The Importance of Authenticity Online

by Kristen Abell

Recently, I’ve been struggling with this idea of being authentic online – not because I think I’m not authentic, but because I know for a fact that there is someone who isn’t. Every time this person tweets or blogs about being professional, I have the strong urge to punch something because I know it’s completely inaccurate. I know that in person, this individual has demonstrated a number of unprofessional behaviors, and the fact that this same individual is touted for their professionalism online just burns a little bit – okay, a lot.

But what can I do? I can’t control this person’s online behavior any more than I can control their offline behavior. Nor is it my job or responsibility to do so. So why does this bug me so much?

The reason it bugs me is that it tends to throw a pallor over everyone I’ve met online but have yet to meet face to face. How do I know they’re being authentic online? If it’s this easy for one person to convince those who follow him/her that they are the real deal, wouldn’t it be just as easy for someone else to do the same thing? And frankly, doesn’t this throw a shadow over my reputation online and off, as well?

But again, I can’t control this person’s online behavior. So here’s what I can do…

  • I can be the most authentic me online that I know how to be. This doesn’t mean sharing every detail about my life, but it does mean that I share my faults as well as my successes. It means I don’t have multiple Twitter or Facebook identities, and I’m both a person and a professional on whatever I do have.
  • I can choose to unfollow and not promote those who I know to be false online personalities – even if they’re popular or the flavor of the day.
  • I can trust people – if I choose to not trust anyone on the basis of this one person, I’m falling prey to their behavior just as much as if I believed and praised their online behavior. Truthfully, I believe that most of us are pretty authentic online, and there are a few people who choose not to be, who choose to use this medium to be someone else. I don’t need to base my trust on those few.
  • I can encourage and educate others on being authentic online in the hopes that the scales will continue to balance towards us instead of those few who aren’t.
  • I can quit letting this person get to me so much – fine, that’s easier said than done, but it’s something I can work on.

No, I can’t control this person’s online behavior, but I can continue to work on authenticity online.

How do you build trust and authenticity online?

The Importance of Authenticity Online

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Authenticity Online

  1. Amma Marfo says:

    Kristen, I have these people in my life as well. I have to concentrate on some of the tips that you listed- most notably being the most authentic version of myself online, not interacting with those who aren’t, and trusting those around me to do the same.

    The trust piece has another element- trust those in contact with this other individual to point out the cracks in the seemingly perfect veneer. It may not change anything, but at least it won’t be fully glossed over.

    Thank you for writing this πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Amma. I found this to be right on:

      The trust piece has another element- trust those in contact with this other individual to point out the cracks in the seemingly perfect veneer. It may not change anything, but at least it won’t be fully glossed over.

      Obviously, the reason I found out about this person was through others, so I need to trust that maybe I’m not the only one seeing through the flimsy veneer. And again, I just need to trust that I’m doing the best I can to be authentic and learn to let it go.

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  2. lmendersby says:

    Thanks for this Kristen, I’m always equally surprised and thrilled to see that other people I respect think about these things, and even more flabbergasted when they think in a similar way. πŸ™‚ In many ways, I have to remind myself that while I may not see someone as authentic in what they choose to share online (or even in person), I’m not privileged to know everything about them, their lives and their history to truly understand why they act the way they do. I’ve been afforded the privilege of seeing ‘behind the scenes’ in many people’s lives, and it gives me a sense of compassion that has begun to replace any annoyance or frustration in an inauthentic display of self. I will, of course, continue to be vexed by what I see as obvious disconnects between who someone is and what they choose to portray, but coming from a place of curiosity and compassion has helped me build and maintain relationships while also focusing attention on what matters – peoples’ stories and their opportunities for growth.

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  3. joeginese says:

    Great question – I’ve been thinking more about this as I try to revamp my website. I’ve actually taken some time off from social media as a result. Really focused on me instead of constantly running against other people’s highlight reel and perceptions. Now I know that has cost me value in the Twitter streams since I’m not nearly as present as I was say a year or two ago.

    In any case, build trust by commenting, sharing, and you know what else? Jumping from text to in-person. It’s all fun and games on Twitter but you learn a lot about a person when you get them in a Google Hangout. Luckily, I’ve only met awesome people via Google Hangout. Which reminds me of another way of building trust and authenticity – post videos or post a video of yourself. πŸ™‚

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  4. Herein lies the challenge of spending too much time in the “echo chamber” of social media. As we all find that balance between “building a brand” and showing our authentic selves, we have to be careful to not put too much stock in allowing a twitter account to serve as our definition of the individual behind the account. Even when the brand is congruent with the individual, it’s just a snippet of who they are. I think about my facebook account, and while I’m fairly open and liberal about who I will connect with on their, no one gets friended without being placed in a specific list, and it’s rare that I will make a post that’s not limited from someone’s view. Everyone still sees me, but they don’t see all of me all at once, just like I’m not going to invite my coworkers to my house and walk around in my bathrobe like I might do at any other hour I’m home. I actually gave some thought on this topic this weekend when the #addawordruinamovie topic was trending. I had a lot of fun with it, and if you only ever viewed my twitter feed on Saturday, that would be your entire picture of who I am. It’s authentic, but taken out of context only provides one specific view. I’m hesitant when someone wants to make a decision on the kind of professional I am based purely on our interactions via a social medium, whether it’s positive or negative. The people who really get to know me are those with whom I’ve shared a beer at a conference or a rambled conversation via gchat. So, I try to do the same in reverse (although I admit not always successfully) and withhold creating a perception of an individual until I’ve had some kind of opportunity to get to know them.

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  5. Great points by Lisa, Chris and Joe – thanks for your comments. There are definitely dangers to making judgments about people based on one aspect of their lives and not all of it – that is just sometimes all we see. I appreciate the insights you’ve added to this post – great thoughts, everyone.

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  6. Tyler Miller says:

    Excellent point all around. One more thought – have you ever confronted this individual you know? If it were me (and I was being hypocritical online vs real life) – I would ACTUALLY want someone to confront me about it (privately, of course). Sometimes people are clueless to their own hypocrisies. Obviously if you are talking about your VP, that won’t work – but I would hope those around me would confront me if I were acting unprofessionally.

    One of the most crucial moments in my early career about 20 years ago was when one of my staff members confronted me about something I was doing that was unprofessional. I heard it loud and clear and it lead to a major change in my life. I don’t think I would have the career I have had if not for the courage of the Resident Advisor confronting me!

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    1. Valid point, Tyler – thanks for sharing your experience with this. It’s not my VP, but it’s also someone I feel I don’t know well enough to confront, although I’m fairly certain about their hypocrisy – it’s hard to explain without going too much into it, but suffice it to say that the hypocritical behavior is well-known enough that you can google it. Rather than acknowledging it, they continue to wax philosophical about professionalism, which I just find hard to stomach. In any case, I appreciate your comments, and I definitely try to have those hard conversations with people when I feel they might be effective. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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