In the globalized society, where social media are used as the main tools of communication and knowledge sharing, understanding how one can manage a reputation online is imperative. Social media screenings have been widely used by employers or business partners for evaluating the reputation of potential employees or colleagues online (Vroman, Stulz, Hart, and Stulz, 2016). The best candidates are thought to be found through social media because a large number of companies use online sources to vet candidates even before interviewing them.
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The importance of social media reputation management is linked to trying to present oneself in a positive light (Roth, Bobko, Van Iddekinge, and Thatcher, 2013). This means that being invisible online is not the best strategy in terms of having a beneficial reputation as potential employers are looking for as much information as possible: who are their candidates, have they done what they say they have done, will they fit into an organization, and do they understand how to use the Internet for business (Joyce, 2016). It is problematic that human resource managers cannot find enough information online as they tend to interview those candidates who use social media to their advantage.
Personality, Reputation, and Presentation
Although the issue of reputation management online is important, there has been a lack of studies exploring some relevant information on how the problem is approached from several perspectives. In particular, relationships between such skills as reputation, presentation, and personality online as applied to social media screening have not been studied in great detail. To understand the focus of the study in greater detail, it is important first to review the concepts of reputation, presentation, and personality as applied to different contexts. The concept of personality refers to an individual’s specific combination of various behavioral traits (Borghans, Golsteyn, Heckman, and Humphries, 2012).
As mentioned by Geukes, van Zalk, and Back (2017), personality can be both stable over time as well as change across a lifespan. For instance, personality disorders can occur in adolescence, with individuals experiencing borderline personality features (BPF) such as hostility, paranoia, inappropriate emotions, and many others (Babinski, Mills, and Bansal, 2018). Evaluating whether a person has any such issues is important for potential employers, which is why the concept is expected to be studied in the context of the current proposal.
Personal presentation is a concept that refers to how individual markets and brands themselves (Allen, 2012). This is associated with controlling what other people may see or hear and therefore shape the opinion of the public about a person. Similar to the way organizations spend a lot of time and effort to work on their image, people also work on their presentation when using such tools as social media (Oyza and Edwin, 2015). This points to the importance of considering the idea of presentation as applied to social media screening because it is concerned with how employers may perceive their potential workers.
Reputation is a term referring to beliefs and opinions that people usually hold about something or someone (Helm, Liehr-Gobbers, and Storck, 2011). It is especially important to evaluate in regards to social media screening because the reputation of potential workers may influence their likelihood of being hired (Kroeze, 2015). Reputation depends not only on a person but also on his or her history; for instance, family history information is used for promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing diseases (Claassen et al., 2010). If family history is used for health promotion, it can also be employed for concluding one’s reputation.
In terms of social media screening, reputational information available to human resource managers online is being increasingly used for candidate selection. As in many companies, such screening has become a formal requirement, considering the implications of negative reputation is crucial. Overall, there is a significant gap in available research when it comes to evaluating reputation, personality, and presentation-related information with the help of online screening.
Social Media Screening
Several studies will be mentioned in the current literature review to enhance the understanding of the topic of social media screening. The study conducted by Van Iddekinge, Lanivich, Roth, and Junco (2013) focuses on evaluating the role of social media (SM) for selection, with a specific emphasis placed on Facebook-based assessments. According to the scholars, there are several possible benefits of using social media and other information available on the Internet to make decisions about staffing (Van Iddekinge et al., 2013).
For instance, in contrast to traditional methods of selecting potential workers, such as interviews or work sample tests, social media screenings are less costly and time-consuming both in terms of development and administration since all information necessary already exists on social media (Davison, Bing, Kluemper and Roth, 2016).
However, regardless of benefits, it remains unclear whether the use of social media information is enough for making final decisions as well as fulfilling the requirements for valid and legally defensible procedures of research (Jeske and Shultz, 2016). Therefore, companies that use social media information probably lack the knowledge of whether the use of such assessments will lead to better decisions in terms of choosing employees that will fit the requirements of a given position.
