First of all, my apologies to all for the slightly hokey blog title but as my initial 'Sympathy for the Devil'-inspired attempt already existed within the Scholars blogosphere, I have perhaps rather lazily relied upon my British-ness as a key defining feature of my identity. Putting aside my cynical ploy in wishing you to perceive me as some kind of evil genius, I hope that I can use this post to outline my background and some of my core research interests.
So, I am currently a second year PhD student at the Horizon Doctoral Training Centre for the Digital Economy (www.horizon.ac.uk), which is based at the University of Nottingham here in the UK. Hopefully I can unpack this a little! My department (Horizon) are quite similar to HASTAC in a number of ways but perhaps most notably in the focus on interdisciplinary research - or as HASTAC phrase in a far nicer manner: 'collaboration by difference'. The net result is that I find myself in a department surrounded by Computer Scientists, Artists, English majors, Geographers and last but not least, my own background discipline of the social sciences.
More specifically, I studied Psychology as an undergraduate which led into an Organizational Psychology postgraduate degree, where I became very interested in organizational culture and the relationship between different levels of individual commitment (e.g. with colleagues, managers and the organization) and deviant behavior within the workplace. I'm still not entirely sure how, but somehow I ended up doing research on the use of Second Life as a tool to support 'real world' (a distinction that I actually feel a little uneasy about making - my digital world IS my real world after all!) learning in organizations and that's really where my fascination with the use of technology in corporate environments developed and has certainly influenced my current research interests.
So, enough of the life story - what is it that I'm researching and hoping to share with the community now? Well, this perhaps makes me sound like the worst dinner party guest you could imagine but I am completely and utterly intrigued by corporate Social Media Policies. Seriously. Let me try and recover here though. In particular, I'm interested in a number of questions around how employees reconcile the management of their self identity when assigned the responsibility of managing the identity of their employer's brand also.
This seems to be particularly notable in blue-chip, technology-based corporations where customer-facing employees are increasingly encouraged to engage with social media but in accordance with policies that often seem to provide conflicting demands on the expression of identity. Prescriptive lists of "Dos and Don'ts" no doubt have the intention of clarifying appropriate and inappropriate expression for employees but when the former includes the maxim of "Be yourself" and the latter essentially warns "... But make sure it's the shareholder-friendly, corporation-approved 'clean' self" then I wonder what kind of impact this has on the employees who find themselves merging their personal and professional lives in a very real way.
I realize on reflection that the broken cookie cutter image attached to this post (my unsubtle nod in the direction of William Whyte's seminal research on 'The Organization Man') and tone of the previous post might suggest that I am somewhat critical about the kind of impact that these policies have on the self identity of employees and particularly, their latitude in being able to manage it. Well... I guess I am. However, I see good reasons for why corporations need to address the issue of social media usage in a sensible and informative way and although my views on marketing aren't too dissimilar to those in the infamous Bill Hicks sketch (note: probably best not to watch at work if you haven't seen it already!), it would seem foolish to ignore that the rise of 'brand advocates' and 'social media agents' is happening and in all probability, is only just warming up. I guess that through my research, I just want to make sure that the business world is not becoming so caught up with the benefit-cost analysis of whether to trust employees to use social media at work that it ignores one of the key reasons why social networks advanced in the first place: to enable individuals to express their identity in the way they wish to.
I feel like I have loads more to say on this - particularly in terms of the Social Psychology-based theoretical approach that I intend to take - but will leave it for a later post as this has gotten quite long (sorry!). I hope that the above makes sense but as it has seen limited editing, it may not. Any feedback, thoughts or questions are very welcome and I look forward to reading all about your research interests in the coming year too!