20121231-072406.jpgAs a teacher of all things digital media and marketing, I often talk with people who are just starting out in the online world. Maybe they are getting into things like blogging, Twitter and Facebook because of their job, or maybe they are doing it for personal reasons. Either way, one question comes up more often than most – do I need to share my personal life online in order to be successful?

Social media has definitely blurred the line between personal and professional. The so-called “experts” will tell you that the people and companies who do social media the best are the ones who appear most “human”, and that to be human, you need to get personal. But does that mean you need to share all the intimate details of your life, photos of your kids, and every emotion you’re having?

Not exactly.

Sure, interacting online is inherently social. Think about it – originally, Twitter was simply about answering one question – “what are you doing?”. There weren’t a bunch of corporations vying for attention on Twitter back then. It was just a bunch of geeks, hanging out on this cool new tool, talking to each other. Facebook definitely wasn’t about business and brands at first. It was about college kids talking to their friends, then later on it was opened to everyone, so they could talk to their friends. Business pages only came along later, after brands realized the usefulness of celebrity “fan” pages where there was no limit on who could connect to them. Even blogging was a personal activity at first – weblogging or online diaries were really about people sharing their lives online.

All of the applications for business in social media happened much later on. We added this new layer once we realized the potential usefulness for marketing products and services. So it’s no wonder that we are confused. If these tools are inherently personal, then how do we strike a balance between getting personal and being all business?

Here’s an idea.

Stop thinking about getting personal on social media. Nobody is forcing you to post pictures of your kids, talk about your crazy mother in law or even post photos of what you ate for lunch. But at the same time, people will be less interested in you if all you do is use the channels to promote your business. You need to strike a balance, but it isn’t personal/business – it’s personality/business.

Those individuals and brands who are most successful in the online world are the ones who are able to allow their personalities to shine through. When I think of personalities, I think about people like C.C. Chapman, Becky McCray, and Diane Brogan. While they may spend some time promoting their books, their business or their blogs, what really shines though is their personality. You get to know who they really are through their writing, their Twitter feeds or their interactions on Facebook.

I’m fortunate to have had the chance to meet and spend time with both C.C. and Diane in person. We all knew each other as friends online prior to meeting. But when we did meet, it was like we had been friends for years. Why? Because we had built a relationship online through our conversations. I knew what was going on with them because I read about them, and vice versa. I really liked them already, because they let their personalities shine above all else.

As for Becky, well, we’ve yet to meet in person. In fact, we’ve never actually talked to each other – our entire relationship has been entirely text-based. But do I consider her a friend? You bet I do. I know Becky not only through my interactions with her, but also through her writing. But one of the other really important ways I know her is through her interactions with other people. It’s astounding how much you can get to know someone by the way they act and react to others.

For anyone who is skeptical about whether you can really build solid relationships online, I’m here to tell you that absolutely you can. Is the social media world personal? Sure, because it’s about people. But the secret isn’t in giving away all the details of your personal life.

The secret to success in the online world is all in letting your personality shine.

Do you have any examples of people who a real personalities online? Share them in the comments!

12 Responses

  1. WOW! You’ve got my mind spinning about this one. First, in answer to your question about an example of personality, I say: Erika Napoletano.

    Everything from her f-bombs, the “Bitch Slap” section on her site, and the way she describes things. One of my favorite posts of hers is “I’m Not Going To Ride Your Elephant.”

    Next It can be hard to express personality. When we set out to write something, we’re practiced at writing and delivering the information. “Wanna know how to do a mail merge? Here are the dry instructions.”

    So, we have to make a conscious, deliberate effort to get personality to show through. This is where personal and personality can get confused. I can tell a personal story, but how does personality show through in mail merge instructions?

    I do agree with you that personality is important–even in technical blogging. Dry, clear instructions are helpful. A personality may get me to poke around the site after my question has been answered. A site with no personality comes cross as “gimme yo money!”

    How can personality come through?
    – Give me an occasional f-bomb in the appropriate context.
    – Compelling images. The image an author chooses says something about them.
    – Statements that let me know the author doesn’t take themselves too seriously or has all the answers.
    – Fun or unexpected examples.

    Suze, see what you inspired? LOL! It’s not even 7am.

    1. I like you Oz! You’re a smarty pants! Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to reading the results of all this spinning on your blog! 🙂

  2. I finally met Diane, and we are buds in real life now too … She is exactly who she says she is. Becky is a dear friend, I get to see her two or three times a year but we talk online often, and we are in the same brain trust with Paul Merrill, Jon Swanson and Glenda Watson Hyatt. CC I’ve never met, but I do like the boy and hope to meet him one day soon.

    I don’t think you need to bare your personal soul online. I think you do need to be real though, and talk about life and things. It can’t always be business, your clients do want to know you.

    You? I can’t wait to meet you IRL! And yes, you are a friend.

    1. You’re on my list too – people who really do let their personality shine through online! I can’t wait to meet you either!

  3. Thank you so much for those very kind words! We must do something about this “never met” business.

    I actually stopped by because this is a topic that never is closed, with some “right” answer. It’s a continuum, and we have to constantly adjust. I’ve adjusted many times over the past 7 years, and I’m still changing.

    One last point: don’t confuse your own personality with adopting a manufactured personality. Too many people decide to work on how well they can sling F bombs, without building up their useful content. Let your personality shine through, but don’t focus on the personality at the expense of your quality.

    1. Wise words, Becky, and I agree with the balance between focus on useful content and personality. Some people feel the need to manufacture an online personality. But being oneself is the best possible thing to be.

      Maybe 2013 will be the year we finally meet….fingers crossed!

    2. Becky, you raise an interesting idea, and I agree that genuine personality should shine through. I haven’t seen a lot of people focused on slinging the f-bomb but I do sense that more people are holding back and coming across really dry. Professional and dry. Some blogs are really polite and saccharine sweet. No genuine personality there, either.

      At the other extreme, I’ve seen the blogs where there’s just mindless, gratuitous ranting. Not just f-bombs but a general bitterness about everything and everybody. That’s stuff that needs to be worked out in a therapist’s office.

      I guess this is the risk we run when we talk about revealing personality.

      1. Come across as informative and dry or,
      2. Show a little bit of ourselves and be responsible for the fact that some people won’t like that we’re vegan, hate cats, use the f-bomb occasionally, or refuse to even try sushi.

      I thought long and hard before admitting online that I love a good cigar.

      Very interesting … how to we determine what to reveal and what to hold back?

      1. Wait, you don’t like cats? I may have to rethink this new friendship…. 😉

        This is what I am talking about. There’s no harm in letting your personality come through. I often tell people if they don’t know what to say online, just post a photo of what you had for lunch. I’ve made more friends and business contacts online by talking about food than any other way!

        1. LOL! After living with 2 cats and their hairballs …

          Yes. I like knowing about the writers, who they are as people, and what they like and don’t like.

  4. I really like what you were saying about being a personality on line. I agree that you do not have to share your entire private life to the world, but it is good to be personal. I think that Kirstie Alley does a great job of finding the middle ground you were describing on her Twitter. She recently released a new book and owns an Organic Liaison store, which she talks about often, but those aren’t the sole focus of her tweets. She is open and interacts with her followers, which makes me feel like I know her, even though we’ve never met.

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