Your public persona matters. It’s not necessarily about “statistics.” It’s not a matter of having the five star rating, or how many followers you have on Twitter, or how many Likes a Facebook post gets. It is about engagement. Wanting to be known, to be found, to interact with friends and fans. I’m by no means famous – not even by “Internet standards.” The coolest moment of my life was when I was a freshman in college, where someone literally said out loud: “wait, you’re NuAngel?” he had recognized the moniker from my days working on 3dfx drivers. But that was the only time. And that was over a decade ago.
Still, I treat myself like a brand. This is a lesson every high school kid should learn as soon as possible. With or without “PRISM” everything you do online is going to end up somewhere. Pictures sent, conversations had, jokes told – it will all be found. Even the posts you “Like” on Facebook can come back to haunt you, if it could be seen as “advocating” for something unsavory. You need to treat yourself as a product or a brand – you want people to like you. As many people as possible. Which sometimes means playing the center of the road, and doing what you can to be liked by the largest audience. You are your own politician, running for office, and you want the largest number of votes. You want potential employers to search your name and find someone who is likeable, and possibly even someone who is publically engaged with their own community.
Sometimes you certainly don’t want to play nice. And that’s okay. But you also need to ensure you don’t have a public brand meltdown (ProTip: combining “the love of Jesus Christ” and ‘cursing people out with F-Bombs’ doesn’t usually boost public perception! But you can always blame it on “hackers.”). Know when you’re going too far, know when you’re defending yourself at the expense of becoming the butt of the joke. Know when to laugh at yourself and relax. You’re online. Like it or not, the Internet is a “public place.” People are watching, people are talking. People won’t even talk behind your back, because they’re hiding behind fake names – so they’ll say whatever they want. You need to not be that person, and be the same person you are in both worlds.
If anything, perhaps the keyboard can give you a bit more bravado. It works for the bullies out there on the internet. You can’t be seen. People don’t know if your face is red, if you’re mad, if you’re laughing. There is a difference between taking advantage of this and using it to your advantage. You aren’t trying to be an anonymous bully, but even if you’re seething, you can publically “laugh it off” and move on. Sarcasm doesn’t always come across in a text-based medium like the web. Don’t use it, unless you’re positive your audience is going to understand it and appreciate it, and you emphasize it. People on the internet have coined the phrase “literalnet.” The people of the literalnet will never understand sarcasm, no matter how you try to present it. They will take every single word as written fact. Beware the literalnet.
Interact with people whenever possible. Comment back to your commenters, retweet people, tweet back, cross-link your social networks, your profiles, your personas. In this day and age where everybody has a blog, they still may not understand that they are becoming a brand – and you need to be in control of your brand’s message. If you’re a public person, embrace it – but understand it.