Are We Creating a Better Version of Ourselves Online?


Last week I got several messages from Twitter and Facebook friends about getting together during the Catalyst conference. Unfortunately my schedule was packed with meetings in-between sessions and dinner appointments, and I wasn’t able to  meet many of my digital friends face to face. Since then my insecurities have taken hold of me and whispered, “maybe it was for the best. You’re a lot better looking and more interesting online than in real life.”

Are we creating a better version of ourselves online

That thought has stayed with me for days now and I can’t seem to shake it. I overheard a co-worker say that she is often disappointed when meeting celebrities in real life situations because they never live up to her expectations. Ok, I’m not a celebrity–I have no paparazzi following me, or even a friendly stalker–but the comment forced me to ask the question, “have I created a better version of myself online?” I’m not sure I can objectively answer that question.

I want to believe that my online persona is who I am, but somewhat self-edited and on my best behavior, and not a carefully constructed caricature  of the person I wish I were. We all have heard of truth in advertising, but what about truth in social media persona?

How should we manage putting our best “digital” foot forward without fabricating a bogus online identity?

  • Robert Jones

    That's a great question. I have the same struggle trying to find a balance between best behavior and fictional character. The only thing I know to do is let my conscience be my guide.

  • "How should we manage putting our best “digital” foot forward without fabricating a bogus online identity? " — one tweet at a time.

  • Social media is an interesting medium and one reason is the question you've posed here. In the early days on the Net it was almost expected that who you were talking to someone's fake persona meant to heighten the speaker's self-perception. "You can be anybody you want" was almost a tagline for the early days of AOL chat groups.

    Recently we've gotten away from that and the focus has shifted to transparency and authenticity, but we all have a tendency to put out best foot forward. It's even easier when we have the ability to edit our content before distribution. I would never use a profile pic that makes me look fat, just like a fast food place would never use a picture that made their food look greasy and droopy. We may be in the time of transparency, but we still live under the regime of editable content and our nature will always try to present our best front. I think the main task is to find a way to present yourself honestly while still feeling good about what you've distributed. People have quite a perceptive BS meter, so before I post or send out anything, I look at it and ask, "Would I buy into this?"

    But that's just me and I edited this comment about twice before I posted it, so who knows.

    • I'm thankful for editing because I have a tendency to over share. And I think there's no excuse these days for posting a bad picture of ourselves. But there's a difference between editing a comment and making up stuff to impress our online friends, and I big difference between a bad shot and a over-photoshopped version that doesn't resemble the real person.

      • Oh, I agree 110%. Dishonesty is dishonesty whatever medium it's through in my opinion.

  • I appreciate YOU.

  • Here is an intriguing irony: as someone who has been deeply involved in the life of teenagers, I got my facebook account…in the beginning…to communicate with them. It seems that they often find it more comfortable to be vulnerable on-line than in person. Almost as if the computer screen has replaced the confessional screen…providing just enough insulation to open up secret places.

    I confess to having used this myself. I have told stories on my blog that I have not been able to tell my parents. I know they read my blog, so I know they will see them. But I do not have to see their eyes. Does that make me a coward?

    Certainly, the web provides insulation. I suppose we can use that how we like….to make ourselves look cleaner, more together…or to finally say the things that need to be said.

    • I understand that completely. It's the same dynamics of a speaker or author who can share his heart openly in front of thousands but who's not able to look you in the eyes on a one-on-one conversation.

      • jude

        I agree on this one!

        I want to believe that when I speak positive of myself online, it's a way of believing I am THAT persona..of course, in all sincerity and with the purest intentions.

  • Living life out loud compels people to talk about all the good they do. Personally, I'm rather fond of doing great work by serving people privately and letting them talk about it, if they desire. I'm not offended by self-promotion and realize the necessity of marketing. I've spent my lifetime in sales and marketing, however, the noise floor is so high today that it's hard to discern quality from mere popularity. For me, the word sustainable doesn't mean environmentally responsible. It means succeeding over the long haul. The best way I know to do that is to be remarkable one person at a time without regard to who finds out.

    • I really like your definition of sustainable. In my experience flash without substance doesn't last long.

  • I think you online personna doesn't do you justice!

    p.s. I've been stalking you for several years now. You know those missing Bananna Republic sweaters that suddenly went missing…Let's just say I'm staying stylishly warmer these days.

    (ok, that even creeped me out a little bit…stinking transparency!)

  • Thank you so much for this post. I came here via Mike Hyatt's tweet. I see this a lot when I teach at conferences. Sometimes I can't recognize someone from his/her picture online. But at the same time, as I age, I understand the desire to appear younger, cooler, hipper online. So I post recent pics and I remind myself that it's the beauty inside that really matters.

