I have no shame in admitting that I’m fascinated (okay, addicted) to the show Catfish. It’s a show on MTV that seeks to identify the true identities of people who are pretending to be someone they’re not by using social media to create false identities — particularly to pursue deceptive online romances. While we may not all be intentionally deceptive in the same way as a “catfish,” social media does allow us to hide behind a veil of anonymity, giving people the boldness to act and say things that they wouldn’t normally or to live vicariously through their online persona. In a recent episode of Catfish, the “catfish” said she felt no remorse for misleading the other person. And she had no plans to stop catfishing. It made me think that, with all this social media, we are — in many respects — learning to be authentically disingenuous.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post that explored authenticity in social media and in real life. It remains one of my favorites today. It was inspired by a social media gathering where the group reflected on what it’s like to eventually meet each other in person. Someone mentioned that they find it interesting when they meet people and there is a disconnect between the online persona and the in-real-life (IRL) person. I am not a fan of superficial connections, so I enjoy meeting up in person with someone whom I have first connected with online. I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m still surprised when that person has the opposite personality than what I thought. It’s always nice to bridge the online and IRL connection, but it begs the question: which you is the authentic YOU? The introvert or the extrovert? The person you are putting forth in real life or the person you present online? And how do you choose who sees what?
In life in general, the dynamics of any relationship or connection are hard because we are not just about our personal brands. “We are complex beings whose emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical selves are in a constant dynamic state of change. We are social beings who find health, not in self-projection, but in self-giving, in actions of creating and sacrifice.” [Ed Brenegar]
In real life, our actions speak louder than our words.
In contrast, actions and thoughts move much more quickly on the Internet. In response to instant communication, we often say before we think and in some cases our emotions don’t have opportunity to catch up with how quickly we speak. How many times have we pulled the trigger on a tweet, an Instagram photo, or a news feed post only to regret it two seconds later? The price of instant communication is to not always have the time to think things through. And if you’re anything like me, those extra two seconds are extremely valuable!
In social media, our words speak louder than our actions.
The Juxtaposition of Real Life and Social Media
A key goal of a strong employer brand is to build trust. You build trust by being credible. And credibility relies on a certain level of authenticity. Anything less is a really bad HR marketing strategy. For me, this is true for a personal brand too.
But people have different interpretations of what it means to be authentic. I can authentically be an extrovert online while still genuinely be an introvert in real life (by the way, this is SO not me). And I think what it comes down to is deciding what your is personal brand: the personality you build behind it, and with whom you share that personal brand. I fully realize that some people have a personal brand that is part of a public persona, which makes the juxtaposition of real life and social media more complex.
I recently came across an extremely interesting post by Ed Brenegar on “Being Authentic in Inauthentic Times” and he raises some salient points that I think are important not just for being authentic in social media, but also in real life.
- Authentic people do not go around projecting their self-important personality on everyone they encounter. Authenticity in my personal brand is based on being able to express the genuine passion I have for employer branding and HR communications with my peers so that we an learn from each other. You become a thought leader by being a meaningful resource who shares information that you genuinely support or initiate conversations with those who express a genuine interest in what you do — understanding that not everyone shares the same passion as you do. Don’t always talk, but listen too; and know that there is a time to be “on” and a time to be “off.”
- Virtual identities are not real identities, and virtual relationships are mimics of real relationships. Personally, this is something that I struggle with ALL the time. I have developed meaningful relationships online that have never extended to meeting in person. Do I think these relationships are less genuine than the ones that I have in real life? Absolutely not. However, I also believe it’s easy to lose your authentic self when you’re living solely through a virtual identity that is not derived out of who you are in real life. I would like to think that I am just as passionate and vibrant in person as I come across online, no matter what the topic may be.
- Don’t tell me, show me your authenticity. If you are that person who is always “on,” ask yourself how people will know who is the real you when you are “off”? I see it lots … someone who constantly engages and entertains groups of people and yet they don’t know how to remain engaged in their most intimate connections. Reserve something for your personal, real life connections, so that they know they are special from everyone else you know online and offline…. and so they can be privy to a more authentic you.
You are the only person who can truly define your authenticity. Are you the person who is the introvert who becomes vibrant online? Or are you the silent observer who comes alive when you are in face-to-face conversations? It’s important for me that my online connections feel that my personality trues up when they meet me in person. I have a loud, saucy personality that really can’t be hidden by ANYTHING much less The Internets. If we all strive to be that authentically authentic person then we will all have much more richer and meaningful relationships — both in social media and in real life.