The Online You

One of the biggest challenges when diving into the online social media world and beginning to participate is figuring out how to represent yourself.  Of course, there’s the general ethics that basically equate to “love your neighbor.”  These exist as much in the physical worlds as they do in the online world.  Along the same lines, I recently bookmarked an excellent post regarding enterprise social media policies.  In it, Dawn Foster recalls the following question to ask yourself when wondering about your online activities and content.

Would I want my mother to know that I did this?

It’s an excellent question to ask and, as a rule of thumb, I do think it works.  But the minor flaw it in is that our mothers have the full, complete context of who we are.  I can drop an F-bomb at the dinner table with my mother sitting across from me with little repercussion other than a quick, disapproving sneer.  But drop an F-bomb at a new business pitch with people who you’ve known for less than 30 minutes and it could mean the loss of a new client. 

It doesn’t stop with the language we use.  With Social Media tools, the content that we choose to publish and share represents who we are.  If you visited my Flickr stream and saw that my photostream was full of amputee dogs trapped in fishing nets, you’d probably have some serious character questions about me.  (And rightfully so, by the way.)

In the many years that I’ve been maintaining a blog and publishing photos, I’ve realized that there’s a challenging to representing your professional self in addition to the true “social you.”  The “professional you” is the you that leaves the baseball cap sitting at home, tucks in his shirt, and generally presents an image of professionalism so that people want to work with you, to trust you, and to look to you as a subject matter expert.  But does this help people really KNOW you? 

The “social you” are things like the movies you’ve seen 20 times, your favorite beer, and the music you can’t live without.  Not to mention the subtle little nuances of everyday life that you, and perhaps only you, truly appreciate.  But you continue to share with others if only for that remote chance that you will connect with someone around it.  Like the time you found the free parking downtown.  You share these things because they complete you.  Without them you are only a shallow representation of who you are.

The key to truly participating online is to figure out the correct mix of all aspects of you.  In a manner that achieve your goals and, most importantly, allows you to be yourself.

A closing thought from the film High Fidelity:

What really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films — these things matter. Call me shallow but it’s the f—-n’ truth,

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