How Many of us Misrepresent Ourselves on Social Media?
Personal branding has a lot to answer for
Some ten years ago, I used to have a Facebook account.
Faced with a former colleague’s disbelief about my absence from the platform, I reluctantly joined. It was one of those unspoken work requirements for anyone in the multimedia department.
Soon, something strange started happening as people I had never met got in touch and requested to be added to my friends’ list, some of whom were work contacts.
The ethos of journalism as service is very strong in public media so I felt duty-bound to accept their requests.
Because I lived on a small island where people all knew one another, Facebook became a goldfish bowl. That effect was magnified for anyone remotely in the public eye. It made for an uncomfortable environment as everybody spectated everybody else’s life. Privacy controls were useless; random strangers felt entitled to my attention.
Unfortunately, I frequently had issues enforcing boundaries, perhaps because I was very conscious of being a stranger in a strange land even though I was deeply integrated in local society. But for the feeds of a handful of people who focused exclusively on culture, local folklore, and history, I also found the platform uninteresting.
The interactions Facebook seemed to promote were phony, fake, and often duplicitous. Married men came on to me on the regular even though I knew their wives, some of whom were actual friends. And most of the rest was noise publicly praising those one despised vocally in real life, a practice which nauseated me.
I’m blunt and tend to get to the point in as few words as possible. What you see and read is what you get because my digital self is no different from my meatspace one. The former is a continuation of the latter and I make no distinction between the two.
And I refuse to squander my time and attention on gossip, false praise, or petty online arguments with people I’ve never met or barely know. I prefer to do something useful instead, like working, or being with my family, or reading, or enjoying nature.
Or watching my cats sleep.
And yet, I live on the internet, it has saved my life, and I’m very much a people person. I love nothing more than interacting with other humans as long as this interaction is mutually enriching.
This generally happens through ongoing and engaged conversations, be they in print, on the phone, or in person.
That’s why I use twitter and my email address is public.
My privacy is not for sale.
Coming from someone who makes a living writing a lot of personal essays, this may sound paradoxical. But while I routinely cannibalize my own narrative to humanize societal issues, I draw a very clear line between public and private.
Whether writing about suicidal ideation, involuntary celibacy, or the harsh reality of freelancing, I only share what’s relevant to the piece. Details drawn from my private life provide necessary context, nothing more. For example, relatives and friends are never named beyond a first name or just an initial, ditto former employers or clients.
While I’m completely open about my professional history, I only provide detailed information and my former byline on a need-to-know basis. There’s a reason for that: When I started rebuilding a life word by word in public, I wanted my work to stand on its own merit. What’s more, I had no idea whether it ever would again after a five-year hiatus brought on by major depressive disorder.
I therefore thought it best — and more honest — to proceed as if I were starting from scratch.
As editors will often tell their journalists, you’re only as good as the last piece you wrote. Writing is all about showing what you can do rather than telling people. Calling yourself a writer doesn’t lend you instant credibility nor is the job title a shortcut to editorial mastery.
And it doesn’t matter how many times you write about being a writer, if you have no story, no structure, and no skills, you’re still only typing on the internet.
Self-aggrandizing social media profiles with dubious credentials and aggressive marketing won’t help you if your copy lets you down.
Is a LinkedIn presence necessary for freelancers?
And it is a pre-requisite for anyone looking for a staff job these days? Platform evangelists seem to think so, and I’ve often wondered whether it might be a good place for combinatorial thinking and creativity. I am intrigued by it and likely will sign up soon.
Then again, I have string reservations as it looks like a human marketplace from a distance, a platform where everyone turns themselves into a product, a brand, or both and this aspect makes me feel extremely uncomfortable.
So uncomfortable that it even occurred to me that the only way I might be able to do join it is pretend I’m a client of mine and use a different name while writing up a new résumé and profile then change it back to my own before going live. Approaching the whole exercise as a copywriting job whereby I present myself under the best possible light may be the most effective way to show off my skills.
But there’s a problem: it makes me cringe so much I would rather come up with some offbeat, unexpected strategy instead, something I could get behind without feeling I’m selling out, something designed to resonate with the right audience rather than with everybody.
The right professional fit happens when skills and vision complement each other and you can co-create something greater than the sum of its parts to serve a greater, common goal than simply getting a regular paycheck.
The right professional fit happens in a mutually empowering environment where you can grow ideas, experiment, learn, improve, and thrive.
In short, the right professional fit happens when working together means everyone involved not only gets to achieve their potential but also gets to nurture it with every single thing they do.
This may be the downside of being a long-term freelancer: It makes you unwilling to settle for anything that doesn’t challenge you. You need work you can throw your heart and mind into as you know no other way to earn a living.
Whether this mindset is an asset or a hindrance, I don’t know yet.
Is social media designed to encourage the best of human nature?
What of the many folks jostling for eyeballs and bragging about what a big deal they are while seething with jealousy at what others seem to be doing?
Why wade through this endless slew of enhanced job titles and personal branding every day if you don’t have to?
The hegemony of tech behemoths doesn’t mean alternatives don’t exist, only that we’ve become too lazy or too wrapped up in groupthink to use them.
For example, if you want to build a tight-knit, responsive group of like-minded humans, you can create an email distribution list aka a listserv. It’s old school but it works and the growing popularity of newsletters is a variation on this theme. But the newsletter format has one caveat: Members can’t communicate with one another, only with the author.
Our time on Earth is finite and yet we squander it on wondering what our peers are up while we live alongside one another but not together anymore.
We’re losing the ability to communicate in a meaningful way; whether face to face or in print, we talk at people rather than to people. We favor style over substance, noise over signal, self-serving prose over service writing.
And then we don’t understand why we’re unable to connect, converse, and create deep and meaningful relationships with fellow humans even though the answer is staring us in the face:
What if we’re forgetting how to be human, what if we’re forgetting how to be real?
Collaboration is so much more rewarding than competition…
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.