Exploring A Narrative Of Social Media Use Through A Life History Interview Introduction The past decade has seen

social media technologies, such as blogs and social networks, transform from platforms that were largely the domains of chat room enthusiasts, passionate hobbyists and disconnected school friends (e.g. boyd & Ellison, 2007) into places where one might now reasonably expect to collaborate with work colleagues, talk directly with customers and publicly tend to one’s professional reputation over the span of an entire career. However, different social media platforms present different affordances and constraints on their appropriateness for professional use (e.g. Skeels & Grudin, 2009). Thus, the study introduced in the current paper aims to explore not only how and why individuals come to use social media but how purpose may change over time and impressions are managed (cf. Goffman, 1959) with respect to perceived risks and rewards of doing so. Method Methodological approach In order to explore the research topic outlined previously, a life history approach is adopted. Also referred to as ‘life story research’ and ‘interpretative biography’, amongst other terms (Berger, 2008), life history methods adopt a narrative approach in attempting to understand the “unfolding history of one person’s, one group’s or one organization’s experiences” (Denzin, 1978: 216), with subjects permitted to “speak for themselves” (Luken & Vaughan, 1999: 405); in this case via a semistructured interview method, used to explore the main areas of interest outlined in the previous section (e.g. Mitchell & Jolley, 2001). Sample The sample consists of a single case; a male, early-stage academic named William1, working as a Lecturer within the Arts faculty of a large Higher Education Institution (HEI) based in the UK. William is only 2 years into his academic career on a fixed-term contract, having completed his PhD at a different HEI. William volunteered to participate following the use of an opportunistic sampling technique, whereby he responded to an open invitation sent to his faculty that was subsequently disseminated throughout staff. William was deemed appropriate for the study due to his selfascribed use of social media for professional purposes. Analysis The interview was recorded and fully transcribed, resulting in a total of 7,437 words. Using the structured approach of the Thematic Analysis framework outlined by Braun and Clarke (2006), this approach was deemed appropriate as its authors demonstrate its flexibility with respect to the spectrum of epistemological perspectives that exist (Braun & Clarke, 2006); which in the case of the current study is the constructionist perspective (e.g. Burr, 2003). Findings and Discussion


‘William’ is a pseudonym.


Erm. I think it is very easy to forget who's.. & Oulasvirta. he replied. and Tovey (2012) describe as living in a ‘reputation society’. that's something I did when I was. William was acutely aware that “slippage between friends who you talk to and friends who you meet at conferences is a very dangerous thing”... as illustrated in the difficulties that he perceived “when you just want to let out a scream sometimes.” William was aware. however. so I don't miss having that personal connection but I do sometimes. You know. Resnick. social norms exists around the type of personal information that is appropriate for sharing online. I don't feel the need to do that anymore. I used to have kind of really personal. William didn’t necessarily feel as though he needed a “genuine personal space” any longer: “Erm.. “Not any more no. he had gradually found that it had “then evolved into integrating my academic friends as well.” When asked if there was any form of social media where that was any longer possible. Indeed.. Tamminen. you can't use it in that kind of you know [pauses] completely no self-awareness..” This presented particular issues for William. Suddenly once your colleagues are on it. that kind of environment anymore. In accordance with what Masum. Newmark... People share those kind of 'argh another 3am evening writing. William provided a number of examples of friends whose behaviour upon Facebook he found “scary” in terms of the “confessional nature” of their status updates. I don't feel that kind of 'oh I want to moan at the world' kind of need to sort of reach out across the ether and find a connection. Not anymore. you know this is shit. particularly in terms of the type of content he felt able to share as a result: “You can't erm. However. Firstly it becomes much harder to whinge about how badly your own work is going. and Morris (2011) found in their study of how and why people share health information on Facebook. that self-presentation issues surrounding co-presence of different audiences within the same network (cf. As Newman. 2009) could not be ameliorated simply through using separate accounts for professional and personal connections. marking essays' but you can't actually do that whole 'I've got nothing to think anymore' or 'something's gone really badly'. you know. throw out everything. apart from in a very general sense.. you know.. The seemingly constant need to carefully preserve a professional impression on Facebook could at times lead to frustration for William.. Lauterbach. Munson.. Erm. the proper kind of soul bearing blogs when I was a teenager and that.. who's reading sometimes and that's something I do try to bear in mind.” The benefits of interacting within a social space that is not connected with either the home or the workplace were emphasised by Oldenburg (1989) in his description of ‘third places’. you can't actually put those kind of. social spaces 2 . although William had initially set out to use Facebook for personal purposes such as sharing jokes with friends and venting about the events of the day.. I'm not sure now that I would want a personal space. William might be considered a relatively avid user of social media.” Interestingly though. you can't [pauses] put all of those ranty things you do when it's just your friends. Lampinen.The Professionalization of Social Spaces As someone who had amassed a social network on Facebook of around 500 friends. once your professional networks are on it erm [pauses] it's very difficult. whereby interpretation and adherence to them varies between individuals and can result in notable instances when violated.

