“Just be yourself unless you’re an idiot” – Unknown. The web used to be an anonymous place where people could hide behind strange pseudonyms like EggHead or Pixy186 and privacy of identity was taken very seriously. The anonymity allowed a lot of people to post comments and say things they would never have the gall to do if they were face to face.

Social networking has been around a lot longer than many think, but ten years ago it was called message boards, newsgroups and chat rooms. Remember those? They were mainly used by nerds and computer geeks. I was one of them. My pseudonym was RadarRingo and I participated mainly on message boards.

Despite the anonymity of the web back in the early 2000’s one still had to be careful how they interacted. There was a certain etiquette even in those pioneer days. Now, thanks to sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter social networking has become mainstream and people’s identities forced into the online spotlight. To deal with this new reality of transparency and eroding privacy I have established a few rules that guide my online identity or “social voice” as it has come to be known:

1. Be natural and don’t pretend to be anyone I’m not. Throughout life I’ve always made a point of being myself; It’s the easiest persona to keep consistent. So, I always try let my personality come through online and since I’m self employed my professional and personal identities are intimately intertwined. I always remind myself that people run businesses – You’re social voice should sound like a person not a machine.

2. People don’t really care about the mundane details of my life. If you use Facebook or Twitter you’re probably aware of certain people’s status updates that are always about themselves, what they’re eating, the game score, and the funny thing their dog just did. BORING. Instead, I try to publish witty remarks, share a valuable link, ask a question, make an observation, etc. I’ll provide a personal life update only of it’s worthy of a story I would bring up when somebody asks about my day. I try provide value or at the very least be a bit entertaining.

3. I am what people say I am. If you only have one rule for your social voice, it should be the awareness that what you say is a direct reflection on your character. Although I like to be a bit edgy with my humour, I never swear or berate others online. Sure, I’ll have opinions of events, companies, or figures but I’m careful to remain respectful. Admittedly, sometimes I slip up. The things I say and post online can be there for a long time, so I try to keep it clean. It takes years to build a reputation and only moments to destroy it.

Nowadays, hiding your identity is counter productive – If you hide behind an obscure pseudonym people assume you have something to hide or aren’t genuine. Personally, I think the transparency social media has caused is a good thing. If you’re concerned about privacy you can simply choose to not participate. If you’re in marketing or communications you will be doing yourself a disservice, however. The web is only going to become more popular/social and that’s where your audience will be. Good luck finding your social voice. Talk with ya soon.