  • The answer, I think is Yes. Nearly everyone puts the most positive aspects of their personality, skill set, and abilities online. Especially if their online persona is tied to their professional lives. Even when discussing personal failures, they will be couched with "What I learned from my failure that makes me a better person."

    I think this is normal and perfectly acceptable, as long as we are truly being honest about our strengths and being transparent. Most people are smart enough to tell if we're being truthful.

    I think it's safe to say that if you're asking this question, you're on the right track.

  • It is too easy while online posting a clever status update to sit and think….. backspace….. delete…. retype…. rethink…. Then everyone reads and says to themselves how smart and insightfull you are. While in real life, for myself, I blurt out something and look like a total dork.

  • Thanks so much for chatting back. Yeah, just be you, oldness and all. 🙂 I have a daughter ready to graduate high school. It just wouldn't behoove me to use a high school shot! LOL.

  • Maurilio –

    Great post and a great question to consider! I believe this question applies not only to our online presence but also the persona we portray to others face to face.

    Thanks for posting this!

  • I'm a what you see is what you get kind of girl. I DO general post my most tolerable pics as profile pics… but I also post random- real me pics etc all the time.

    However- my target audience is "real moms" and one of my main messages is: being real, is better than being perfect.

    I think it depends on your purpose for utilizing social media.

    That said- I have met people that I could barely recognize from their online personna. I find that annoying and uncomfortable/awkward.

  • Did you see yesterday's post picture. Now, that's even creepier. Friends and family will keep humble for sure.

  • Steve Shantz

    I happen to know both the online Maurilio pesonality and the real life person. I find the real life person vastly more interesting than the Digial version. Remain authentic in both realms Maurilio.

    • Thank you, Steve. I'm giving an extra 1,000 A Group points for this comment.

  • Well….let's see. For me…I try to keep a balance of "all of me" on social media. I won't be all whined, or all encouraged, or all funny. I think if we want to be real in this age of digital media then we should be confident enough and comfortable enough to put a lot of who we are out there. Otherwise….when we do meet face to face….younare going to be highly disappointed. And that just stinks. We have had those moments with people and you go….they are nothing like I thought they would be.

    Just keep it balanced and real. And secure in it.

  • "If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?" – Abraham Lincoln

  • PaulSteinbrueck

    Maurilio, I have a number of conversations about this over the years, and I really don't think there's all that much difference between the "creating a better version of ourselves" that we do online and offline.

    What I mean by that is when we interact with people offline, first we shower, groom, pick out the clothes that project the image we want to project, do our hair (well, those of you with hair do). When we talk with people, we don't say everything that comes to mind, but instead we try to be engaging, funny, smart. Even though most of us say we value authenticity and transparency, we're not out there bearing our deepest darkest secrets, failures, and insecurities. We're constantly editing, deciding what's appropriate to say and do in each situation.

    How many of us have had friends IRL that we thought we knew fairly well only to find out they were having an affair or struggling with addiction?

    We may be able to control the image we project a little be more in our online interactions compared with our offline interactions, but it's just a matter of degrees.

    • That's a good perspective, Paul. The truth is that we only want authenticity and transparency from the people we know well and like, otherwise polite and courteous suffice.

  • ksernel

    Wow, what a great question! I've actually have had these thoughts myself as I edit my FB status updates, craft my blogs, and generate tweets.

    How much of myself do I really want the world to know? It depends, I suppose, on what world I'm talking to. My FB, blog, and twitter are all different sides of myself. If someone were to look at all of those areas of my life together, they'd have a much better picture of who I am, but still not complete. I think it's okay to want to save a bit of me for me and my loved ones.

    The world doesn't need to know everything and I don't think that means I'm being deceitful. I'm not lying about anything I post so you're definitely getting a piece of me in what I put out there, even if it's not all of me.

    • I like your perspective. But isn't it true that in order to understand all aspects of someone's personality, you need to spend a lot of time with them? I think that applies to social media as well.

      • ksernel

        I agree. If people were to look at one blog post, one FB status, or one Tweet on some crummy day in the middle of winter when the sun hasn't shined for 30 days straight, they might think I'm a grumpy young woman. But I'm not. Like any relationship, it's about putting in the time.

        What's interesting though is the type of time you put in. I have some friends that absolutely hate the fact that relationships are strengthened through social media. He thinks that's pretty fake. I argue that social media is helpful. I look at my parents who have no contact with people they grew up with because of varying reasons, while I have been able to get back into contact with people that I really cared about when I was young, but lost touch with along the way. Maybe the fact that I lost touch with them originally says something, but maybe it doesn't. Regardless, I'm happy that social media exists to help me first connect to my past and then grow a new connection in the present.

  • I find myself in this same struggle and one practical thing that I do is ask myself two questions:
    "Would I say this in real life?"
    "Would people wonder what was wrong with me after they heard it?"

    I think this is a condition of broken humanity but is easy to fast track online.

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