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:
- The portrayal of different personas online contribute to the presentation (but not the creation) of identity.
- Online information sharing practices for reputation building and management vary according to social media platform.
- The management of online connections and censorship are important to the protection of reputation.
- 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.
Results are reported from a study that investigated patterns of information behaviour and use as related to personal reputation building and management in online environments. An everyday life information seeking (ELIS) perspective was adopted. Data were collected by diary and interview from forty-five social media users who hold professional and managerial work roles, and who are users of Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn. These data were first transcribed, then coded with NVivo10 according to themes identified from a preliminary literature review, with further codes added as they emerged from the content of the participant diaries and interviews. The main findings reveal that the portrayal of different personas online contribute to the presentation (but not the creation) of identity, that information sharing practices for reputation building and management vary according to social media platform, and that the management of online connections and censorship are important to the protection of reputation. The maintenance of professional reputation is more important than private reputation to these users. They are aware of the “blur” between professional and private lives in online contexts, and the influence that it bears on efforts to manage an environment where LinkedIn is most the useful of the three sites considered, and Facebook the most risky. With its novel focus on the “whole self”, this work extends understandings of the impact of information on the building and management of reputation from an Information Science perspective.
Cite: Ryan, F., Cruickshank, P., Hall, H., Lawson, A. (2020). Blurred reputations: managing professional and private information online. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 52(1), 16-26.