not necessarily that I'm a representative of Nottingham as such but that I'm speaking with my academic head on. he had starting to write less for himself and more for what he perceived his ‘imagined’ audience to be interested in (cf. and subsequently which particular 3 . but of the need to remember that they are present in the first place. you know. it got a massive readership. Although some have suggested that social media platforms. William came to use Twitter from the outset with a professional purpose in mind.. 2008). particularly through sharing links and resources throughout the network. One benefit that he recounted as being immediately apparent was that “it really helped me plug into an academic community in a way I don't think I'd be able to do otherwise”.. and to a certain extent his theatre blog. comfort. Rao. personal on Twitter. and that's actually interesting. In particular. It's less of that kind of anecdotal stuff that. Career enhancement Though William was relatively clear about the issues that faced his use of Facebook. it's more now about the reviews rather than about me.” Unlike Facebook. There's a lot of tweets I've put out and suddenly realised. that has shaped the way I've thought about it. Especially if I'm about to say something kind of. it's in my professional capacity and that. apolitical commonality and welcoming atmosphere. Interestingly.” As a result. William had put a great deal of thought into how chose to present himself on the platform: “My handle is @DrWilliam. would Dr William be about to say this? And that is.. erm. First. “when I started the blog I was writing for an audience of me. he indicated that his use of other social media platforms was less fraught with potential issues. I now present myself… I'm more considered in the way that I present myself. can act as ‘third places’ (e. such as Facebook. William’s difficulty in remembering his audience. 2010): “I'm far less subjective now. he is instead not only aware of the need to suppress this kind of content due to the presence of professional contacts within his network. domestic and international and I kept it going.. and as a result he had created a niche for himself online that enabled him to build his professional reputation..” The blog enabled William to share theatre critique that he felt was “genuinely pioneering”.. William had maintained a blog for several years that focused specifically on theatre reviews and that had become “wildly successful. erm. Rather than presenting a place in which his frustrations with work or everyday life could be heard. Marwick & boyd. I'm less err.” There are two particularly interesting elements to the way in which William constructed his Twitter profile. so I could go back and remember what I had seen” which eventually developed into a way of increasing his professional reputation whilst getting “the general public reading academic criticism which they don't usually get a chance to do. immediately kind of 'I arrived at the theatre tonight. and ooh it was interesting to be there' kind of thing. that always reminds me actually… I find that a very useful reminder that actually every time I'm putting something out. William’s experience appears to indicate otherwise.that are characterised by offering a sense of playfulness. As he described. Interestingly. erm. there was quite a shift in William’s initial purpose for using the blog.g.

some of the issues William described as part of his narrative have been addressed in other independent research studies. Though a common fear of single case qualitative research is a lack of generalizability. Though the level of analytic detail in preceding discussion is necessarily restricted due to space. 2006). is reflected in Hogan’s (2010) discussion around collapsed contexts. but what of later stage members of staff who had perhaps only come to it professionally? Thus. For instance. Though it is acknowledged that realist or essentialist epistemological perspectives can be adopted in qualitative research (Braun & Clarke. using a semi-structured interview in combination with the life history method was largely appropriate for exploring William’s narrative and how he came to use various forms of social media. following the lead of Berger (2008) further analysis might also take into account Giddens’ (1984) agency-structure theory combined with the life history method in order to address the respective roles of both in influencing how individuals like William engage with their digital ‘projects of self’ (Giddens. 2000) and the identity standard in Identity Control Theory (Burke. the restrictions of the chosen methodology must also be acknowledged.aspect of identity he was meant to be presenting at the given time. but equally his position as a male. although as the preceding discussion hopefully illustrates.982 (excluding quotes) 4 . thus lending some credibility to the findings discussed previously. 1991) upon social media sites. 1959) is made difficult through the social networking media. whereby the traditional notion of impression management as being bound by regions in time and space (cf. highly educated and ‘technologically cognisant’ early-stage academic member of staff may have a notable bearing on his experience of approaching social media. Word Count 1. a relevant avenue for further exploration may be to move beyond a single case and a collect the life histories of staff members with differing levels of experience. Goffman. rational way with reference to an idealized version of what he considers to be an appropriate identity for a professional academic. Nevertheless. Aspects of William’s narrative may be familiar to findings of similar research. The value of exploring William’s narrative is in examining how he constructed his social media identities within his own frame of meaning. the epistemological perspective of the current study was constructionist and as such. Second. 2006). this arguably misses the point of the current research. this idealized ‘target’ is similar to the cognitive prototypes that are part of the self-categorization process (cf. William clearly constructs what he perceives to be the professional aspect of his identity in a conscious. Self-critical reflection Methodologically. Hogg & Terry. 2006) was also appropriate due to its relative epistemological flexibility. William already had several years of experience in using the media. the analytical approach of Thematic Analysis (Braun & Clarke. In many ways.

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