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.

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

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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!

dataThis 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!