Roth et al. (2013) mentioned that social media had become a new obstacle to hiring personnel. Companies that avoid using SM for vetting candidates are more likely to miss out on important opportunities since the costs of their use are low (Simo and Trindade, 2014). In the examination of social media assessments for measuring the personality and general mental abilities of candidates, a correlation between self-reported personality traits and rating based on judgments from Facebook pages was found (Roth et al., 2013).
Regardless of the positive aspects linked to SM use for assessing the potential of candidates, there are still some challenges associated with making decisions based on incomplete information and the sheer volume of available data (Miguel, 2013). Therefore, in conducting SM reviews to evaluate the suitability of candidates, employers must account for the lack of relevant information through “cognitive imputing” (Roth et al., 2013, p. 274).
In addition, when encountering negative information, it is recommended to evaluate whether a person experiences negative events more strongly than positive, whether he or she recalls traumatic experiences from memory, whether such information has been processed thoroughly, as well as whether there are differences attributed to the perception of various social norms.
Root and McKay (2014) also studied the topic of SM screening; however, about student awareness of being potentially evaluated by their prospective employers. According to the researchers, human resource specialists across the globe have started using SM for accessing reputational information that can impact the process of decision-making; in addition, such use is expected to increase within the next several years (Root and McKay, 2014).
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When evaluating students’ perceptions, the scholars revealed that the research subjects disagreed “with the statements that it was wrong for anyone to consider what they have posted on the Internet when applying for a job and that they would worry about cleaning up what is on the Internet when starting to look for a job” (Root and McKay, 2014, p. 204). In addition, there was a discrepancy between the perceptions of students regarding the importance of spelling, grammar, and overall good communication skills and the perceptions of employers. These findings are interesting because they show a disconnect: while potential employers pay attention to all aspects of their candidates’ social media presence, the latter care predominantly about their reputation.
Research Aims and Questions
By researching the issue of social media reputation management, it is possible to come up with a set of recommendations that individuals can use when trying to build a positive image for their work and business endeavors. Links between social media skills such as reputation, presentation, and personality have not been defined clearly in the current research literature, which presents a significant gap that requires addressing (Pires and Trez, 2018). Thus, it is proposed to study the topic in great detail and to answer the following questions:
- How potential employees or business partners can manage their online reputation, presentation, and personality?
- What procedures should be put in place regarding social media screening and online reputation management?
Research Design, Sampling, and Access
Given the nature of the proposed research questions, choosing a qualitative research design is expected to yield reliable and measurable outcomes. Deductive reasoning will be used in the study as it will be concerned with making conclusions from generalized knowledge and applied to specific situations (Zalaghi and Khazaei, 2016). Interviews represent one of the most common types of qualitative research methods and offer opportunities for participants to elaborate on their perceptions of reputation, presentation, and personality skills as applied to social media screening.
Simple random sampling is possible to accomplish in the research because SM use is widespread as well as any person can comment on their perceptions of reputation, personality, and presentation in the context of social media skills. Probability sampling implies the random selection of participants, each of which has a known (equal) chance of being selected (Bell, Bryman, and Harley, 2018).
The method maintains sampling errors low and usually creates a sample of participants that is representative of a given population (Kukull and Ganguli, 2012). It is expected to interview 50 participants from different backgrounds, ages, and professions. They will be selected with the help of face-to-face interactions: the researcher can approach them in public places and ask whether they would like to participate.
Data Collection Methods
Semi-structured interviews are proposed to implement in the study; they include a list of themes and questions that should be covered during face-to-face conversations and allow to discuss other topics that may arise (Saunders, Lewis, and Thornhill, 2015). One of the main advantages of this method is associated with its descriptive nature and the possibility to draw inferences from data easily (Kim, Sefcik, and Bradway, 2016). This means that the scholar may omit some questions in specific instances, discuss particular organizational contexts or personal experiences, as well as to adapt the questions to his or her interviewees (Palinkas et al., 2015).
