Joining Digital Communities Part II: Crafting a sense of self for the digital world

By Your Salonniere

For those who are about to step through the looking glass and enter the nebulous world of social media and social networking and even for those who are already immersed in the digital wonderland, consider the web as another form of civic engagement. When we log onto Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter, we enter a panoply of multi-communities, where we are expected to play and interact with other members who each have their own identities, individual duties, and expectations for themselves and for the digital communities they’ve invested in.

Online social forums are essentially inverted social systems, whether it be the playground, the game-room, the water cooler, the kitchen table, the agora, the shopping mall, the classroom, the town hall, and even, sometimes, the locker room. We go to interact, engage, play voyeur, and affirm or discover our role in the multi-verses that comprise our digital cosmos.

First timers may wonder how do we begin to carve a niche for ourselves? How do we figure out where we stand, what we stand for, and make sure that we’re standing straight? Determining this doesn’t mean reinvention, just being clear about two or three personal passions. You’re not going to step into the digital world fully formed and perfect. Nobody is unless you’re Venus borne from a clam shell and springing out of the ocean foam or Athena popping from Zeus’ forehead. File:Birth of Venus Botticelli.jpg

So don’t wait for perfection or you’ll be waiting for a very long time. Know your passions and crystallize them into words that encapsulate an essence of you, while, at the same time, understanding that passion is messy; it bleeds all over the place and runs on fever and fervor, which is what will hopefully bring readers to your sites.

Treat yourself as an authority. Why spend all those years studying, training, all that money for classes, a degree, the time in the library, on the web, researching, talking to professors, practicing your discipline, and sharing with experts in your field? Own your passion. Don’t wait for permission and don’t expect any cues from anyone. Just dive in and do it because you love what you’ve dedicated yourself to.

Most people respect someone who is passionate about their discipline, so why feel embarrassed or inadequate? In the digital world, you don’t need to wait for somebody else’s approval. So long as you stay authentic and genuine to who you are, you can assert authority and confidence and therefore champion your passions through the social media network. After all, no one else is going to do it for you.

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You wonder which way to go with all the social media choices available? There’s Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogger, WordPress, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, Pintarest, Posterous, Squarespace, etc., etc., etc. As Gabe M. said in a previous blog post here, “the bottom line is authenticity…A blog is the place if you want to actually say something. FB is where you create a public identity/image by saying ‘I like this and I like that, look at this and look at that.’ Then fans get a feeling of who you are (virtually).”

So, you may be reluctant to join Facebook, but if you want to keep people you know–friends, colleagues, associates, family, and co-workers to stay abreast if your latest and greatest, Facebook is pretty much the way to go. Chances are a good fraction of your peeps are on there already, with more joining by the day. If you plan on starting a website, keeping a blog, taking to Tumbling, or pushing toward Pintarest, you’ll want more than just the random web search traffic to find you, which is all you’ll get if you’re not posting to Facebook. Otherwise, you may not have many visitors coming to your sites and those who chance to find you will more than likely be complete strangers, who aren’t necessarily invested in your work. Facebook gives you an instant community, but you have to be invest in that community, and show that you care.

The best way to point your chums to your work is to post updates on the Mad Hatter tea party that is Facebook. This means not hiding behind pseudonyms but putting yourself out there because, again, you have to believe in your passion, let your passion speak for you as you speak for your passion. So use Facebook strictly for your discipline. No one’s asking you to cover what you had for breakfast. You don’t have to post anything you don’t want to, and, truth be told, no one really wants to know every sordid detail about your life. Be a professional and be proud of it, but be personable, too. You’ll need to find a balance between presenting your online self as a real flesh and blood soul charged to share specific passions.

The unspoken rule on these social sites is that everyone’s fronting. Everyone puts a certain slant to their life, shaping their identity and personality to present a crafted sense of self to the digital world because its impossible to embody everything we are, were, and will be, virtually. So we pick a few aspects that we’re willing to broadcast and run with it, knowing we can switch it up every now and again.

You may want to make a personal rule book on what to post and what not to. Or, better yet, post with the idea in mind that your future boss might come across your updates. Do you really want her to know about what you did last Friday night with your friends? Before clicking “post” or pressing “publish” consider what your past graduate professor might think seeing that picture of you at the beach and how that might affect the recommendation letter you’ll ask for when that upcoming grant deadline starts to near. Have a public image of yourself that is flexible, fun, and polished.

More thoughts on joining digital communities will be forthcoming. In the meantime, you can check out these articles from other sources, which will help guide the way through the virtual wonderlands:

Here’s a brief and informative history on the role of the blog by Caslon Analytics Blogging:

Early observers of blogging suggested that there are two basic styles of blog: the ‘filter’ and the ‘journal’.

Both usually have a reverse chronological structure, with the most recent content at the top of the page and the oldest at the bottom (or accessible through an ‘archive’ link).

Most early blogs were link-driven, pointing to other sites on a daily or weekly basis. The pointers were annotated to varying degrees: some were embedded in mini-essays; others with a commentary that did not extend much beyond ‘look at this’.

For fun and to know what not to do, from Wikihow “How to Annoy Your Friends on Facebook”

Post timely statements frequently and regularly. Exclaim your desire or demand for coffee every morning, or proclaim “TGIF” every Friday, because your Friends will be thankful for the reminder that it’s Friday.

Exclaim how much you can’t stand when people complain about something on Facebook. Your Friends will especially enjoy the fact that you are complaining about complaining.

From The Atlantic’s Megan Garber, “Be Better at Twitter: The Definitive, Data-Driven Guide,” which also holds true for any social media site that begs for short, sweet, and relevant:

Old news is no news: Twitter emphasizes real-time information, so information rapidly gets stale. Followers quickly get bored of even relatively fresh links seen multiple times.

Contribute to the story: To keep people interested, add an opinion, a pertinent fact or otherwise add to the conversation before hitting “send” on a retweet.

Keep it short: Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters, but followers still appreciate conciseness. Using as few characters as possible also leaves room for longer, more satisfying comments on retweets.

And, finally, recently published on the Writer’s Digest newsletter “The 12 Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Blog” by Brian A. Klems. Here’s an excerpt from his list of don’ts:

Be negative.
It’s generally unwise to air personal grievances publicly (unless, of course, that’s the theme of your blog). You’ll go a lot further by being positive, inspirational and supportive to the community that you’re writing to.

Write long paragraphs.
Long blocks of text are hard for readers to digest, especially when reading on computers and tablets. Break up your content into shorter paragraphs, bullet points and lists whenever possible. Also, if you can, work in some subheads.

Avoid trying new things.
It’s important to let your blog evolve over time, and the only way this can happen is if you take risks every once in awhile. Whether it’s adding infographs or personal stories or guest bloggers, never be afraid to try something new. If you feel it can add something special to your blog, try it.

What are your experiences on social media sites? Any tried and true faves in terms of picking which site to go with? Any sites to steer clear? Share your pearls of wisdom here at the salon.

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