinkedIn is seen as a professional platform whereas Facebook is seen as ‘private’.

Connections with others
The determination of a platform’s primary use also impacts how participants determine who to connect with. For example, as a professional platform, LinkedIn predominantly a space for professional connections, Facebook is viewed as a largely private networking platform, and Twitter falls somewhere in between. These determinations help to determine who participants will connect with on the different platforms, sometimes as a way of creating a public connection for the express purpose of reputation building. However, decisions on who to connect with on which platform can also be made to keep different groups of contacts away from each other.

Self-censorship
Self-censorship also plays a part in the management of this private/professional blur. These self-censorship behaviours are even more obvious when participants have professional connections on the platform in questions or when a colleague or employer might be able to gain access to the information. Indeed, some types of information might not be shared online in any form (for example, controversial views) whilst other types of information might be shared in a more controlled manner, such as with a subset of friends in a private group (for example, inappropriate photos). This is more important when an individual’s professional reputation is in question.

After the conference, I have the opportunity to submit the full paper for publication in a special issue of the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. If (when!) it is accepted and published, I will share a link to the publication. In the meantime, you can find a list of my current publications here on my website.

Thesis summer

This summer is Thesis Summer for me. It’s the summer when I must, without excuses, get my head down and write, write, write! Luckily, July and August are two months devoid of conferences, training events, seminars, and other activities that take me away from my focus. So I’ve decided that I will devote them to my thesis; I will devote them to my PhD dreams.

I began preparing for Thesis Summer in the middle of June. I knew that I needed to be caught up on all of my administrative tasks beforehand, lest I use chores like cleaning up my inbox as a method of procrastination. I also knew that I needed a clear (well, clear-ish) plan for how I would spend my time, and what my end-of-summer outcomes would be.

And now that I’ve properly prepared, I am ready to dive straight into my Thesis Summer plans. Today. One the first day of July. And it’s going to be great!

Great, but not easy. After all, Thesis Summer is all about putting in the hours; putting in the hard work. And by the end of Thesis Summer, I intend to have completed drafts of all of my findings chapters as well as my literature review. Now, I realise that doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but there is a lot of work to do before I’m ready to start writing those chapters.

A big chunk of time will be devoted to completing the coding and analysis of my data. And then there will be the act of thinking about my data, and trying to make sense of it all in relation to the literature. Oh yeah, and I’ll need to re-visit my literature, too. And that’s more than just a weekend task!

I will be breaking everything down into manageable pieces that I can build upon. The overall idea is a pyramid with data-based tasks at the bottom (preparing files, coding data, running queries and reports, and analysing data). Once I’ve built up my strong base, I will start adding to the pyramid by creating smaller reports from my data subsets, which should help me to determine the overall structure of my thesis. From there, I should be in a better position to write up my final findings chapters, which will also help me with my final literature review.

Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of hard work!

I am also going to try to keep up with my blogging by attempting (at least) one Just a PhD post every week. And I’m going to do it all without tears! (OK, that might be an exaggeration.)

Of course, Thesis Summer won’t be a success if I just lock myself away in my office. After all, I am merely human. And therefore, I need to address my human needs, too.

So for my personal Thesis Summer goals, I will aim to spend at least one day a week not doing my PhD. That might mean a day away to the beach or maybe a weekend away to see friends around Scotland or to visit my in-laws in England. I will also aim to run at least three days a week—even if I only have time for a wee 5K. My other personal aims for the summer are general self-care measures: Eating healthily, sleeping enough (and not too much), and keeping up with my relaxation hobbies such as drawing and writing. (Yes, writing. Which means I will also be aiming to write at least one Just Frances blog post every week.)

Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of hard work!

And I’ll need to stay motivated; I’ll need to be productive; I’ll need to be determined and inspired and devoted. But I can do it. I’m awesome like that!

Please feel free to help keep me motivated along the way. And if you’re on Twitter, you can follow my progress with my Thesis Summer hashtag, #ThesisSummer!