Globalization and Open Science offer researchers great opportunities for scientific collaboration and dissemination of their contributions. This work environment also confronts them with new challenges: researchers are no longer just a name known basically for their publications, but also for their identity and reputation in their field of expertise (online presence, social media activity, management and representation activities, organization and participation in events, peer reviewing, etc.). Such projection can have a great influence on their work, insofar as it can help to increase the visibility of their contributions, achieve a greater number of citations and find new opportunities for collaboration that take their research to the next level. In this new environment, therefore, researchers must not only publish, but also work proactively to develop their online presence and reputation.
In this article we review the concept of online identity, its relevance for researchers and the basis for its construction.
What is online identity?
Identity is everything that makes us who we are, that differentiates us from others, that makes us unique. Identity is multidimensional and complex. Among the elements that make up our identity are our history (age, cultural and family origins, place of birth or residence, life experiences, etc.), our external characteristics (gender, voice and expression, height, weight, etc.) and internal properties (interests, tastes, aspirations, beliefs, etc.). For some individuals, an important part of their identity is also their belongings or consumer preferences (elements of consumer societies), the people they surround themselves with (friends, family, co-workers, etc.), or their profession. Identity is therefore a construction, which is partly shaped by biology and the environment, and partly developed voluntarily and actively throughout life.
The networked digital environment provides the construction of identity with a space of projection of enormous possibilities, characterized by the possibility of dissociation from the physical subject. In it, the individual decides which aspects of his identity he wants to project and in which spaces, being able to create multiple identities or expressions of his identity aimed at different audiences (“online persona” or “avatar”) that may or may not have to do with the identity he normally shows in the analog world (on many occasions, these digital identities become laboratories, in which the individual explores dimensions of his identity that he can later incorporate into his analog identity).
By its nature, the professional digital identity is the type of digital identity that should be more closely related to the individual’s analog or offline identity. The academic and professional merits presented by our digital identity must be verifiable. However, there is still room for identity construction, insofar as a researcher can choose which aspects of his or her work (publications, lines of research, management, service, networking, etc.) he or she is interested in developing at any given moment. However, it is important that this identity is maintained consistently across all the platforms where it will be deployed, in order to generate trust in the audience.
How to approach the deployment of our online presence?
The first step for the researcher wishing to deploy an online presence is to reflect on the reasons for doing so:
- What would you like to achieve? A PhD student will be interested in becoming known in their future field of specialization, building credibility and obtaining objective comments and evaluations of his progress (taking care to preserve the originality of his doctoral research). A junior researcher will be interested in having an online presence to help them consolidate their career, establishing an image of solvency, increasing the number of citations received and expanding his/her network of contacts and collaborators. A senior researcher will be interested in increasing the impact of their scientific production, attracting the best researchers for their team, etc.
- Who is the target audience? The researcher should consider four main types of target audience: peers (other researchers), administrators/employers (universities, research centers, libraries, etc.), citizens (social impact of the research) and the media (scientific journalism, general journalism). You may decide to place greater emphasis on one or more of these, and adapt the media used, type of content, language, etc. according to the characteristics of each group..
- What can you offer compared to your competitors? In a globalized scientific context and therefore increasingly competitive, researchers must analyze their identity and look for those aspects that, while being consistent with their work, can differentiate them within and even outside their field. What we are really passionate about will be what we can best talk about and, therefore, generate more interest.
The culture of influence in the online world teaches us that in order to capture attention and create an active and loyal community of users (followers, disseminators of our content and contributors) it is essential to have great communication skills, emotional intelligence for community management and, above all, an emotional connection with the potential audience. How to achieve an emotional connection? Key elements are the maintenance of a positive and differentiated image (personal image easy to identify and remember, digital aesthetics consistent with the image and personal identity), the volume of updates (constant presence), the quality (of the content published or disseminated, of the participants in the community), agile and sufficient response to the contributions and comments of the community, dissemination of comments and opinions on the work of others or current issues (especially in a positive way), or the dissemination of exclusive content (for example, the “behind the scenes” of your article or research project, previews of your upcoming publications or participation in events, etc.)). According to Marshall (2017), sporadically incorporating details about our private life humanizes us and contributes to creating a differentiated image that can also connect emotionally with our audience.
Profiles of online influence (Rampton 2016)