Online Identities and the Workplace

My first experience learning how the online self and private self intertwine was a harsh lesson. I had called in sick to my place of employment to attend a co-workers’ wedding party. The drinks were flowing and it wasn’t long before I was tagged in several photos on Facebook. I woke the next morning to my line manager in the comments section questioning my level of commitment to the job, and pointing out the stupidity of my foiled plan. While the discussion about privacy is better left for another time (and helped to some degree by changing the settings for your timeline), it also gives rise to issues about online identities and persona(s). It was fortunate my employment was spared (considering I wasn’t on a contract at the time), but if I were in a higher position it surely would’ve been a different result. There are countless stories of people losing their jobs for often trivial matters on social networking sites (Love (2011), 17 People Who Were Fired For Using Facebook). I wasn’t surprised to find that nowadays employers fire people simply for using the internet on company time for non-work related activities (like Facebook) (Burgess (2015), Employees can be sacked for social media use, even outside of work). And this is if you have already secured the job.

people-woman-coffee-meeting‘ by Eric Bailey (https://static.pexels.com/photos/7096/people-woman-coffee-meeting.jpg). Licensed by CC0.

 

Unprofessional pictures and statuses (particularly those referencing alcohol/drugs) are deal-breakers for attaining many jobs in the first place. (Giuseppe (2017), Mind Your Online Reputation). Furthermore, only 4% of recruiters don’t use social media to source and assess candidates (JobVite, 2015). I’d always assumed that if I had the perfect resume (and aced the interview) there would be no problem, but it’s clear the recruitment process (and maintaining a job) has become more complex. Doing research on this matter made me begin to question my own online existence. It made me reconsider who i was supposed to be in this increasingly connected world; where the personal and private online self collide more ever more frequently (When Worlds Collide In Cyberspace, 2013). Should I continue to present a ‘genuine’ and relaxed version of myself online focus strictly on my professional self, or construct a combination of the two? For a long time I wasn’t sure to what degree I should let the private (family/friends) and professional (work/university) worlds intersect online.

‘In an always connected and cloud driven communication environment, identities are performed, articulated, represented, and negotiated in relation with those who are not necessarily physically present in our everyday lives but also with those we engage with in the “networked social.”

– ‘When Worlds Collide In Cyberspace: How Boundary Work In Online Social Networks Impacts Professional Relationships,’ Academy of Management Review 2013

Judith Butler raised the concept of Performativity, that suggested instead of our online selves being static – our identities are in fact an ongoing ‘process of becoming’ built by repetition (Cover (2015), Understanding Identity Online). It’s argued that social networking isn’t simply a singular activity, but ‘an array of activities requiring the users to “work” to perform a coherent, intelligible selfhood extending across all online activities in addition to offline behaviours’ (Cover, 2015). It wasn’t long ago I chose to adopt this type of continuity by having the same (or similar) formal biography and profile picture across all online platforms I use, such as Facebook (below).

I’ve found over time that conformity on SNS’s is often more effective than posting what I want to see from others. This was evident on Twitter (below), where posting a humorous GIF received several more ‘likes’ than a news article I thought would be of more interest.

 

 

 

Not long ago my online presence was rather fragmented, the intention being to keep personal (informal) information and accompanying audience separate from more the formal platforms like LinkedIn and AboutMe. It’s now much more unified and coherent. One possible limitation to my online persona(s) though is the neglect to change the pseudonyms ‘Scott Russell’ and ‘Scotty Russell’ to my birth name ‘Scott Enright’ across all online platforms. It’s suggested that this, as well as keeping the informal name ‘Scotty Enright,’ could hinder my future employment opportunities. This is because using an identical form of ones name in all professional communications makes it easier for people to locate your profile when searching for you. (Hannon (2015), 6 Ways to Dial Up Social Media to Advance Your Career) This is also (I assume) because using a proper name comes across as more professional, and using a pseudonym may imply the potential  candidate has something to hide.

http://prezi.com/c2qypzltmxfp/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

I find it near impossible to keep a strictly professional online persona though, as the boundaries are inevitably blurred and mostly out of my control. My manager often messages me regarding shifts at work on Messenger, friends playfully take Snapchats of me at work (and send them to people I do not know), and potentially damaging Facebook photos and comments are often posted and viewed by others long before I’ve had the chance to check their appropriateness. Furthermore, SNS’s such as AboutMe (and more recently Facebook) can be linked to to several other SNS profiles. And despite choosing not to use these features and limiting our visibility online where possible, technically anybody can find anything related to you that has ever been posted online. So while I have closing down several SNS’s in the past, it could be more beneficial to make them work to your advantage. It’s said that job seekers who have a diverse, compelling online footprint are more attractive to recruiters and employers, than those who have little or no presence at all (Giuseppe (2017), Mind Your Online Reputation). By working hard to build positive, brand-reinforcing information online, it will hopefully counteract the informal information about me online (Giuseppe (2017), Mind Your Online Reputation). I aim to achieve this through platforms such as LinkedIn that are designed to help users create and manage formal networks. Since signing up, I am one of the 40% of job seekers using social media who also uses LinkedIn (JobVite, 2015).Furthermore it may be advantageous to create separate profiles (professional and private) on other platforms like Twitter and Facebook in an effort to target my intended audience(s).

‘If employees can effectively manage the boundaries between their professional and personal identities such that they engage in some personal disclosure in their interactions, but without violating professional norms, they will be more respected and liked by professional contacts’ – ‘When Worlds Collide In Cyberspace: How Boundary Work In Online Social Networks Impacts Professional Relationships,’ Academy of Management Review 2013

It’s often a challenge walking the line between a professional and private self online, if such a balance does exist. And there will always be elements of the online self that are out of users control, as information shared can be misinterpreted or taken out of context. But I figure if I can effectively manage and update my online profiles that this will be advantageous, at least from an employment perspective. Online persona(s) aren’t something that I stress about, although I’m definitely more vigilant now when it comes to constructing and maintaining them. I hope my line manager from back in the day knows that they taught me an invaluable lesson about the online world back then.

Broader Online Engagement 

My level of activity on both professional and private SNS’s increased over the course of this trimester. I have updated each profile picture and biography on these sites to create a more congruent and stable online presence. In future I will be increasing active on more profiles that are beneficial to my career goals. Recently I deleted Snapchat to focus my attention instead on more rewarding platforms. There is no end goal to my existence online though, as I believe it’s a continuous process of modifying and adapting ones persona(s) to not only better position yourself in a competitive job market, but better manage the private life too.

 **Apologies for Twitter/Prezi links not appearing properly, I tried the best I could to fix it**

References

  • Ollier-Malaterre, A, Rothbard, N Berg, J (2013), ‘When Worlds Collide In Cyberspace: How Boundary Work In Online Social Networks Impacts Professional Relationships,’ Academy of Management Review 2013, Vol. 38, No. 4, pp. 645–669http://justinmberg.com/ollier-malaterre-rothbard-.pdf