Last week I attended a Red magazine Digital Masterclass. The speakers, British Asian business woman Janvi Patel; founder of Deliciously Ella, Ella Woodward; and Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of Stemettes are all award-winners and leaders in their fields.
The evening covered everything from SEO to how to effectively use social networks. For me, the most thought-provoking part of the evening was the talk around digital identities.
Now this is a really important subject to me as I manage my online personality and my digital footprint very carefully. I put very little personal stuff online about myself or my family. I blog anonymously as this works for me right now. I have often wondered though: if people connect with people, how are they going to connect with me?
But then listening to these ladies, I realised, we don’t connect with each other online, not really. We connect with the versions of ourselves that we create.
Take Ella for example. She has been incredibly open about her illness and what it’s led to in terms of the diet and lifestyle she’s created. But her illness and her recipes are not all that there is to her. She revealed at the masterclass, that she’d never share photos of her boyfriend or her sister; and she even has a separate Twitter account-with protected tweets, that is only for her family and very close friends. She says:
“Maintain your boundaries online. You can still have so much personality.” Deliciously Ella
This coming from the blogger who, by her own admission, lives most of her life on Instagram, is really reassuring.
If it sounds calculating, well it’s not. It’s smart. What’s more, its basic marketing! Janvi put it this way:
“Find your own online identity. Decide beforehand, where you want to be.” Janvi Patel
In other words, work out how you want to position yourself and only share those bits of your life online. Be discriminating. Never just brain-dump online- no one needs a play-by-play of your whole day or your every emotion. We all know people who do that don’t we? They’re the tweets we skim past, the updates we ignore.
Most people are (hopefully) already kind of discerning on how they present themselves online. Checking in when you arrive at a trendy bar, an update about your child’s latest achievement, or photos of your holiday/new outfit/new baby etc- it’s the bits of our lives we want people to see.
When do we really post something real- like the last time you felt lonely, or scared? None of us want to share those parts of lives with others, and it’s right that we hold some things back. We need to keep boundaries, hold onto something for ourselves. Otherwise we erode any kind of line between the public and the private.
What about the trolls?
The fact is if you put yourself out there in any capacity online, you have to accept that you might get trolled. But once again, you can anticipate that to some extent by managing what you share. Do people really need to see that photo of you- even if you worked out for months for it? Be aware that you might get weirdos suddenly lurking around your profile. Does the world really need your opinions on terrorism, if it’s likely to invite vitriolic comments?
A word about privacy settings
I know what you’re thinking: every social network has some level of privacy controls. But the truth is there are so many layers to how they work that in the end, you always leave a digital footprint. Remember the Snappening? Those photos were meant to go away. Hacking including cloning passwords and account details are shockingly easy to do. So nothing is ever sacred online.
Real life happens when you’re not online
Since social networking really took off in the last seven years or so, we’ve learnt a lot. It does feel like we’re entering a new, more safety-conscious era. It was reassuring listening to these women- who have all built some really successful brands- talk about how they draw a line between their online persona and ‘real life’:
“I finish all my communication in the taxi on the way to the restaurant, and never take my phone to the table” Janvi
“When I go up to bed, I put my phone on airplane mode. No tweet or update needs responding to straight away, you always have an acceptable window of about 5 or 6 hours to respond. Up to 10 if they’re in the States.” Ella
And if you really are glued to your online life like Anne Marie who confessed to sleeping with her smartphone, it’s worth remembering, as she pointed out, that actually, “interesting things- real life- often happen when you’re not online”.