Social media and professional identity: Part 1 (Introduction)

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m getting another article ready for the Clinical Teacher mobile app; Social media and Professional Identity. I’ve been working on it sporadically over the past few months and have finally sent it to the designer for laying it out and getting it ready for the app. I’ve been making the content of The Clinical Teacher articles available for free on my blog. This one is quite long so I’m going to break it up into shorter sections and post it here as a series on the use of social media to create and develop an online professional identity. I’ve included the “Abstract” below, which really just serves as the article description in the Clinical Teacher app, and actually isn’t a part of the article.

Here is the lineup for the series on social media and professional identity:

  • Part 1 (the rest of this post): Introduction to the internet and social media
  • Part 2: Social media, online identity and engagement (blogs and microblogs)
  • Part 3: Academic social networks (Mendeley)
  • Part 4: Academic social networks (ResearchGate)
  • Part 5: Academic social networks (Academia.edu)
  • Part 6: Getting started with social media
  • Part 7: Privacy and sharing: social media policies in healthcare

Abstract

In an increasingly connected and digital world, it often seems that too much happening, too quickly. Every week another online service, app or device is competing for your time and it can be overwhelming to decide where to focus your attention. At the same time, there’s social pressure to participate in this connected world. Whether it’s an email telling you that an old highschool friend has Liked a post you made on Facebook, or asking you to respond to an @reply on Twitter, or a nagging feeling of guilt that you still haven’t shared that photo album on Flickr. In addition, there is the constant “fomo” (fear of missing out) when people you know start talking about the next big thing.

Even in our professional lives as clinicians or academics, there is an increasing sense that “being” online is important, even if we don’t know exactly “how” to be, or “where” to be. There is a move towards the sharing of clinical experiences and resources that can add value to your professional life, if the available services and tools are used effectively. You may feel that you have something important to say, even if it is “just” the sharing of your experience. The clinical context is so dynamic, complex and challenging that we owe it to ourselves, our colleagues and our professions to share what we know.

This guide is an introduction to the online services and tools that I’ve found useful in the development of my own professional online identity. It is not an “academic” text as much as it is a personal perspective on establishing and developing a professional presence in online spaces.

An introduction to “the tubes

Before we begin talking about using the internet and social media, I thought it might be useful to establish some context and background. An absolute date is hard to pin down but the general consensus is that the thing we call the internet dates back to research conducted in the 1960s, and was developed as a decentralised communications network that could withstand a nuclear attack on major American cities. What most people refer to as “the internet” is actually the World Wide Web (WWW), a system of hyperlinked documents (webpages) that “sits on top of” the internet, and was created in 1990. In addition to the web (http), the internet supports a range of other protocols, including email (smtp), file transfer (ftp), and voice over internet protocol (VoIP).

In the early days, the web consisted of pages of content that were connected to each other using hyperlinks, and were generally controlled by companies and media organisations who could afford to host content and hire web developers. Webpages had to be hand-coded in HTML, which made it difficult for ordinary people to create online content. This is what people refer to as the first “version” of the web. Content was static and did not change much over time, and websites looked the same every time you visited them. A series of incremental changes in the languages used to create websites (for example, moving from HTML to XML, Javascript, and PHP) led to the development of dynamic websites, which allowed developers to change how people interacted with the web and with each other. This led to what people began calling Web 2.0. Care should be taken with when talking about Web 2.0 because it implies that there was an upgrade to the system that moved it to a second iteration. Rather, the web evolved (and continues to evolve), adding features as it did so.

Whatever you decide to call it, these changes allowed ordinary people to create web-based content that was dynamic and interactive, without needing an in-depth understanding of how the web works. It became possible for the average person to create online content that they could publish themselves and that their readers could interact with. For the first time in history, ordinary people could publish whatever they wanted directly into a global communication system and compete with massive media companies for the attention of readers. This change in the underlying web platform is what ushered in the rise of user-generated content, which is where we find ourselves today.

What do we mean when we say “social media”?

Social media is an umbrella term for a range of online services that facilitate the creation, curation and sharing of user-generated content. It is increasingly being tied in to mobile devices (i.e. smartphones and tablets) that make it easy to share most aspects of our personal lives, especially when it comes to photos and short text-based messages. Some examples of the types of technologies that come under this term are: blogs (e.g. apophenia), microblogs (e.g. Twitter), wikis (e.g. Wikipedia, Physiopedia), podcasts (e.g. IT conversations: Health & Medicine), discussion forums, virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life), gaming worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft) and social networks (e.g. Google+ and Facebook). As you can see, the term “social media” covers a lot of ground, which is why it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what exactly someone means when they talk mention it.

Social media services can be said to be based on the following broad pillars: identity, conversation, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups. Not all of these services need to include all of these aspects, although they are useful concepts to explore the notion of engagement and interaction, which is what makes social media “social”.

In the following section (Part 2: Social media, online identity and engagement) I will briefly discuss two of the more common forms of social media, and explain how you could use them as part of establishing an online professional identity and presence.

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