Laminated Identity: Author(iz)ed Sharing on Facebook

dhocutt's picture

When the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies Facebook page shares a post, only a few of the page’s followers know the identity of the person who author(iz)ed the repost. It’s me. I compose each post and repost, curating content and identity from among the multitude of resources available to me. Or, perhaps more accurately, available to the school. Because as the professional communicator tasked with posting and reposting on behalf of the school, my personal, academic, and professional identities, while ever present and certainly influencing the others, take a back seat to my institutional identity as constructed within the social media platform.

Facebook header screen capture. (Re)posting, commenting and liking on Facebook as “University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies”: no longer Daniel Hocutt (although I could change identities if I wanted to).

The institutional identity is one that is constructed by the institution itself, by the social media platform, and by the posts and reposts that appear on the page and on followers’ feeds. As an open page, it’s also partially inscribed by Posts to Page, posts that others write “to” the page, contributing to the page’s content and to the followers’ feeds. They do so as themselves, so their Facebook identities (however they inscribe them) also contribute to the school’s identity on Facebook.

Shared link screen capture. How Facebook defines the link shared by the School of Professional & Continuing Studies: “Posted by Daniel Hocutt” — but “Only people who manage this Page can see who posted.”

Sharing a post on the school’s Facebook page requires negotiating multiply-layered identities. I’ll list three here, but there are certainly others.

  1. The identity of the original poster. Generally related to the identity of the school as an institution (rather than as a social media user). To what extent does the original poster’s identity reflect some aspect of the school’s identity? Often that question is answered by the subject of the post or the poster’s relationship to the institution — alumna/us, student, professor, administrator, manager, or friend of the institution.
  2. The identity of the institutional social media account. The institution develops, over time, an identity on each social media platform. Ours seeks the narrow line between irreverent and professional, between academic and promotional. Reposts should match or complement that identity to fulfill audience expectation. Without consistency, the institutional identity loses shape, runs counter to follower expectations, and loses efficacy.
  3. The identity of the institution’s post curator. This is the professional, an individual who also has a personal Facebook account and identity, following Facebook’s terms of service. While the institutional identity on social media largely accounts for the institutional identity of the poster, personal and professional identities bleed into the institutional identity.

Facebook shared Instagram image screen capture. When the School of Professional & Continuing Studies identity shares from a third party (in this case, Instagram), identities continue to splinter. Instagram Connect does not specify that the Instagram account sharing the image is the School’s institutional account that I also manage. Here, the Facebook institutional identity masks the Instagram institutional identity.

It’s possible that a post to be shared might reflect the school’s institutional or social media identity but run counter to the poster’s professional, academic, or personal ethics or values. Which identity should override others in such situations?

In my case, the institutional identity takes precedence, a conscious decision I’ve made that subsumes my personal, academic, and professional identities to the institutional identity. While Slack, Miller & Doak (1993) might contest my willingness to subsume an authorial identity to the institution, I respond that sharing posts on Facebook is an articulated process that requires continual assessment of power differentials among competing identities in a laminated juggling act.

Reference

Slack, J. D., Miller, D. J., and Doak, J. (1993). The technical communicator as author: Meaning, power, authority. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 7(1), 12-36. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1050651993007001002

Images

Screen captures of University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies Facebook page. Use author(iz)ed by the institutional identity embodied in Daniel Hocutt.

Comments

This is really interesting

This is really interesting because of the way you consider your institutional identity as taking precedence over your own identity in the public space. You talk about that concern over making sure the posts you make fit in with the rules set in places for the way to school wants to present itself. At the same time though how does your concern for your own identity still play a role in that performance? As you said there are people, other administrators, of the page that can see who made the post and presumably they would be people you are connected to. Are you concerned with your identity as the person who manages the school's identity and how your management of that identity shapes your own identity to those who know it is you behind it?

Daniel Hocutt's picture

Personal Identities and Institutional Identity

Thanks for the question about the negotiations that must certainly occur as I allow an institutional identity to “take precedence” over my own identities in the public space. There are other administrators who know I am the poster and sharer of content on our institutional Facebook page, and I often introduce myself in new student orientations as “the voice of the school’s Facebook page.” I carefully curate my own personal and professional identities on my own Facebook profile in order to represent the school and its values — along with my own personal and professional interests and concerns. Because I am a professional communicator, I seek to create an ethos of carefully crafted trustworthiness among all of my social media profiles and identities. Because I am a parent of pre-teens, I seek to create an ethos of limited transparency that my kids can emulate in crafting, curating, and protecting their own identities in social media spaces. Because I’m a person of faith, I seek to use sharing and posting as opportunities to reflect my values in subtle, thoughtful ways. Because I’m a doctoral student, I seek to create an ethos of academic integrity and (relative) seriousness in my posts and shares. And because I am in a committed relationship, I seek to create an ethos that reflects my love and appreciation for that relationship. Allowing the institutional identity to take precedence over my own identities is probably better stated as a negotiated process that uses the institutional identity as primary driver for posting and sharing decisions, but encourages other identities to contribute their ethos and values to each decision.