Who Are You Online?

Who are you when you’re online? Are you yourself, or are you someone else?

I had a conversation with my colleague Kerri Birtch last night about how we behave online in relation to how we behave in real life. We agreed that we both do our best to be the same “person” in online forums as we are when we’re offline.

On reflection, though, do we really act like this?

Of course, there are the obvious differences like people who have a ghost blogger. I’m talking about more subtle differences, though.

  • Are you more aggressive online?
  • Do you tell more jokes online?
  • Are you more outgoing online?
  • Do you swear more, or less, than you do online?
  • Do you talk about your personal life online?

It’s easy to say that, yes, you do all of the things online that you do offline at home.

Here’s something else to ponder: away from the computer, do you act the same with clients as you do at home? 

I know I don’t. I’m more polite; I tell less jokes. I have a pretty cutting sense of humour, which I keep under control around clients.

What about you? Do you behave the same with clients as you do outside work? I expect not, but you tell me.

Now, put the two of these questions together. Do you act online as though your clients are watching what you post?

Enough of my clients are on Twitter that, alongside my client searches, I have a group set up for all of my clients on the service. Post scroll through that column fairly rapidly. I bear that in mind when I’m twittering, especially during office hours (although sometimes I slip up). I try to remember that existing and potential clients may see what I post, and try to behave accordingly.

There’s a line to tread here, and it’s tough. I want to be myself online, but I know that I occasionally need to self-censor.

Do you?

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  • Hey Dave

    You know I got to say I’m the same I think. I’m smart, funny, weird, opinionated and I say what I really think. Not everyone agrees with me and that’s ok. I think it’s hard for most people to be themselves but I think more people will respect you for it.

    I do want clients/potential clients to see my Twiiter (I do send it to them). However, I don’t feel the need to censor myself. They should be hiring because I’m myself and I take a stand on an issue. If they don’t want to hire me because of what I say on Twitter/online then I feel maybe me and that client won’t work well together. I’m not always right but when I think I’m I stand my ground. The only time I’m different when I’m with a client is when I want to tell them they are crazy for asking that. However, I find a nice way to say it and not use the word crazy as I would want them to show me the same respect.

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  • In general I think I’m the same person online and in-the-flesh, but I am careful with networks that are open and searchable (Twitter, e.g.) to not say anything that might hinder me in the future. I don’t have clients or customers on Twitter but that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually join in and be able to search back through all my Tweets.

    I keep my FB profile private and unsearchable – and thus I am a little less worried about what gets shared there, since it’s only among people I invite to view it as friends.

  • Re: Facebook – I follow a similar approach… however, do remember that if your work and social worlds collide, as mine do daily, then your friends may tag or comment on your content. That then broadcasts it on their news feeds.

  • I think this is an issue where people believe they act the same way when in fact they tailor their behaviour for the medium or the person they are talking to.

    I pride myself on staying true to my beliefs, but I will change what I say and how I say it depending on the group I’m in.

    I’m a rugby player, and live with my girlfriend, it would be foolish to suggest that I act the exact same way in these two environments. (Which, I’m sure my girlfriend appreciates)

    If we act differently depending on the environment we are in, we will inevitably act differently online.

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  • I agree. I find that many students do this. They interview as the clean-cut and smart you professional, but post content they would never hope to share in the interview or on the job. I hope they are naive enough to think that someone is not going to find it. Thanks for the post. I am going to send this along.

  • Jessica Felten

    As a recent college graduate who is actively using networking sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with individuals in the public relations field, I feel it’s imperative to show a level of professionalism. Of course, now and again I tweet about something personal, but overall I try to keep it industry related as I’m trying to learn as much as I can from all of the PR professionals that I’m fortunate to have access to. So, in the end, I am a more outgoing person with a quirky sense of humor and I save that side of me for FB. But, is not being who you really are in person, online, mean you are not being transparent?

  • Jessica – I think it’s more a case of filtering than being inauthentic.

    For example, if I’m really frustrated I might be screaming at my office wall, but online I might vent in a less aggressive way (or not at all).

    Separating professional and personal is a different issue, and everyone has a different take. Personally, I like to get to know the people I follow online, but not everyone wants that.

  • Dave,
    I agree you always have to be careful what you say when its potentially going to be read by hundreds of people. However I feel a client should respect the fact that a personal Twitter or Facebook account is different from when your meeting with them or representing their brand. Your social media networks are for friends and contacts to get to know you and experience who you are. Andrew’s comparison with Ruby vs. GF is a great example of two coexisting environments that call for different actions, This dose not mean you have split personalities. Also on a personal note if I’m a client I want a professional but not at the expense of having a stick in the mud who tries to sensor their life from social media.
    Great Article.
    -MA
    @mandrews33

  • Interesting perspective, Marcus. On one level I agree with you, but on another I’m aware how hard it is to forget something you’ve read – it’s very hard to dismiss just because it’s a different context. Good point, though – thought-provoking.

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  • Regardless of the medium, I always assume my professional contacts may come across what I say and how I behave online. Rule of thumb: No Privacy on the Internet

  • Really great article, something that I have thought about many times. Being a college student, I would say that I definitely act more professional online than I do in my everyday life. Also, the fact that a lot of my peers are not on some social networks, such as Twitter, I need to interact with older people, which requires a more professional attitude.

  • I’d have to say that I’m always myself on Twitter and Facebook (when I use it). If I’m speaking on behalf of a client during a campaign, obviously I’ll have a certain approach and voice.

    But if it’s me and me alone, I’ll just be me. I don’t preach race hate or sexual discrimination and I try not to beat down anyone’s point of view, so hopefully I don’t cross the line on any ethical or moral grounds.

    But as far as normal points of view and conversational voice goes? Yep, take me as you find me. 🙂

  • The beauty of social media is it makes it easier to approach people. I think this is where I’m a little more confident online than in real life. That being said, I’m still myself and I try to let my personality out in my posts (twitter, blog, etc.).
    I get turned off by people (on twitter especially) who are too happy-go-lucky all the time. These people try too hard to impress others and in many cases it’s all too obvious. Everyone gets upset and there’s nothing wrong with showing that online.

  • Great article. Personally I am very different online than offline. It’s not that I’m a bad person or anything offline, I’m just less colorful when I’m online. I’m still a college kid so I use slang, joke a lot more, and sometimes use excessive profanity.

    I sort of treat online like a job interview. You wouldn’t drop an F bomb in an interview, but you still stay genuine. My ethics and morals don’t change, just how I talk with my friends vs online how I talk online.

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