Social Media 102: When to Be Yourself, and When to Be a Nice Person

September 14, 2017

The most thought-provoking thing I read this week was Joe Hall's regular column on Marketing Pilgrim, Cup of Joe: "Sometimes You Should Be Yourself & Sometimes You Really Shouldn't!" Here, Joe questions the common wisdom that the key to succeeding in social media is "being yourself":

We have all heard that the trick to social media is to be yourself. In doing so we create authenticity and transparency that others can trust. But the question emerges, when does being yourself get in the way of building a strong personal brand?

Joe recounts a kerfuffle that went down last week, mostly on Twitter, between Chris Pearson, who created the very popular Thesis WordPress theme (yes you can monetize WordPress blogs), and Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress—who contends that Thesis violates the WordPress GPL (general public license). (UPDATE: Mashable announces that Pearson has agreed to a split GPL license for Thesis.)

I don't follow Pearson or Mullenweg, but I caught some of this argument indirectly, through retweets, and it looked pretty ugly. Joe writes that they were "trading more public jabs then the cast members of the Jersey Shore":

I was disappointed in both of them. I have been creating WordPress themes and plugins for myself and clients for the last three years. I have seen Mullenweg and the WordPress community grow and evolve into a truly amazing thing. And similarly I have seen talented entrepreneurs like Pearson rise from that community to create outstanding products and their own communities.

So it really troubled me to see two men that I really admire and draw so much inspiration from act so unprofessional in public. For me, their behavior was damaging to their brand.

Joe doesn't stoop to including direct quotes—but I'm not above it! Just to give you a taste of the flavor of the argument:



Jane Wells of Automattic, a startup that works with WordPress and other open source projects, had this to say on her blog:

There is a history of antipathy between Thesis/Chris and WordPress/Matt that predates me. I have to admit that when I first started working with the WordPress open source project and I would see their squabbling on Twitter, it reminded me of boys kicking each other in the schoolyard.

That seems about right. I don't think the tweets were really Jersey Shore–level, but certainly they weren't very professional. Both Chris and Matt have tens of thousands of followers, and even more people were following the argument that day via the #thesiswp hashtag, so the argument was very public. This seems like a case where being yourself and speaking your mind can be dangerous and damaging. So what's the answer—to be yourself or not to be yourself? Does personality have no place in social media?

My So-Called LifeI'm reminded of the words of Angela Chase, Claire Danes' character on the late, greatMy So-Called Life: "People say you should be yourself, like 'yourself' is this definite thing, like … a toaster." The point being, the self is malleable. You can let your personality show, without showing all of it. You can adjust your personality slightly to suit the situation.

I'm a fairly opinioned and outspoken person, but I don't think my coworkers would describe me that way (correct me if I'm wrong, guys), because I tone down the snark at work. I can think of a lot of situations in which I've had to be a modified version of myself—for example, when meeting people for the first time, especially when their impression of me really counts (employers, my boyfriend's parents).

Likewise, I only have one Twitter account for both work and non-work purposes, so my persona on Twitter needs to strike a chord that resonates with both people I've met through WordStream and people I've met through other avenues, such as poetry. The best approach seems to be a slightly subdued version of my "regular" personality. Professional concerns aside, it's smart to hold back a little in any public, insecure medium.

Despite good intentions, of course, I've gotten myself into trouble by being opinionated on the Internet; it's just so easy to get into arguments here. There's something about a comments field, it's like everyone's a little drunk and kind of looking for a fight. Hence, misunderstandings abound, feelings get hurt, and it all spirals downward from there. Luckily, I'm not "one of the three most important people in WordPress," so I can get away with a minor public snit. But as I get more famous, I'm going to try to keep Joe's tips in mind, namely:

  • "Don’t respond to everything." There have been a few times when I said something controversial on my personal blog and ended up with lots of comments from haters and trolls. I don't delete comments that aren't outright spam, but I do need to learn that I don't have to respond to all of them.
  • "Stay away from mediums that don’t cultivate thought-provoking dialog." For me this is less about staying away from Twitter, Facebook, or blogs in general, and instead staying away from particular blogs, or particular people, that push my buttons and make me lose my cool.

Thanks for the reminders!

Web Marketing Highlights This Week

Speaking of being inappropriate, I enjoyed this story of Coco-Cola's failed foray into an "edgy" Facebook campaign (also via Marketing Pilgrim).

Galen DeYoung outlines three faulty assumptions that many people make when studying their analytics, including thinking that high-volume keywords are the most important ones.

Wanna start up a startup? Don't know where to start (up)? Matt Cutts has some good ideas about getting ideas for a new business.

Speaking of startups ("Speaking of" is such a blogging crutch), Trada, whose founder guest-posted here in May, just secured $5.75 M in funding from Google Ventures.

Virginia Nussey blogs her five takeaways from BlueGlass LA, which took place earlier this week.

Mashable's Jolie O'Dell asks if Twitter can truly scale, given its ongoing downtime issues.

Apparently, Old Spice's wildly popular advertising campaign isn't actually helping sales.

And speaking of Old Spice … my worlds collided this week when a lit blog I read regularly linked to the Old Spice video for Lisa Barone. Is she famous in the real world too??

Have a great weekend, y'all!

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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