It’s Hard To Be Yourself Online

As the web matures, are we all facing an identity crisis?

Who am I?

Marketers and writers understand the importance of wearing a facade. To truly become the brand in your communications strategy, you must become the audience. It’s hard to be yourself in the world of communications. In fact, it’s absolutely imperative that you don’t.

Individually, we’re all facing the same conundrum online. Shit, I’ve had to deal with it on this blog. I have two Twitter accounts because I’m worried about alienating my professional audience by sharing content meant for my interest-based peers. Forget sharing literary websites and good reads on Facebook; three quarters of my real-life social network hasn’t picked up a book since college.

Want to please everyone? Only share universal content like funny YouTube clips and national news stories.

The Suffocating Nature of Social Media

Of course, universal content doesn’t go very far in shedding light on your unique personality — what makes you stand out from the crowd to employers and friends. Then again, there are certain personal traits you want a real-world relationship to reveal gradually.

And some traits are best unrevealed.

That’s why countless articles tell you to be careful what information you share online. You’re leaving information out in the open that could help people form a tough first impression. Some employers might not espouse the use of the f-word in every sentence you type. Others may not appreciate your lack of subtlety. Still others may be impressed by your openness.

In essence, social media has turned the entire world into marketers. What we share online is only as relevant as the audience to which we tailor it.

Of course, this role is extremely convoluted. Most of the time, we don’t make friends based entirely on shared interests. Facebook becomes a platform with limited sharing value beyond important life updates, inside jokes and the occasional universally valued piece of content. Twitter users find more value in appealing to a specific interest-, demographic- or industry-based audience.

Any attempt to be your true self over the web, without alienating some of the people in your network, is limited by where you share.

This Is Exactly Like Real Life

Duh. Did you think I’d argue that the web is some alternate universe?

Pictured here: Real life.

Unfortunately, the web is different in one very powerful way: it keeps an unflinching, unforgiving memory of everything you say and do, in a much more public format than most of what you’ve said or done in real life.

A unique voice doesn’t require you to lay it all on the table. Honesty is key, but subtlety is essential.

Trying hard to find yourself online? Follow three simple rules:

  • Know Your Audience: Take a good, hard look at who follows you over various channels. Limit what you share to content your audience finds valuable.
  • Stay Organized: Make sure you have a good, organized understanding of where you have influence.
  • Protect Your Reputation: Work hard to ensure you don’t undermine your reputation on each of your channels.

What Do You Think?

How do you define yourself online? Share some tips with us in the replies.

Yep, Your Sci-Fi Nightmare Is Really Happening

Skynet be damned.

Sci-fi novels and movies have gotten shockingly close to the actual evolution of technology. What we once considered a danger to our privacy and anonymity is actually beginning to become a useful tool.

Sort of.

For marketers, anyway.

And robots hell-bent on world destruction.

You may have noticed over the last couple of years that the web is returning eerily relevant results whenever you go out searching for something. These take a variety of forms like:

  • An advertisement for a brand you may have researched
  • Buttons that know you’ve already clicked a different call to action and replace it with the next logical step
  • Suggestions (like Amazon’s) tailored to your interests
  • Facebook ads that mirror your ‘likes’
  • Sidebar content that gets more specific the longer you browse a website

In some of these cases, we willingly provide information. In others, robots collect data without our permission. Most of the time, the latter assertion comes in the form of browser cookies that ‘remember’ certain actions you’ve performed.

It sounds scary. But evolving web security measures (albeit slowly evolving) may actually mean a browsing experience that isn’t cluttered with irrelevant advertising or hard-to-find content.

What exactly is happening on the web?

Part of the inspiration for this post is an article I’m researching and penning for the Content Marketing Institute about ‘content customization,’ also known as ‘dynamic content’ and a host of other labels. Adobe says it’s simply one part of ‘web experience management,’ a new push towards giving marketers a more connected web presence for their brands. This, of course, is a branding effort to own the next step in content management.

Whatever you want to call it, it has arrived, whether you like it or not. And if you’re in the marketing (or writing) game, you should be aware of it.

