Online forums, social networking services, blogs and many other emerging forms of online networking websites have become popular mediums through which people interact withothers. Although more commonly associated with social networking for personal reasons, andtypified by successful social networking sites such as
, virtual communitiesof professionals are increasingly warming to the potential benefits of social networking sites increating and maintaining a professional image.In this paper, it is suggested that the technologies of online social networks offer moreprecise impression management tools than can be found in traditional face-to-face interactions,and allows virtual communities of professionals to better present and maintain the idealprofessional image. To demonstrate this, real world professional identity formation will becontrasted with aspects of professional identity formation on online social networking sites. Inaddition, the challenge of establishing credibility in an online environment and how exclusivityof participation in social networking sites can solidify a virtual community’s professionalidentity will be explored.
Professional identity can be defined as the persona of an individual which is designed inaccordance to a code of conduct that facilitates the attainment of objectives unique and central toa particular profession. The purposeful design of an individual’s professional identitytraditionally begins with the attainment of skills that usually requires formal training andeducation, and eventually, tangible proof of professional competency in the form of certifications,accreditations, or academic qualifications is obtained. These proofs of professional competency(e.g. a medical license, bar certification etc.) communicate to others firstly, a compliance with aset of professional standards, secondly, the possession of certain specialized knowledge, andthirdly for some professions, an adherence to ethical guidelines, and are often sufficient tocoalesce around a particular community of professionals a common professional identity(Harshman et al., 2005, p. 230).Proofs of competency alone, however, are insufficient for the long-run maintenance of aprofessional identity. Harshman et al. (2005) assert that the individuals’ need for expertassistance and their inability to satisfy those needs for themselves creates a dependency and