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20 July 2009


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For me, Facebook is personal... you'll never find me there:)
Everything else is professional... my blog/twitter/social bookmarking acounts.
It is more difficult for me to think of what is clearly organisational- the content I produce for the university is mainly in the walled garden of Blackboard, or within our pilot of Lotus Connections. But content of my public digital identity also serves my work in the university.

All of this makes me think about how autonomous we are as professionals working within a university? What is my content and what is theirs?

Anne Marie

Thanks for your comment Anne Marie, and for the examples.

I think the key distinction between organisational and professional is that work done in the organisational category is explicitly directed and may be anonymous - ie it is engagement as a representative of the employer. For example, if I run and update an Upcoming account which lets people register for events, or a institutional web page. Professional is everything that you have ownership of. Ownership may be in terms of you maintaining the rights, but it might also be in terms of you being recognised by others as the author of that engagement.

You are right to point out the murkiness and potential problems with this distinction, and I'm making it here partly because it's something very few employers have gotten to grips with. Your contract will often outline who owns what within the terms of fulfilling your job role, but to some extent these terms need to remain ambiguous - otherwise we are going to end up having restrictive terms which put people off experimentation, or detailed guides for engagement with specific platforms which give us the problem of actually getting employees to read them.

I'm very much interested in the value of reputation here. Many social media strategies use personality, identifiable individually, as a signifier for humanness, authenticity, responsibility. Individuals are necessarily promoting themselves as well as their organisation, product etc.

For my online activity, I'm increasingly thinking in terms of "personal brand" (defined as what I do while not being paid) and "professional content" (which relates in some way to payment, direct or indirect).

I know you said the categories were leaky, but particularly with personal and professional, they may be leaky to the point of indistinguishable. There is probably a continuum, some people have v professional ids and some v personal ones, but for most of us it is a messy mix of the two. And the more time I spend online the more I come to understand that this is _the_ feature that drives it. Most of the people I follow on twitter are ed tech related, but most of our conversations aren't. But that personal connection reinforces the professional. So I'm not sure separating out helps since it is the blurring which is the very thing you want to get at.
Mind you, I've been called unprofessional before....

I think I am possibly not a normal user. For me, I think there are more reasons to be cautious with privacy settings in relation to Organisational use than either of the others. Some things are only for institutional consumption, some are only for specific groups of students, etc.

For me, also, I think I would have to rename Personal as Social, because almost everything you describe in Professional would have to be 'Personal' for me.

I also think that your Personal category is also primarily about representation, reputation and trust. Although the Organisational probably focuses on factual and rhetorical, I think it still has representation, reputation and trust as key elements too - so I am not sure that they really deserve emphasis in Professional?

Using Social, Personal and Organisational allows me the luxury of also having Professional - which in this case would be that use which is characterised by striving for impartiality, authority etc. But then, if I were in the entertainment industry or politics, those may well not be the qualities associated with Professional.

My framework is based on the roles you undertake - whether you are an Explorer (reporting back things you find, sharing), a Reviewer (comparing resources for others) or various others. Coupled with each of these, I include a domain - so I might be an IT/Explorer and a Philosophy-of-mind/Author for instance. I hadn't previously thought about it, but it makes sense that the emphasis on privacy will depend on the roles you are in - I will have to find time to study this some more!

Cheers for your comments Alan, Martin & Pat. This post is a kind of place holder for the next one, which looks at basic identity/info management issues for information civilians, ie, not us. I think as a group working professionally in the field, our experiences and management strategies aren't typical. Alan comes with his own FAQ! I'm interested here in how to simply (and pretty brutally) cut up online engagement.

Martin, thanks for raising the issue about the personal category, but in practice I've found it to be the most easily understood of the three. By personal I mean activity that is primarily to do with relationships and not-work. For a lot of us, that distinction doesn't really hold, because we effectually live online. But I think it's important to remember that the vast majority of Facebook and other social network service users are not online to boost their professional standing or networks, they're online to play, and to keep up with their friends and family. The research on young peoples use of SNS indicates that they focus on developing and maintaining existing relationships rather than looking for new mates.
So in that way Pat, the personal category here is very much not about developing reputation and trust, but about acting within pre-existing networks of trust. I really don't have a lot to prove to my mum or my sister (thankfully).

Perhaps part of the difficult issue around digital literacy for me is the way in which it's a self regulating mechanism, sucking the fun out of the interwebs in order to support increased opportunity. Or maybe I'm just being a bit negative today, and I need to remember that social responsibility can be fun too :)

I'm not sure I agree that there are these distinctions any more.

One of the greatest challenges facing the implementation of technology in the classroom is that the technology being used by learners today is mainly for personal use.

However, their personal use is still fundamentally learning - they are producing content, delivering it and evaluating it.

For a while I've felt that the people who really progress at work (or in learning) are the people who have a passion for their job. While this passion is often purely professional, it often stems from something in their personal life. I'm passionate about social change, so my passion for education stems from that.

I think the same is true for learning - the main failure of modern education isn't just the lack of personalised learning, but the lack of obviously relevant topics - and I think technology can plug both these gaps. However, the use of technology for this type of learning is far more fluid - there are very big crossovers between personal, professional and even organisational work. The future classroom is, arguably, the mobile device rather than any real physical space - but with a lack of physical boundaries, don't the harsh lines between personal and professional fall away too?

I'm not suggesting that there are not certain items, events, photos and opinions that we would want to keep from certain people, nor am I suggesting that work life balance should be replaced by 24-7 net access on holiday.

However, I think, as we move into a more fluid future, where jobs are for shorter lengths of time, where skills and expertise replace length of service and more and more people opt (or are forced into) freelance work, the "personal brand" (which I define as being how you market yourself - a combination of your personal and professional self, with input and achievements from your organisational self) will become more important than these distinct categories.

What a great post inspiring some great comments. The conceptualisation of private/public, personal/professional is very challenging. I thought a lot about it and posted my first thoughts here http://francesbell.com/2009/07/23/moving-between-categories-in-online-identity/

Hello again Josie,

I saw you link to this post again recently, and it made me think about how my thinking has changed since 2009.
I suppose that my presence on LinkedIn in this group that I set up is the closest I am to having an organisational social media presence.

My blog and Twitter continue with blurred boundaries between me and the organisation.
I decided a few months ago to add a little disclaimer to my personal blog. But I do clearly state who my employer is and have done from the start. So it is no surprise that when my blog hit the press last autumn I was referred to as a Cardiff University lecturer.

I wonder how things will have changed in another three years!

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