I spent the past week in Aberdeen* for academic conferences. It was a great experience that allowed me to meet with other information science academics and to present some of my research. And, importantly, it was an opportunity for me to learn a bit about my academic self!
This was my first time delivering a paper at an academic conference and I’m pleased to say that it went quite well – despite my self-esteem-based fears.
This paper is concerned with how online information contributes to the determination of personal reputations. The term “personal reputation” in this context means the reputation of private individuals, rather than corporate identity and brand. The paper’s content is based largely on a critical evaluation of the literature. This reveals clear gaps in knowledge of how online information contributes to the determination of individuals’ personal reputations, and shows that there is scope to explore the strategies that individuals deploy – whether consciously or unconsciously – to manage the online information sources that may influence how others perceive them.
Two main themes will be discussed in the paper. The first is the means by which people evaluate the personal reputations of others from the online evidence available to them. The second is how people manage their own personal reputations through their use of online information.
These themes are firmly situated within the domain of information science, where studies of everyday information behaviour, information evaluation, and the use of citations (especially in the context of academic identity), shed light on reputation building. However, much relevant academic literature is also dispersed across a number of other subject domains. Thus articles from computing, employment research, human-computer interaction, human resources management, information systems, management and organisational studies, marketing, media and communication studies, and physical and mental health contributed to the body of work reviewed for this evaluation.
The paper will conclude with a report of preliminary findings from a pilot study designed to scope and test a possible approach for a more extensive piece of largely qualitative research on the themes of the paper. The larger piece of work (to be conducted later in 2015) is expected to address important questions that have not been considered in prior studies, for example:
• To what extent are individuals concerned about how others can assess their reputations using online information sources?
• How do individuals manage combined professional and private reputations (for example, a formal presence on LinkedIn combined with another less formal one on Facebook) as one “personal” reputation?
• To what extent do individuals actively monitor their online footprints for the purpose of reputation management?
For the delegates at the i3 conference, these themes are of particular interest because they address the importance of information behaviours (how individuals manage the online information that refers to others and themselves as individuals and members of identifiable groups) and information quality (the messages that such information conveys). The ways in which individuals create, assess, and engage with information in online environments are also pertinent here, and of relevance to the i3 conference theme of information literacy.
My presentation was based on the literature review for my PhD thesis, which concerns how online information contributes to the determination of personal reputations. I worried that my childhood speech problems would trip me up during the presentation or, worse, that people would think my research was [enter negative descriptors here].
However, other than getting a bit flustered when I was given my “five minutes” warning, I think it went rather well. I didn’t trip over my tongue (though I did have to use my special “speech therapy reminders” for a few words) and people actually seemed interested in my research.
Overall, the week’s activities have left me feeling a bit more confident. I can better see how and where my research fits within the wider domain of information science. I can also better see how I can proceed with my research.
I made some great contacts over the week** and engaged in some wonderful conversations with some well-established academics who seemed to have a bit of enthusiasm about my research. I now have several pages of notes to transcribe, much of which will help me to finalise plans for my pilot study.
Up next is to submit an abstract for another conference and to get my pilot study approved. Then I can go off and finally collect some data. Maybe then I’ll start to feel like a real researcher!
* Scotland, not Washington or South Dakota
** I even met with a couple of those contacts in Edinburgh the day after the conference. It was weird playing “local guide” in Edinburgh—as an American! But I do love showing off my adopted home. My “Heartland” as a friend calls it.