DiMicco and Millen ask how users of social networking sites, namely Facebook, use these sites to maintain numerous diverse connections particularly as their offline social circle expands. Do users change the ways they present themselves online as they transition from schoolyard to workplace? The authors suggest that user do indeed alter their use of social networks to main

In their study of 68 IBM employees that use Facebook, DiMicco and Millen found that they could largely categorise the participants into three distinct groups:

Reviving the college days – The largest and youngest group that included users with a large number of school friends who primarily used Facebook to maintain their school network rather than interact with workplace colleagues.

Dressed to Impress – These users have a larger number of corporate connections and friends who are work colleagues. They have fewer friends, networks and interest groups and are on average much older than the previous group.

Living in the Business World – Usually these users belong to their company / workplace network and nothing else. They have limited interaction with online friends.

The authors suggest that the “Dressed to Impress” and “Living in the Business World” groups are much more deliberate in managing their online identities and are acutely aware that their online profiles will be viewed by a range of people in both their personal and professional spheres. “College Days” users are much more open, playful and informal in their online activities. They want others to know what they are doing with their lives as opposed to the “Dressed to Impress” group who are much more formal and professional in the way they present themselves online. Members of the final group offer very limited personal information about themselves and maintain tight control of their online identities.

Facebook and online social networking tools offer a number of benefits to modern workplaces. The authors suggest that they provide a way of keeping in contact with employees and learning more about them through a process they refer to as “people sensemaking”.

In conclusion, DiMicco and Millen suggest that one way of combatting the “unintended leakage” between our personal and professional lives is to maintain multiple online profiles. Although the authors admit that this is not necessarily a straightforward process, particularly when using Facebook, which requires better authoring tools to facilitate the management of multiple identities.

Some of my own thoughts about this reading…

I generally agree with the clusters that DiMicco and Millen identified although I have no personal experience of the “living in the business world” group and very limited experience of the “dressed to impress” group as I have only ever really used Facebook to connect with old school friends or friends and family already in my offline social circle. Certainly my personal use of Facebook most closely fits with the “college days” group in so far as my usage being quite open and informal with less deliberate thought being put into managing my online identity.

I can see the points that DiMicco and Millen are making by suggesting that Facebook and other online social networking tools can be useful in modern workplaces by facilitating contact with and between employees and providing opportunities to discover more about employees through a process of “people sensemaking”. Again, my experience of Facebook in this regard, as a corporate tool, is very limited. Personally I think I would prefer to keep my Facebook interactions personal and not professional.

Obviously the authors would suggest that I handle this by maintaining multiple online profiles, perhaps one for personal use and one for professional interactions with work colleagues. I think that if you have the time and inclination then this could be quite an effective strategy although personally I don’t have the need and the whole process sounds a little tiresome. I’m not sure I have the energy or time to manage multiple accounts.

I have to say that I find the study possibly a little flawed in so far as using a very small focus group that were all IBM employees. This obviously doesn’t offer a very broad sample of the population. I’m certainly not suggesting that all IBM employees display the same character traits (especially as personally I know four people that work for IBM including my brother), however we could expect that this would skew the results. I would like to see a much larger and broader sample of people used in an updated study. I know it has only been four years since this paper was published by I think that social media usage changes quite markedly over relatively short periods of time. Additionally I imagine that Facebook tools have changed in this time which may allow for easier management of multiple identities.