Content customization is important because it returns relevant results to the reader. Let’s look at an example.

Ken runs a large Chicago glass-blowing school. To draw in more leads online, he maintains a pretty strong content marketing program, writing articles and posting videos of cool glass objects, techniques for glass-blowing and behind-the-scenes coverage of school projects. But he wants more.

He wants to identify potential students by where they are in the sales funnel. He wants to weed out the irrelevant leads and present relevant next steps to potential students in Chicago. To nurture visitors from lead to student, he wants to deliver a simple path between the two.

He’s glad to get national recognition from his content. But if the reader’s location limits her potential to become a student, Ken wants to offer her a very different experience than that of a local visitor. In order to do this, he collects locational data. Visitors located in the Chicagoland are shown a call to action to sign up for classes, while visitors from outside Ken’s target area see more educational content.

That’s just one example of how marketers use dynamic content.

Avoiding silos is one of the biggest challenges

I’m concerned about the phenomenon for one giant reason: silos.

I’m sure someone is way ahead of me on this one, but I could be wrong. The challenge of delivering relevant content is overdelivering relevant content. When marketers slide you into a peg based on certain behaviors and interests, it doesn’t do much to open you up to new perspectives and ideas. You get stuck in a silo — and any good entrepreneur, psychologist, economist, physicist or sociologist will tell you that nothing happens in a vacuum. It could stifle innovation, polarize American politics further and create a general malaise of single-mindedness.

So, the question becomes whether or not organizing the chaos of the web is a good thing. That’s what we’re pushing towards. Can we have our cake and eat it, too?

Mm, cake.

Can’t wait for my full article tellin’ you all about this? Check out some of the wildly popular articles I’ve already created for the Content Marketing Institute. One even got 346 tweet-shares, which automatically secures my spot in the social media hall of fame.

Is Your Content Missing These Proof Indicators?

It’s so easy to speak your mind online.

In fact, it’s so easy that amateur writers are constantly sharing thoughts that have no basis in anyone else’s reality. You can visit the Huffington Post and flip through a dozen well-written and compelling articles until you find one that accurately cites real proof.

But wait…isn’t proof just for silly old bastards?

The internet is one big op-ed machine. Want to create content that really stands out from the rest? Find ways to prove your concepts.

Prove it.

Anyone can rationalize a theory. It takes proof to build it into a tangible one.

As far back as college (for those of us who remember it), we’ve been trained to present an evidence-based argument. Why have we abandoned this approach? Well…we can say whatever we want, whenever we want on the internet. It’s a whole lot easier to just speak your mind without putting time and energy into research.

A scientific approach to writing gives you credibility. It shows you’ve taken the time to do your research. The scientific method is in place for a reason; observation, measurement and experimentation explain behavior. For writers, truth seeking in journalism offers a great comparison for why evidence-based writing makes for a compelling argument. The Poynter Institute is among the many voices pleading for a science-based approach to journalism, particularly in relation to the web.

Sometimes, experts can get away with conjecturing on experiential theories. Of course, this requires you to prove your credibility on the subject matter. You do that by providing evidence of your experience and success.

Some things are just common sense. Anything outside of common sense — which is what your writing should cover if you want it to stand out — requires proof if you want to offer value to your readers.

Which indicators of proof work best?

On the granular level, numbers are perhaps the most important way to prove assertions. From a higher level, what shapes do these numbers take?

  • Academic experiments: Whatever topic you write about, science can help. Sociological and scientific experiments that apply to your topic can make your argument more compelling.
  • Surveys: A mainstay in the world of marketing, surveys help your credibility by presenting a popular belief or practice. The more the world agrees with you, the more credibility your writing has.
  • Case studies: More granular and specific versions of experiments, case studies offer proof that a strategy works the way you say it does.
  • Interviews & expert testimony: This is a narrower version of surveys. Interviews & expert testimony proves you know what you’re talking about by aligning your point with an established authority on what you’re talking about.

Sharing your perspective can be a powerful thing, but strong evidence builds an even stronger case. Rely on the right proof indicators and your readers will find a greater level of trust in your content.