Suddenly Marketing

Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

Who Are You, Really, on the Social Web?

Today’s post was originally posted on Savvy B2B Marketing, and is more personal than usual.  However, if you’re here for marketing advice, you may want to read on. There’s not as big a gap as you might think between personal and professional or even customer relations on the Web.

Yesterday, my friend Mark W. Schaefer published a very candid post on his blog {grow} (temporarily renamed {growl} … you’ll have to read the post’s comments to get the joke) that included excerpts from an email I’d sent him after reading his piece, Social Media and the Big Conversation Fail. The post has sparked chats – both on and offline – about how “real” our social personas and relationships are.

There are so many layers to this, it makes my head hurt. The human impact of the social Web is a seriously broad topic that has been dissected, analyzed, and mused upon ad nauseam, perhaps culminating – at least for the moment – in the movie, The Social Network. The debates get old, but that doesn’t make the cultural changes we’re going through any less real.

The net-net of my heart-on-sleeve rambling to Mark is that, for all the lip service we give connection, conversation, and community, the social Web remains a place where we put only our best foot forward. Like the wizard of the Emerald City, we create flawless and impressive versions of ourselves. We inhabit these carefully crafted avatars like a second, if not always natural, skin. Each time we cross from the real world to the virtual one, we shed the unappealing parts of our personalities, leaving only the glossy bits showing.

There are exceptions, of course – people who “let it all hang out.” But, in almost all cases, even these confessions are contrived. They are designed to make a point, elicit a specific response, build affinity, or simply entertain. They transform personality into platform. On the social Web, we too often become both product and marketer, always “on,” even when we’re being “authentic.”

But the news isn’t all tragic.

Real friendships do evolve out of these virtual spaces. We discover them when we speak not to the masses, but to an individual. In the same way you can’t have a real relationship with the student body, for instance, you can’t have a real relationship with your social network. You need to find not your Right People, but your right person. Each time you glimpse a spark of real connection, you have to stop, cup it in your hands, and tend it until it either bursts into flame or flickers out. A machine can build a list, but if you want to build a friendship, you have to step outside your avatar and be your whole, human self – flaws and all.

That’s what each of us here did at Savvy. Eighteen months ago, we playfully named ourselves the “Savvy Sisters,” but today that moniker is much more than just branding. It’s a testament to the bonds that have developed over the course of forum conversations, building a blog, sharing resources, supporting each other’s professional endeavors, and – finally – pulling back the curtain to reveal the sometimes frail, sometimes faulty, always fabulous human beings that push and pull the levers. We’ve gone way beyond “appropriate” and “PC.” We share bad days, bad moods, bad decisions, and bad jokes. I know any one of my “sisters” would have my back – online or off. And, let me tell you, when we do have the chance to get together, the hugs are as real as any hugs I’ve ever given or received.

So enjoy the social Web for what it is – part frat house, part university, part cult, part networking event – and don’t feel too much like you’re looking for “love” in all the wrong places. The love is there, but you can only find it one person at a time.

What’s your experience with building real relationships on the Web? Is it something you’re even interested in? How do you think the situation differs for people who are here in a purely social capacity vs. those that are here both socially and professionally?


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  1. Thanks for this reflective piece. The whole social media experience has felt like a breathless rush for me. Like my running days, watching the field stretch out into the distance ahead of me in the big races. So it feels good to sit and rest a while with this thought.
    I have chosen to present an integrated view of myself on facebook rather than separate pages (for now) for the reasons you present. In the short while I have been there I have met some interesting, friendly people. It is such an interesting world to be part of (if it is OK to end a sentence with a preposition (o: )

    • Jamie Lee

      Stephen –
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. A long-distance race is a great metaphor for social media efforts. Each runner has to find his own pace and focus on running his own race.
      Like you, I’ve chosen to “mix it up” on Facebook, Twitter, and even – to a certain extent – on my blogs. I share all aspects of myself. Some days it feels a little lazy, but other days it just makes more sense to me. I don’t want to break myself down into little “boxes” for different audiences. More often than not, my clients become friends and my friends are as interested in my professional work as they are in my private pursuits … so, in the end, it just makes sense to share the whole package.
      I may adapt as timem goes on, but – for now – I like meeting people as a person and not as a brand. 😉

      PS – NP re: the preposition. I’m here for the conversation, not the grammar. 😉 TKS again!

  2. Jamie,

    I thoroughly LOVED this piece. You are such an awesomely vivid and colorful writer! OK, I’ll stop gushing (for now) and make a few comments on content.

    I tend to think that there are A LOT of “let it all hang out”ers out there, so many I sometimes feel the need to use a digital sifter to get to the more finely honed and polished stuff.

    You raise a compelling point: just HOW should we put ourselves out there when it comes to our online homes? I favor the online branding approach more than anything else. Be honest, be who you are, but sculpt it into something people want to read and experience, hence the need to tweak and edit a little more than we would have the chance to in “real life” (quotes, yeah scary).

    Anyway, I really look forward to reading more of your work!

    Thank you and best wishes,


    • Jamie

      Thanks for stopping by and for such warm and enthusiastic words. :)

      You bring up an excellent point. I’ve “test-driven” dozens of blogs that appear to be written about topics of interest to me, only to be disappointed when it turns out most of the posts are of the online diary variety. There’s nothing wrong with online diaries, but most people read blogs because they hope to gain some benefit. Usually, that benefit has to do with learning something. Sharing your personal stories in a way that helps people connect with you WHILE delivering information that is actually useful … THAT’S the sweet spot.
      Good luck with your “sifting,” and nice to “meet” you!

      • Definitely! Using our own stories is the authentic part, writing and editing them in a way that will cause them to serve as a helpful example of how to use a real world/online marketing/business skill is the benefit we give to our readers = sweet spot.
        Nicely put, Jamie.

        Nice to “meet” you, too!


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