Additional questions may be required in some instances given the semi-structured manner of the interviews (McIntosh and Morse, 2015). To preserve all information that was discussed during the interviews, the conversations will be audio-recorded for the subsequent transcription of data into a digital form.
Data Analysis Methods
Given the qualitative nature of data collected during interviews, the thematic analysis will be used for analyzing the information. Thematic analysis is a method used for identifying patterns of themes within the interview data (Maguire and Delahunt, 2017). The main benefit of this type of analysis is associated with its flexibility and the possibility to use in both explorative and deductive studies (Vaismoradi, Turunen and Bondas, 2013).
To implement the analysis of data, several steps will be undertaken. First, the researcher will familiarise himself or herself with all data and use the assistance of a transcriber to transfer the recorded information into a written format (Bailey, 2008). Second, preliminary codes will be assigned to data for describing the content of the interviews (Ranney et al., 2015). Third, a search for patterns and themes will be undertaken about the codes (Nowell, Norris, White, and Moules, 2017). Fourth, the themes will be defined and reviewed to report research findings and subsequent conclusions.
The disclosure of personal information and identity presents the main ethical challenge in the current research (Sugiura, Wiles, and Pope, 2016). For those participants who wish to maintain their responses anonymously, it is essential to develop a simple coding procedure for protecting their information (Sanjari, Bahramnezhad, Fomani, Shoghi, and Cheraghi, 2014). For example, instead of using interviewees’ names, the research will assign a number to each respondent (Babbie, 2013). Any mentions of organizations’ names, websites, or any other information that may reveal the identity of participants will not be disclosed and replaced for abbreviations or omitted altogether.
Before being interviewed, the participants will be asked to sign an informed consent form communicating that they legally authorize the use of data given by them without the inducement of force, deceit, fraud, duress, coercion, or any other methods of persuasion (Millum, 2013). Informed consent will contain a short presentation of the main data that will aid potential participants understand the subject matter and any explanations why they may not want to take part in the study (Gupta, 2013). Key elements of a form for informed consent will include: a statement that participation is voluntary, a summary of research purpose and relevant procedures, reasonable and foreseeable risks, expected benefits, and alternative procedures that can be put in place.
Limitations of the Research
The relatively small sample size presents the first limitation of the study. Due to the qualitative nature of the proposal and the data collection method – interviews, involving a high sample of participants would be costly and time-consuming (Bolderston, 2012). Increasing the number of participants could have resulted in the better identification of significant relationships within data sets and the generation of more accurate results. Nevertheless, the qualitative study design allowed to reduce the sample due to the complications of thematic analysis.
Second, the scope of discussions may be limited within the given study since the topic is relatively new and has not received much attention from scholars. The scope and depth of the study would depend on the knowledge of potential participants (Yilmaz, 2013). This means that their experiences of social media use for building a positive reputation online will dictate the scope of the findings regardless of other topics that could have become valuable contributions to the findings. Overall, it is imperative to account for the mentioned limitations in future studies that could study similar topics or further the understanding of the current one.
It is expected that the study would take up to eight months to complete. This timeline accounts for the scope of the research, the number of participants, as well as data collection and analysis procedures. In the first month, the researcher will implement the sampling of participants to find thirty individuals who would agree to participate. The second and the third month of the study will be dedicated to data collection with the help of interviewing as it is expected that an interview with each participant may take between one and one and a half hours due to their semi-structured nature. The fourth, fifth, and sixth months will be concerned with data analysis.
Thematic analysis of interviews is a lengthy process that will require a researcher to transcribe data from recorded into written form, develop themes and identify them, and implement necessary coding procedures. The seventh and eighth months will be dedicated to reporting findings, concluding, and making recommendations for future research. The study findings may be reported to participants with the help of an email newsletter. Overall, the proposed timeline of the study is expected to be enough for completing each stage. If the researcher encounters any delays on his or her way, a month extension will be allowed.
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