One amazing thing about the Internet is that no one knows you are a dog.
More than that, you can fool the Internet into thinking you are two dogs -- or three dogs, or just a hyperactive cat with a twitter account.
In the last community tip I talked about having the right attitude, being able to listen to customers without throttling them, having the zen mastery to collaborate so that not only do they get better service, you create a better business. This time I'm talking about "looking" the part when the costume consists of 140 characters probably sent from a cell phone.
The first thing to consider is who are you, and where are you?
If like me you got an English degree and not a Computer Science degree, it is rather tempting to spend all day writing pithy things that will amuse your equally literary friends. But if you are using your twitter account as a powerful weapon in the fight against ignorance and inaccessibility, those 140 characters serve as the channel by which people know your business and know about your business. And let's face it- what you say better be good...most businesses pick up the phone or at most, send an email - if your tweets are useful to your customers they compete with in those mediums.
Easiest might be to separate your social networks - have a personal facebook account and a work Linked In account and never have those two girls actually met. Even though they are both you.
But what if you work with your friends? Or, what if someone asks to be your "friend" on facebook from work and well, you can't stand them but you work with them and therefore they aren't really your friend but they are your "work friend" so you can't say no? (chill out XNA peeps I am not talking about you guys!) What happens when your real presence is at odds with the niceness of your Facebook account who has tons and tons of happy friends with birdies chirping...while your real life reads like Melrose Place or possibly Sesame Street?
These are not easy questions, and identity online will continue to be a conundrum. But as usual with my community tips, it's all about benefiting the audience on the one hand and ensuring your personal integrity in the mix. Here are some presence approaches to consider....
One Face, no others
Just as someone could potentially see you walking into that Barry Manilow concert and draw conclusions, someone from one social sphere may find your alternate Internet presence that you didn't want them to find. So, if you don't want the crossover, don't create the alternate Internet Barry Manilow fan site with your name on it.
Wheel of Fate
Alternatively, you could decide you won't worry if someone photographs you at the Barry Manilow concert* - a fellow fan club member - in their photos on Flickr, but you just don't go linking to it from your blog. The Wall Street Journal, if it must, can dig up you and Barry backstage hanging out, and you don't really care that much about whether your business clients see you in this light - you just aren't going to highlight it from your professional blog. Plus, you are on your personal time when Barry watching happens. Plus his songs are making a comeback. Aren't they?*
*I don't listen to Barry so it wasn't me 🙂
Laissez-faire or Social Olympic athlete
Your work self and your personal self are fairly congruous and in fact your work blends quite a bit into your life ( you work for a political campaign, your dogsitting business really IS your identity as a "dog person", you code at home AND at work). In this case, crossover only helps you - the folks that want to hire you as technical consultant see you literally are breathing, eating and sleeping on technology.
(I'll admit at this point - my social media presence points (blogs included) are one big honking experiment to me, so I am not living any of this advice. Here I am pointing out approaches that I see working for other people. )
Internet guru Chris Pirillo, whose webcam is always on (even when his chair is empty) is a dude whose twitter life and video life and facebook life just meld together. He is sending out freebies, video links, and pithy observations in waves of a bazillion. He's a great example of the Social Olympic Athlete - his stuff is continually to benefit his audience and for his audience, and he really doesn't break out into extraneous cat observations or Diet Coke snorting moments as I have been known to do.
With Chris you know it's always Pirillo, but there's context switches and variation of message and topic. Pirillo has a cartoon face and a real face and mixes it up quite a bit.
Microsoft Sr. VP Steve Sinofsky, from his techtalk blog to the new one he's started with Jon DeVaan about Windows 7 - he also has a unified presence but it's not the 24/7 presence of Pirillo. He is a superb writer and he's been about one theme - Windows - of late. I'd put him in the One Face category.
Wheel of fate presence examples are too numerous. This method is problematic to draw clear lessons from. There is Heather Armstrong, who lost her job for blogging about it and the Internet coined the term "dooced" in honor of her Web site. However, in reading dooce.com now, it sounds like her Web site is so darn popular both she and her husband stay at home with the kids, complete with saucy language. Mark Jen, who was let go from google in a dooced-like way, went off to Plaxo and then Tagged so he didn't become a pariah.The latest thing I could find online of his after a quick skim was his wedding photos where everyone looked like a model.
Perhaps the best advice on wheel of fate comes from Penelope Trunk's Boston Globe article about how blogs can help your professional presence - Blogs Essential to a Good Career. But she's also an example of the mixed-extremes this ride can become. Her blog which covered her career and the breakup of her marriage, has spawned her new venture: a social media site by and for Generation Y (defined by the site as the generation born between 1981 and 2000). Although she notes in a recent post that the investor she was pitching tried to get her to talk more about her blog than her company, while she tried to recover from losing her romantic relationship.
I think what works here is that Trunk has a consistent writing voice and her obsessions (Gen Y, the new world of social media, the new career model) have anchored her columns in print media, Yahoo, blogs and whatever social media she tackles. Whether you love or hate that style or that theme song, she has one, and it's something by which her future employers, investors, and yes even romantic partners will be able to react to and evaluate her on.
Whether you go for One Face, Wheel of Fate, or Social Olympic Athlete, this may be the best lesson to take with you -whether or not its presenting the best foot forward, make sure it is always YOUR foot.
Live it vivid!