Social media is having an increasingly prominent influence on all aspects of life. The impressions formed through social media are immediate and durable, meaning that anything put out into the digital ether requires management of both identity and reputation (Huang-Horowitz & Freberg, 2016). Being actively present in the internet (having accounts and profiles on social media) means that anyone can be watching your activities and behaviours, and this is likely adjusting their perceptions of you. But even being a passive consumer of content on the web leaves digital traces (also sometimes call a digital footprint, or data traces), which offer insights into our identity in a more unintentional way (Tactical Tech, 2016). The amount of data left behind by any internet users means the ability to identify and manage the identity and reputation we are leaving in the digital space is a crucial skill to have (Huang-Horowitz & Freberg, 2016).
Internet users will select which identities they wish to convey through social media; performing in certain ways to be perceived according to that identity, and in the hopes of achieving a particular outcome (Cho & Jimerson, 2017). This can be seen in social media accounts of both individuals and businesses; individuals self-censor and present their ‘best self’, while businesses stand to gain many benefits in presenting central, enduring, and distinct features (Huang-Horowitz & Freberg, 2016). Businesses build strong and attractive reputations by presenting these features consistently over time, resulting in an array of benefits from an increase in cooperative behaviour inside the organisation, and in competition from outside (Huang-Horowitz & Freberg, 2016) meaning knowing your social media audience, and understanding what they are looking for from your feeds can shape the experience both you and they stand to gain from social networking.
In any online interaction – be it networking with people or passively consuming information, we either intentionally share with audiences we know are watching, and unintentionally share with audiences we know exist but do not know whether they care for our data and if so why. Keeping information private about ourselves, therefore, becomes difficult in the intentional sphere, and near impossible in the unintentional sphere of the web. Individuals and businesses can make conscious decisions on whether or not to share identifying information (the basis of which often lies in the direct result this will have on reputation). The practice of keeping data traces private can be harder to control, but this begins in changing settings, blocking trackers, and using alternative tools (Tactical Tech, n.d.)
Cho, V., & Jimerson, J. B. (2016). Managing digital identity on Twitter: The case of school administrators. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 45(5), 884-900.
Huang-Horowitz, N. C., & Freberg, K. (2016). Bridging organizational identity and reputation messages online: a conceptual model. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 21(2), 195-212.
Tactical Tech. (n.d.). How to control your data. Retrieved from https://myshadow.org/increase-your-privacy
Tactical Tech. (2016). What are digital traces? Retrieved from https://myshadow.org/digital-traces-content-and-metadata