Will the Real You Please Stand Up?

Elizabeth Lupfer
Elizabeth Lupfer Manager, Verizon Communications

Posted on November 11th 2010

An exploration of authenticity in social media and in real life.

In one of my recent social media gatherings, a group of us 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 physical person. Someone who is an introvert in real life can easily become an outspoken extrovert when shielded by a monitor screen. No matter who you are, it's always nice to bridge the online and physical 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 to your online counterparts? 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 an e-mail or sent an instant message only to regret what was said 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

Two of the most prominent words you will hear among social media enthusiasts, myself included, on how to manage an online presence, is to be genuine and authentic. Obviously, people have different interpretations of what being genuine and authentic means. 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 personal brand is to be, the personality you build behind it, and with whom you share that personal brand.

This is crucial whether you are an individual developing or participating in a brand ambassador program, a company dipping into social media, or anybody who seeks to genuinely connect with others. In any workshop, discussion or webinar that I attend, you will hear me (and any other social media consultant) say that the way for people or organizations to build trust with their audience is through authenticity.

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. I've taken the liberty of extending his points (in bold) with those of my own, the combination of which will enable you to be the real YOU when you stand up.

  1. 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 employee engagement and enterprise collaboration with other social media enthusiasts, being able to share information and learn from each other. Be a meaningful resource by sharing 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."
  2. 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. The question is: are YOU?
  3. 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.

To be honest, I think the only person who can truly evaluate who the real you is... YOU. 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? Strive to be that authentic person... and you will find that you can stand up to be the REAL you and have much more genuine and meaningful relationships — both in social media and in real life.

Elizabeth Lupfer

Elizabeth Lupfer

Manager, Verizon Communications

As founder of The Social Workplace, Elizabeth is a globally recognized thought leader and keynote speaker on employee engagement, social intranets, employee / employer branding, and the social transformation of employee communications, HR processes and functions to simultaneously drive employee productivity and business results. She owns the LinkedIn group Social Business Minds (http://socl.ly/u9SIBx). Connect with her at http://www.thesocialworkplace.com or @socialworkplace (hashtag #socialhr).She also loves shoes.

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Comments

Great timing on this piece. Just recently I met one of the speakers from my blog and she was about a foot taller than I expected her to be. The same night I also ran into a very well known blogger who I'd seen several times online and had a bit of an awkward moment while I was getting her business card, and blurted out, "I know you!" In the next couple of weeks I will continue to meet more of the speakers from my blog, and while I'm not too worried about our connection breaking down as we've talked via skype, segueing from a social media to an in person relationship can certainly bring some surprises!

I personally consider that in many ways a lot of us in the blog-sphere are something like minor celebrities - something like news anchors or regional TV show hosts. That is what personal-brand is about to a certain extent, and some of that must be in crafting and creating an online persona that might not be exactly like your real life personality. Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Stephen Colbert - I'm sure some of their real personality is in the celebrity persona they've crafted for their careers - but people who think Stephen Colbert from TV *is* Stephen Colbert in the grocery store at noon on a Sunday are probably in for a wake-up call. Likewise, people who think my online blogging personality is the person I really am are likely to be disappointed (or relieved). To me, the difficult part is where my personal life, my technology career, and my personal-brand in blogging overlap - areas like Facebook where there is a lot of overlap.  So, is my online persona authentic? Well... it is an *extension* of myself. I apply a different set of rules in my personal life than I do in my online persona. I'm a little more reserved, actually, and far less likely to get involved in political discussions, for example. I'm also introverted in situations that are not in my comfort zone, but outgoing in situations where I feel confident and surrounded by people who I know accept me. My online persona is more tailored, crafted, designed. I want to attract an audience, I want them to come to think of me a certain way, I want them to identify with me and become loyal. I'm not so concerned with doing that socially - in that case, it is "take me as I am". Those kind of decisions are certainly going to affect "authenticity". But my online persona isn't just about informing or presenting opinion - to be successful, there also has to be an element of entertainment. I'm not a journalist, I'm a blogger, I engage in social media as a tool to that end. I suppose the thing I am authentic for is having a passion for engaging in discussion about the things I blog and write about. 

I ABSOLUTELY agree with the author. Never take online social friends too seriously at face value.

I for one behave totally different online and offline. My cyber identity is the exact  opposite of my real self.

Thanks for sharing this post with the Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community, Elizabeth. As a couple of folks in the LinkedIn group - and the previous commenters here - noted, digital "authenticity" has to be created within the context of specific roles and circumstances, just as it is in real life. One of the risks (and justifiable criticisms) of digital chatter is that too many people have insufficient filters, talking straight from their "id" and ignoring their "super ego" (to put it in Freudian terms). Tempered authenticy - being truthful without telling the whole truth - is probably the best approach.

Courtney Hunt - Founder, SMinOrgs Community