Online Personas: Who Do You Want to Be?

Sorry it’s been so quiet around here for a while. I’ve been having deep and meaningful thoughts, I assume. Mostly, I’ve been trying to figure out what direction I’m going in now that the world has changed again and I need to change with it. I’ve been getting pretty burned out as a copywriter for a long time, and although I’m pretty good at it, it doesn’t often spark joy anymore.

I’ve been taking the dogs on a lot of long walks and we’ve had a lot of very lengthy one-sided discussions about what might actually spark joy instead. And joy, as a writer, is a relative thing. You have to kind of hate yourself to do this job, there’s no denying that. That’s the only way I can possibly explain all the ways we allow people to tear us up on the daily without going on rampages.

But all this soul-searching took a secondary turn, since as a writer, I’m a semi-public figure, and that means I need a reasonably active online persona. I asked the dogs who I would be in this phase of my life. How would the public see me?

Pulling Back the Curtain on the Online Persona

If you’ve been following my work for a while, you know that my online persona has been reasonably stable through the last decade or so. I’ve led you along the many little paths and adventures that I’ve taken, we’ve shared horrible puns and Dad jokes, I’ve given you armloads of insects to consider, we’ve memed it up like a fiend. My life has been laid bare for the world to poke at.

I don’t recommend this. 

When I was first forming this online persona, it was early in the days of social media, when the platforms were largely used for sharing photos of breakfast and pets. It was a simpler time, really. It was ok to just be unabashedly yourself because social media wasn’t so pervasive that it filled every nook and cranny until they burst from the stuffing.

Realistically, rewriting my own online persona is probably impossible at this point, and that’s ok. You can tell how long it’s been around simply by the fact that it exists as my main account, not on a business page or other kind of dedicated page. THEY DIDN’T REALLY HAVE THOSE WHEN I STARTED DOING THIS.

But I think it’s important to talk about this for those of you just getting started, or who have seen a hard reset and may be considering starting over entirely. Because I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I have a lot of regrets and some days I literally hate social media with all my being. But because I’m a writer, it’s also a vital tool in my arsenal… 

Tips for Your Online Persona

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made some pretty serious mistakes when establishing my online persona. I’m also not embarrassed to let you use me as a lesson in what not to do when you’re setting yourself up as a person in the public eye. So, without further ado…

1. Decide where your boundaries lie. This is not a thing to ignore or just kind of decide on the fly. I set zero boundaries in the beginning and threw my life wide open to my readers. When I was a local newspaper columnist, this really bit me hard on the ass. I’d have people stop me when I was shopping to ask about this or that, to give me wholly unsolicited feedback on my personal life, and feel entirely entitled to my time and my life. I came to feel like I had nothing that was just mine… and that’s not a feeling I would suggest anyone should accept, no matter how green you are at persona management.

2. Cleanly designate the things you’ll keep for yourself. This is the main reason to have a public and a private social media account. You deserve to have things that are your own. If you don’t have things that are your own, you’re going to eventually lose your shit and go hide in a cave indefinitely. If, like me, you’ve managed to mangle the line, it’s time to seriously consider a life-ectomy. Either establish a new account for your personal life or one for your work life. If that’s not looking possible, use filters to designate what things your actual friends will see. Those are the things that are just for you and your actual pals.

3. Work hard to steer people to a business-type page. Not only will you get much better analytics, you’re going to have a chance to bisect your life with a business page. Sure, your actual friends may also want to follow your career, and God love ‘em if they do. Sure, your fans may become actual friends at some point (this is a chronic problem for me), and they can still join the party otherwise when you feel like it’s time. But regardless, try to place priority on your business page so you can get the extra detail and control you don’t have with your current online persona. However, know that this may take months or years to fully accomplish, depending on how long your account has been around.

The Other Question: Who Do You Want to Be?

The other question is still hanging in the air, isn’t it? Who do you want to be on social media? You can be anyone, as it turns out, and some people certainly milk that. As a writer, honestly, I recommend you just be yourself. Maybe a bit of an idealized version of yourself is ok, people don’t need to know about your crushing anxiety and self-loathing – but still more or less yourself.

Why? 

Well, I’ve long believed it’s much easier to tell the truth than to weave a complicated, albeit beautiful, lie. The truth will set you free and all of that. Be who you are, just remember that people are constantly watching, so maybe you want to keep a few secrets for yourself. 

Spoilers and all of that.

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