To be provocative, or to be safe? Thoughts on managing digital personas

This entry was posted by on Wednesday, 2 May, 2012 at

Last week I posted the following to both Facebook and Google+, both with ‘public’ visibility:

Sitting in a meeting on “Managing your digital personas”. Not sure I agree with the advice given. I manage one identity and one persona: me. More importantly I think overlapping this way keeps me from being one-dimensional, adds interest across topics, and retains authenticity. You know it’s ME when you follow me.

I tend to post with public visibility as doing so fits within how I presently manage my own ‘digital persona’.

Over on Google+ I saw some great conversation surrounding the topic on both sides: keeping your streams separate as well as maintaining a single ‘persona’. I’ve also had some great real-world conversations about the concept, all of which have given me more to think about, but have yet to sway me from my current position. What I HAVE realized from these conversations, however, is that the roles we play in business seem to dictate what we are able to do in terms of maintaining a single persona or requiring multiple digital personas to our social presence.

What this all seems to come down to, however, is risk. With any interaction between two people, there’s risk involved. When that interaction is purely social (say out to dinner with a friend who introduces you to someone new), the risks that surround that interaction’s “success” are far less critical than say the interaction between the same thee people but this time as part of a business meeting. In both cases, however, the risks themselves are essentially the same, it is the outcome which is weighted more heavily. In the first instance the outcome may be that the individual simply doesn’t become a friend, while the second interaction may result in a lost business deal.

From the ‘persona’ perspective, managing multiple facets is the safe bet: you work to ensure only ‘vetted’ information is exposed with the intent of presenting yourself in the best possible light. Conversely, managing a single presence allows glimpses into other realms which runs the risk of showing some less than perfect facets of your life which could lead to negative impact. But you know what? It can also lead to positive impact. (I’ll tip my hand here a bit… if you’re in sales, you already know the value of finding that key connection with your client which will help you gain the advantage over your competitor.)

Let me relay a real world example which just happened to me: I recently connected with one of my business colleagues on Facebook. In quickly stalking their timeline, I noted that they enjoy similar activities outside of work as I do, some which even involve dressing in ‘funny’ clothes akin to my own involvement with the SCA. Gaining that glimpse into other parts of their life caused an immediate stronger connection, which in turn helps to build an even stronger working relationship.

Granted, the risk involved in connecting with this colleague was minimal, and surely didn’t involve potential loss of a sale…. but let’s imagine for a moment it did. Where is that balance of risk to reward? Would it be better to maintain my ‘work’ persona and focus on sales tactics to give me the edge on closing the deal, or do I simply be “me” in my social spaces and allow for that visibility and potential for deeper connections to occur?

I’m sure by now you know my answer to this. But let me show you what one of my connections said about this as well… a connection, I may add, that I now consider a friend because of how we’ve been able to connect beyond our “professional” introduction:

Pete Wright noted on my G+ thread:

I’ve been thinking this, too. Some spend a lot of time separating church and state, so to speak, work from personal. But I’m finding more and more that the organizations I work with and the brands I follow are those spearheaded by people who are not afraid to show the complex tapestry that is their authentic identity. I trust them and their organizations more when I get the feeling that they’re not hiding half their lives, which is what so much of this “digital personas” tripe ends up selling. It’s snake oil. I think of it this way: I have a different, better, perception of +IBM as a result of my interactions with you online and off.

 

Hear that? Pete summed up exactly what was in my head when I initially posted to G+. It is that exposure to our “complex tapestries” and acknowledgement of “authentic identity” which is so critical for all of us using social tooling in our business lives. And yes, it is even important for those of us using social tools in our personal lives too.

I’ll posit here, that we are seeing a slow, gradual, but dramatic culture shift as a result of the information social networks are providing to us. Ten years ago the understanding of professionalism would have kept most of our personal lives out of our business lives. Nowadays, however, that same separation is less important and can backfire more than the exposure can. With this shift in our social culture, it is now that grey area, that crossing of the streams if you will, which provides even greater business value. It is this grey area that now makes you more interesting, more engaging, and therefore more likely to be visible to your clients and ultimately one of the first people they think of when they need your help/services/product/etc.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at your own twitter feed, your own Facebook news feed, your own Google+ streams… and tell me, are the most interesting people in those spaces the ones who only post about one focused topic, or are they the ones posting on a myriad of tidbits giving you the sense of additional depth and breadth of knowledge or passion? I’m guessing these are also the people you’d likely look to when you have questions in their space of expertise…

What IS the real risk versus benefit here? I’d say more and more, every day, the old paradigm is shifting on its head and soon the risk will be NOT sharing as a single persona, not exposing those complex tapestries, those many facets that make us interesting individuals. That managing your single digital persona is going to provide the greater benefits and even likely seal those deals, proving true fiscal value to open and transparent social communication.

 

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Post script: Managing a single persona doesn’t mean it is ok to over-share or that one shouldn’t be judicious about what one shares publicly. In all cases sharing content on-line should be done with respect for your entire audience and with the intent of adding value to any conversation or space in which you share. While some content may not be directly relevant to the entire audience, it can indeed show much larger indirect benefits down the line both in terms of thought leadership and authenticity of voice.

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7 Responses to “To be provocative, or to be safe? Thoughts on managing digital personas”

  1. M.H. Campbell (@GothBunnyy)

    A difference between meeting someone in person and online is that net-stalking aspect. In person I can tell you tings that are germane to the conversation and situation, but online posts, especially out of date, are not connected to context, and are so easily miss-interpreted.

    One of the nice things about G+ is you can control that content, keeping the public posts fairly neutral and adding people into progressively more personal circles as you get to know them.
    (I think you can do that with FB too, but it isn’t as inherent.)

  2. True enough, though even in face to face meetings there are often other non-verbal indicators which can provide some of that net-level information. That said, I (obviously) wholly agree with you on Google Plus’ capabilities with circles, and while Facebook has similar capabilities they aren’t nearly as robust or useful, like you noted.

  3. The very idea that one would have a two digital personas, one personal and one professional, blows my mind. I don’t get it. Why?

    There is just one kellypuffs. She likes to take photographs, as you can see on flickr. Wanna know about her career? LinkedIn. She has a personal blog where she spouts amiable drivel from time to time and can also be found engaged in professional blogging and knowledge-sharing on Notes from Rational Support.

    Like Jason, I believe this is key food for connection, and I have built stronger relationships with colleagues, friends and family through these freely-given insights into each other’s lives beyond the silo in which we normally interact.

    Isn’t this all about breaking down silos?

  4. Breaking down the silos! Yes! I hadn’t thought of it in that light, but it is indeed part of why this paradigm shift is occurring: the silos aren’t working. I had a feeling you’d have some insight here, Kelly, and am glad to see my hunch was correct!

    Even beyond breaking down those silos, the idea that we actually have ‘control’ over how people perceive us is laughable. Privacy concerns notwithstanding, we all only have very little control over how we’re seen by others. The best any of us can really do is simply be authentic, genuine, and own our words and actions. That alone will go far to ensure we all put our best foot forward 🙂

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