Social media - caring in a shared world (3): Online identity reconstruction

How and why to reconstruct your online identity when using social networking sites professionally

How and why do academics reconstruct their online identity when using social media professionally? This is the third post in the series "Caring in a shared-world". See also (1): Self & others and (2): Towards an authentic Identity.

What is online identity reconstruction?

Heidegger (1962) argues that we belong to the shared-world where everything is related between any moment in time across the future, past and the present. Within that world academics may always care about what they are and who they are. Their being is always at stake depending on the choices they make and the multiple identities they may adopt.

In absence of the physical space, academics may experience a distance between themselves and others when using social media. Therefore authenticity may never be fully reached. Compared to the offline world, in the online worlds there are fewer limitations of time and space. It is thus possible for academics to experiment with their identity and to pretend to be someone else.

Social networking sites allow academics to adopt structured ways to develop their online identity. They may choose to include their personal information, such as gender, age, education etc., as part of their online profile. They can show a description of their preferences such as hobbies or people and groups they connect with.

Additionally, academics may manage their online identity when sharing information on their timeline. The flexibility to choose what kind of information and image to disclose and share with their audiences enables the creation of academics’ online identity. The construction of academics’ online identity to display their image differently compared to their offline identity is called online identity reconstruction.

Why and how do academics reconstruct online identity?

There are various reasons why academics may want to reconstruct their online identity. The main motivations that were found in my prior research (Sathish, 2019) appear to be to:

  • develop a positive image to engage with the public.
  • act as role models for students.
  • protect their institutional reputation.
  • protect their professional identity.
  • protect their personal identity.
  • promote their academic career.
  • promote their research.
  • collaborate with communities and institutions.

Academics may decide to present their identity strategically. A frequent strategy adopted by academics to reconstruct their online identity is positive self-presentation. This means they may intentionally develop a positive image that may differ to a certain degree, from their offline identity. When academics strategically reconstruct their identity, they may still tell the truth.

However, academics may also deliberately engage in positive online identity reconstruction. Social networking sites may even enable academics to hide and stretch the truth or misinform their audiences about their personal identity. This may harm themselves, others, or their institutions. Therefore, acquiring knowledge and awareness of the potential factors that may affect academics’ online identity reconstruction behaviour may be important.

Potential positive and negative effects of academics’ online identity reconstruction

My research (Sathish, 2019) showed that academics who positively reconstruct their online identity may experience positive effects on their wellbeing such as:

  • Increased happiness.
  • Increase of satisfaction online.
  • Forming of trusting networking relationships.
  • Increased feelings of autonomy.
  • Increased self-acceptance.
  • Positive comments and likes of other users.
  • Development of their online social capital.

However, confidence and anxiety may also impact on academics’ reconstruction of their online identity. Academics with low confidence in their professional career appear less likely to engage in reconstruction of their online identity than academics who have high levels of confidence in their position and career progress.

Highly confident academics indicated that they decided to present a reconstructed identity that benefitted their career. They were also more likely to raise their voice about controversial issues, even if this wasn’t fully in accordance with their organisation’s values.

Further, academics in my study indicated the development of an online image increased their anxiety due to the negative impact this might have on their personal and professional identity. Academics also stated they were anxious about their online image and the information that they shared, and how this might impact on their career if their organisations disagreed with their online presentation.

The importance and benefits of managing online identity reconstruction

Managing online identity reconstruction when using social media professionally is important because it is part of your online presence (See: How to digitally market yourself: a beginner's guide for students and academics). The way that you decide to digitally market yourself when using social media creates the image that others (like colleagues or employers) can see.

In my research (Sathish, 2019) I found that academics may consciously manage their online image because they see their professional social media persona as their academic brand through which they aim to represent their university’s values and goals.

Developing and maintaining a professional academic brand, through managing of their online identity, may enable:

  • promotion of your academic achievements to potential employers.
  • collaboration with a global community and the reach of an international audience.
  • greater reach when publicising your work and generating impact.
  • building of a network and collaboration with others.
  • public engagement.
  • building of reputation and credibility.
  • development of competitive advantage for project funding applications.

Tips to positively reconstruct your online identity when using social networking sites

To overcome potential challenges and to positively present yourself when using social media professionally it may be useful to adopt a few strategies. My research (Sathish, 2019) provides some recommendations in this respect:

  • Practice kindness and positivity
  • Privacy settings
    • Apply the privacy settings depending on your chosen platform to protect your personal and professional persona.
    • Develop awareness of which parts of your profile are publicly visible.
    • Choose complex passwords to protect your identity from theft.
    • Disable location checks when sharing posts.
    • Secure devices when using social media.
  • Do not overload your audiences with information. Be specific and work with clear goals and aims for your messages.
  • Work with a timeline and schedule posting to the most appropriate times of the day. Be aware people may not look at the posts 24/7.
  • Take time to write posts and focus on the quality of the content.
  • Do not publicly discuss negative thoughts with colleagues and seek face-to-face communication where appropriate.


Sathish, C. F. (2019) Social media usage of academics- Exploring the perceptions of legislation. Unpublished Master of Research Thesis, Sheffield Business School.

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