What Not to Share: Digital Professionalism & Academia.

When creating your online identity one of the major things to consider is the concept of digital professionalism, or as I like to call it, what not to share. In crafting your online identity you have to be very aware that this is possibly the first way that many potential employers and other organisations may find you, or at the very least, may go to look for you. have you Googled someone you were going to meet, I know I have (let’s be honest, how many of you reading this have Googled me?).

Crafting your online identity is part of crafting your brand as a researcher / academic, how do you want yourself or your brand to be perceived? what do or don’t you want potential employers, students etc. to know about you? should you be ‘friends’ with your students? thus you have to consider not just your blog but any social media outlet / application you use:

Personal privacy – check your settings:

For me Facebook is for family and close friends only thus my privacy settings are tightly controlled to ensure any photographs I am tagged in or things I do can’t be found through online searches. Do you really want photographs of you looking a little bit ‘merry’ at your friends party being seen by your students or employers or that comment made by a family member etc? There are levels of ‘sharing’ and as such when using social media applications it is necessary to think what you want to use it for and who you want to share with.

Combining personal and professional identities:

If you follow me on twitter you will notice that my tweets span a huge spectrum of topics but mainly focused around two areas; my academic work and my love of dancing and all things Strictly. When the new series of Strictly Come Dancing started in October this year I said to my academic followers that they may get confused by my tweets during the show. I am passionate about dancing as discussed here in a blog for The Guardian Higher Education Network and I don’t think the two are as polarised as many do. However, some followers suggested I create a separate account for my dancing and my academic work however, I strongly believe that my work is part of me and my personal and professional identities are intertwined. Thus I share personal and professional ‘tweets’ other people may prefer to keep the two areas very separate. Whether you combine or separate your identities you may have followers from different worlds who may ‘see’ you in different ways. Many of my followers, dancers or academics see the title ‘Dr’ first and then the tweet second.

Should this person be your ‘friend’:

This leads on to who should be your ‘friend’ or follower. Within clinical subjects, as stated at the top of this piece, these issues are more clear-cut you shouldn’t be friends with patients etc. How does this relate to social scientists and their students? I can’t offer any definitive advice here and I am sure many institutions will have their own policy’s. personally I would not be Facebook friends with any of my students, for reason given above, however, I see no reason why students can’t follow their lecturers tweets or blogs, again it is about the creator thinking responsibly about the information they share and setting their privacy settings accordingly.

Think before you blog:

Think about the topics and issues you write about, be it on your own blog or your contributions to edited blogs such as networked researcher or the thesis whisperer. It is obvious to say that you should not blog about confidential information but it is less clear cut as to how we should handle controversial topics. Do not shy away from issues thought of as controversial but at the same time you must write with a level of professional respect for others. It is perfectly acceptable to disagree with someone’s point of view or to point out something that isn’t quite right but there is a right and wrong way to do it. You shouldn’t be afraid of writing things that are controversial, I know I have written many blogs which would fall into that category. However, in doing so it was a conscious decision on my part to address those subjects and I was aware of the potential issues which may arise. If you are engaging with controversial writing consider having someone else proof read it first, their reaction will help you gauge what others might think.

Add a disclaimer:

It is best to make it very clear on your blog or twitter feed etc. that the views are yours and yours alone and do not represent the views and or policies of your institution.

Digital professionalism in the social sciences is less clear-cut than in other areas and this post highlights some areas to consider when crafting your brand and identity. Doing so depends on a multitude of factors, discipline, institutional policy, personal moral compass etc. It is important to consider and over time, as institutions embrace digital media, I expect to see, more institutional policies and social media contracts being developed.

Now you have finished reading this post take five minutes to consider your academic career to date and think of two things / events / experiences that you would like to share using social media applications and two that you wouldn’t and what makes them different. Each time you want to share something online have the same conversation with yourself, would you want your boss to see or know this about you?

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Sarah-Louise Quinnell

Dr. Sarah-Louise Quinnell is the E-Learning Lead Technologist for Floream Partnerships she works on a portfolio of e-learning projects in partnership with Google, International Olympic Committee and the Institute of Digital Marketing.

She is also a researcher affiliated to the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities.

All views are her own and do not necessarily represent her employer's views or policies.

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AnneMarie Cunningham

My first reaction on reading this was that it is a pity to start with what we shouldn’t share rather than what we should.
I agree with Jennifer that without risk-taking one can not develop mastery (after Dreyfus who I am reading at the moment). But novices may benefit from guidance.

Jennifer Jones

Hi Sarah, thanks for the post. It’s got me thinking. I’m not sure if I agree with restrictive self-censorship, for one, it has taken me a while to admit to myself that, actually, it is much easier for my soul (as in, being true to myself) to put what I feel should go online – without rationalising it as a ‘professional’ outcome (I mean, what is professional when we are talking ‘social media’? a facade? a let’s pretend game?). In fact, if I hadn’t admitted that to myself, I would have gave up the internet and/or academia (probably academia) a… Read more »

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