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Tuesday, July 12 • 10:31 - 12:00
Scholars' Imagined Audiences and their Impact on Social Media Participation

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 302, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • George Veletsianos, PhD, Royal Roads University
  • Ashley Shaw, University of British Columbia & Royal Roads University


When participating online, individuals draw on the limited cues they have available to create for themselves an imagined audience (Litt, 2012). Such audiences shape users’ social media practices, and thus the expression of identity online (Marwick & boyd, 2011). While institutions encourage scholars to go online (Mewburn & Thompson, 2013), and many scholars perceive value in online networks themselves (Veletsianos, 2016), limited research has explored the ways that scholars conceptualize online audiences.


In this research we posed the following questions: (1) how do scholars conceptualize their audiences when participating on social media, and (2) how does that conceptualization impact their self-expression online? By answering these questions, we aim to provide a more nuanced picture of scholars’ social media practices and experiences.  


We employed a qualitative approach to this study. We recruited participants through a variety of methods: invitations to participate via email, through postings on blogs and social media, and through snowball sampling. From 42 responses, we selected 16 participants who represented a range of academic disciplines and roles (mean age = 41.6; S.D = 8.1; 12 self-identified as female, 3 as male, and 1 as transgender). Data were generated from two sources: semi-structured interviews with each participant, and examination of the social media spaces they used (e.g. blogs, Facebook, Twitter). Data were analyzed using the constant comparative approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). In particular, as we read a piece of data (e.g., a sentence, a paragraph) we assigned codes to indicating perceived audiences and impacts on expression of identity. Next, new data (e.g., another paragraph), were either assigned one of the pre-existing codes or assigned a new code that was created to describe the data. When new codes were created, data are re-read to examine whether the new codes could be assigned to them. Eventually, the process of constantly comparing codes and data lead to a list of codes describing the data, which were compiled into themes.


Participants identified four specific groups as composing their social media audiences: (1) academics, (2) family and friends, (3) groups related to one’s profession, and (4) individuals who shared commonalities with them. Interviewees felt fairly confident that they had a good understanding of the people and groups that made up their audiences on social media, but distinguished their audiences as known and unknown. The known audience included those groups and individuals known to interviewees personally. The unknown audience consisted of members whom participants felt they understood much about but did not know personally. Interviewees reported using their understanding of their audience to guide their decisions around what, how or where to share information on social media. All participants reported filtering their social media posts. This action was primarily motivated by participants’ concerns about how postings would reflect on themselves or others.


The audiences imagined by the scholars we interviewed appear to be well defined rather than the nebulous constructions often described in previous studies (e.g. Brake, 2012; Vitak, 2012). While scholar indicated that some audiences were unknown, none noted that their audience was unfamiliar. This study also shows that a misalignment exists between the audiences that scholars imagine encountering online and the audiences that higher education institutions imagine their scholars encountering online. The former appear to imagine finding community and peers and the latter imagine scholars finding research consumes (e.g., journalists).



Brake, D. R. (2012). Who do they think they’re talking to? Framings of the audience by social media users. International Journal of Communication, 6, 1056–1076.

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Chicago: Aldine Publishing.

Gruzd, A., Staves, K., Wilk, A. (2012) Connected scholars: Examining the role of social media in research practices of faculty using the UTAUT model. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 (6), 2340–2350

Litt, E. (2012). Knock, Knock. Who's There? The Imagined Audience. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 330-345,

Marwick, A. E & boyd.d. (2011). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New media & society, 13(1), 114-133

Mewburn, I. & Thomson, P. (2013) Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and challenges. Studies in Higher Education, 38(8), 1105-1119.

Veletsianos, G. (2016). Networked Scholars: Social Media in Academia. New York, NY: Routledge.

Vitak, J. (2012). The impact of context collapse and privacy on social network site disclosures. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(4), 451-470.

Tuesday July 12, 2016 10:31 - 12:00 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 302 Goldsmiths University, Building 2