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April 13, 2011Are you projecting your true personality online?

What kind of person do you portray yourself as online? Are you businesslike or fun? Loud and noisy, or quiet and thoughtful? Does your personality change when you’re talking to friends on Facebook or Twitter? And are your online friends completely surprised by what you’re like when they meet you in real life?

It was an article about the ‘golden years’ of Livejournal that got me thinking. If you don’t remember Livejournal, it was more or less the first social blogging platform. Before Facebook, before Twitter, before Tumblr, before Blogspot and WordPress, it was a place where people met people from all across the world and shared stories — people they’d never met before.

It was an incredibly open place, and many of us in our late twenties and early thirties remember it fondly. I started my first livejournal in 1999 and it was there that I learned how to blog. But it was more than just that, though. It was a place where I met new people, many of whom I’m still friends with today.

In short, Livejournal was more than just an “online community”. It was supportive, open and honest. I felt more connected to some of my online friends than my “real” ones. In time, I met many of the people I’d met online. Sometimes we even travelled thousands of miles to meet up.

The truth is, I can’t imagine any of that happening now. I shared crazy things, like the first time I fell in love, wild nights out (believe it or not, my mis-spent adolescence was peppered with squat parties and raves, many of which I still remember with great fondness), as well as my hopes and dreams and fears. I can’t imagine sharing in that way with “strangers” on Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter, or on a WordPress blog like this.

 

The value of social media is low compared to "real-life" communication.

Livejournal had a knack of turning “strangers” into real friends, online and in real life. Other “social” mediums don’t seem to have the same effect. And I think I know why.

In the early days, Livejournal encouraged brutal honesty. It was before we’d learned to be guarded on the net — before we routinely googled new friends and potential partners, before employers started trawling Facebook for evidence of misdemeanours, in effect, before we realised we had to hide ourselves when we went online.

If anything, because we didn’t have to worry about what our “real” friends thought, we felt more able to be open and honest. And in time, that honesty was rewarded — we learned to trust each other online, and people became “real” friends.

Now, we spend less time being ourselves online, and more time behind our keyboards, trying to project a certain impression.

A colleague recently brought me to heel for swearing on my twitter feed, which is republished via my linkedin, which is apparently “unprofessional”. But, I replied, I swear all the time in real life. I’ve never sworn at a client, but to my friends and colleagues, I’m a real-life Malcolm Tucker. Do I stop swearing on Twitter? Do I become “less” like my real self?

To thine own self be true?

Yesterday, Mother London, an agency I have an immense amount of respect for, put the “Royal Corgis” in their agency “tweet seat” and proceeded to unleash a profanity-strewn tirade about the Royal Family for most of yesterday afternoon. And I thought: brilliant. In a sea of equal parts self-promotion and self-absorption, these guys are laughing their arses off and thumbing their noses at the establishment. The agency’s character came across online.

And that’s what most of us are failing to do. We’re so busy pretending to be a type of person online, we forget to project ourselves. And we come off as shallow and one dimensional. And that’s why we don’t genuinely connect with people via social media the way we connected in the good old days of Livejournal.

The answer? To take a “warts and all” approach to social media. Sure, it may not be professional to swear from time to time, or to share snaps of crazy nights out where clients can see them, or to mouth off if we’re having a bad day. But the fact is, it’s better to look like a real human being than a single minded sales robot.

After all, who’d want to employ someone who’s just a one dimensional character with no real life?

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 at 5:03 pm and is filed under Blog, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 comments

  1. Great post, Al, as ever, and a combination of topics quite close to me as well. My latest post is based on an old LiveJournal entry from 2005, which I was definitely not going to hyperlink. LiveJournal was how I got to know people I met, and it encouraged me to be raw and open in a way I cannot fathom any more.

    I think you’re absolutely right with your reasoning. LiveJournal was a diurnal rather than an ephemeral personality stamp. I’ve had texts telling me that my Facebook statuses display low confidence and are a turn-off. That’s an incredible indictment as to the facade you have to maintain to tread water if you care about your image. If LiveJournal has slipped into a bronze age, it may well be because we learned to be guarded. It may also be because that age of late teens and early twenty-somethings eventually grew up and felt the hedonism of our creativity slip us by.

    If I wonder why I fashion myself as ‘Writing Privacy’, I think it’s because too much of one thing often drives us into the hands of its opposite. The scars of past openness force a change. Honesty on Facebook is no good if it really is so unappealing that people feel the need to tell me, but a personal edge drives the blog writing, and if it is written well, it needn’t be so revealing. I’ve found my locus that way.

    Catch-up soon?

  2. al says:

    Absolutely! Give me a shout when you’re back in London.

    You’re correct, of course. If you said you were having a hard time of it, on Facebook and perhaps even on Twitter, you’d be told to pull your socks up, stop being so negative. Why? Because these days social media is all about me, me, me, it’s all about being as successful as possible (or at least appearing so), it’s all about posting non-stop smiling photos of your brilliant nights out. But life’s only like that about 10% of the time. IMHO True friends are there through good times and bad, which is why (present company and a few select others excepted) I’d say I have very few friends. Far fewer than a facebook or a twitter head count would suggest. Very few I’d ever rely on to pick me up if I was down. Social media? Selfish media. (Wish I’d titled the blog post that now!)

    Livejournal was great because you shared everything — the highs and the lows. I miss it. I count every single person from those days as a “real” friend.

  3. […] with the fantastic Al Allday for the first time in over a decade. Al, whose blog is a must-read, recently considered LiveJournal and what has caused its downfall, which has prompted me – a migrated LJ user – to consider the same. Al stresses the […]

  4. I’ve written a reaction to this tonight, my friend. It was a challenge at the end of a long week, and I’m pleased with the outcome. Without doubt, it is dedicated to you.

    I didn’t include this detail so as not to embarrass you on my page, but it’s a nice thought. When we last worked together on any project, it was GCSE English. We paired together twice: once for a poetry discussion (featuring John Clare), and once for the debate on the Euro. We both scored maximum marks for both efforts. As my personal tutor as well as English aficionado, SJB told me that working with you added development and sophistication to my ragged potential (or words to that effect).

    Would I be flattering myself to suggest it is still an apt description? If the results remain so positive for any collaboration of ours, it has to be a good sign. I have always felt humbled to be a friend of yours, and complimented that you took any interest in me at all.

    Though you consider yourself to have few friends, you are a good man, squire. They, too, are a decidedly rare species. :)

  5. […] cryptics happens. It’s a risk these days to admit lowness in public. As Al Allday inferred, ‘selfish media’ has put pay to that. How, then, do we trephinate, so to speak? How do we let off steam to make ourselves better? […]

  6. […] I hang out there all the time, and have even made a few friends there (although not as many as my livejournal days) I don’t use it for […]

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