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:

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 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


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 varies, 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.

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.