Now that many researchers are trying to move research projects online, we need to be attentive to the ways others perceive us online.
Online researchers are often concerned about how to verify the identities of participants recruited online. At the same time, participants may be similarly concerned about the credibility of the researcher. Why should someone take the time to participate in your interview, participant observation or research event? Can they trust you to protect their identities and the information they might share?
All research needs to demonstrate the trustworthiness of the researcher (Bulpitt & Martin, 2010).
If potential participants search for you online, will they find a digital identity that supports your role as a respectable and trustworthy researcher? What steps can you take to create boundaries between your online identities for private and professional/research lives?
Cassell suggests that the interviewer and interviewee are doing ‘identity work’ as part of the interview process. We use identity as a tool to present ourselves in a way that is appropriate to the interview process, managing impressions of those factors we have some control over – for example, our attitude and responses to the interviewee – and accommodating those we have no control over – for example, our age, gender or ethnicity (Cassell, 2005).
Here are a few tips for developing a credible online presence:
- Create an online space dedicated to the research, where the identity as researcher can be communicated. Depending on the nature of the research and likely interest of research population, this could be a blog or page(s) on social networking sites, or series of media clips.
Provide a very succinct explanation of the purpose of the study in everyday language, not academ-ese. Discuss potential impact– how will their contribution help make new policies, practices, or change? Link to this online space in your email signature and in social media posts.
- Introduce yourself and any partners. Depending on the nature of your study, include a picture.
- Include links to your academic institution or other publications that convey integrity and authenticity of your identity as a researcher.
- Provide a means for contact distinct from personal communications, ideally an .edu e-mail address. If not a part of an institution, free e-mail services are ideal for this purpose.
- Use the networking possibilities of the digital milieu. Create a presence as a researcher by offering a webinar or hosting an online event or discussion on issues related to the study. Join online groups or lists in your discipline or area of study, post, share resources and contribute. By doing so the you create an online identity associated with the study.