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Thoughts sparked about personal authenticity and social media

March 5, 2012

Every so often you read something which just triggers a fully formed response on the spot. That’s because you disagree violently, agree violently or, as in this case, simply believe that the subject is important and has been expressed in a particularly concise and useful way.

That’s the case with Sarah Williams’ excellent piece on the comms2point0 hub. She’s writing with practical advice for individuals – but in doing so, touches on a big issue, and on some of the principles needed to tackle it. In particular her mention of “an image you are comfortable with”, struck a chord with me. It triggered a comment [typed in a single burst, hence some slips of words and keys], which I realise is in some ways just a restatement of the principles you will find elsewhere in this blog… the point of the Nobull Way. The comment grew so large that I decided I should commit it here as a post too. So – as I said in the comment – thanks Sarah for prompting some Monday morning thinking 🙂

Here’s my comment in full and uncorrected [including a number of those hasty typos and a bit of adverb repetition]:

This article highlights nicely a challenge that is going to confront increasing numbers of people. It’s true at the level of individuals, and their conventional employment prospects, but also of freelancers, potential business partners, individuals who become the ‘persona’ of their brand or organisation… and is even analogous with challenges facing brands which aren’t [at least at first sight] people at all.

The answers are complex – and grow more complex with every shift in the functionality of social media platforms or, crucially, of the interconnections between them, and the existence of ‘self aggregation’ services which can use those connections to create joined up online presence… sometime wittingly, sometimes not.

One simple, seemingly trite, principle which might help with the complexity is to ‘be yourself’. My own hope is that Social Media will usher in an era of authenticity. For one thing – being yourself is much less hard work than managing a number of [partially] false selves for different purposes; applying conscious filters and so on. In addition, the jeopardy only runs one way. If you try to curate your selves – one slip makes you look, at best, phoney and dubious. If you are authentic then, at worst, you will miss out on something that’s ultimately not right for you.

This probably shades into the question of just how much real self to show… or how economical to be with the true you. In principle, the more honest you are the more you escape jobs, deals and partnerships that are not right for you, and the greater your chances are of finding a role which, because it does derive from the real you, will make you happy AND give you a chance to excell in your performance.

But there are limits to that – one is the need to put bread on the table and keep a roof over your head, and the other is the extent to which you assume the rest of the world must, and will, play fair.

I’d suggest three things that go with the principle of being authentic:

1. There’s a lot of literature which suggests that authenticity itself is attractive and persuasive – in particular that the most charismatic people is society are the most authentic.

2. Being yourself puts a premium on knowing yourself. It’s difficult to be authentic if you’re a bit short on self-awareness. Part of the reasoning behind 1. is that authentic people are the most at ease with themselves, and the most consistent/coherent in their dealings with others. [Of course, looking at yourself through the medium of your own social media presence might actually be one way of getting a better fix on yourself – so it’s a bit circular.]

3. In deciding just how open to be, a guide guide is just how open you [when you’re being authentic] are offline. Your online self should, perhaps, be no more or less gregarious and extrovert than your offline self. But one rider to this is that it’s dynamic. Your social media life my actually change you, over time, and do so in ways that a life-terrestrial never would!

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