Trust and credibility online

I’ve always been online as myself. Part of that is not being clever enough to live a well-constructed lie, part of that is having quite a lot of trust in other people being able to tell when I’m blatantly making stuff up. Both of those theses, I’ve come to realise, aren’t necessarily right, but truth has become too much of a part of me that it would be a shame to change that now.

Not messing with the truth when being online has a lot of advantages. For one thing, the relationships you build end up being based on trust.

There are many for whom ‘online’ or ‘cyberspace’ still is a concept far removed from the ‘real world’ – those are in the minority but that minority still runs things. That has consequences for all of us, where ‘having an online identity’ still needs to come with a business case. As a result, every workplace is bombarded with a number of initiatives to make people join this, that and the other scheme and interact. In the same time, other, totally disconnected people run ‘social media engagement.’ But never mind, I wasn’t going to have that particular rant today.

When you’re used to extending your identity online, there is no need for a business case. It’s just you, and it’s the same world as the real world.

In my case, online and offline have always blended. The very first online community I was in was one of people who mostly had met in real life, worked together, and kept in touch after moving around a lot. Since then, meeting up was always part of hanging out.

Meeting ‘IRL’ and then sharing things online, and doing that regularly, adds a huge new dimension to any relationship. You realise that you never find out enough about a person by just seeing them in a social context. In the same time you also don’t find out enough about them ‘just’ online.

Building an online network on this kind of relationships, starting with people you’ve met and where you’ve had the chance to build up basic mutual credibility, makes for a very strong base. You then grow it by adding people the people you trust trust. (That looks weird but I’m sure it is a correct sentence?)

This is really a response to Pauline Roche on Twitter asking if there was an etiquette for meeting someone you’ve talked to online in real life and my incredulous response of ‘why not just be yourself?’ I then realised that I’m possibly a little privileged for always having my worlds blend.

Even when starting out on Twitter, I immediately built an on/offline network by starting to go to Tuttle and taking every opportunity to meet ‘online’ people. So I’m used to being with people who are also used to this. For someone who is carefully constructing an online persona that’s not really aligned with who they are, this might sound scary, but we don’t really feel like that.

As a result, these relationships have been incredibly valuable to me personally as well as professionally. Not in the sense that I got amazing amounts of work from them, because I haven’t – but in the sense of developing myself to being able to talk about my skill and expertise without bullshitting, but with faith in my abilities.

That’s a lot more valuable than anything else.

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1 Response

  1. Tom Phillips says:

    I was involved with a few early initiatives to use social media as a meaningful way towards better engagement. To me, the method was always primarily a means to an end, but it was always interesting to come across those who seemed to find the digital aspect some kind of end in itself. However, they were always only a (vocal) minority, and one key plus from digital engagement was its ability to give voice to those who, in that so-called “real world” could not offer the views and insights being anonymous, or partly, so, online could give them. These were not people fabricating a persona – I met several eventually – but were people, for example, who didn’t feel they had appropriate freedom of expression where they lived or worked.

    For a while, I used to muse on whether it was more common to follow people on social media for who they were, or for what they said. The huge follower numbers for banal “celebrity” figures suggests many follow the name, not the nuggets, but I’ve never found that satisfactory myself. It’s a) what people say, and b) how they engage that interests me. Perhaps that was why I got irritated yesterday at a utility that berated Twitter users for a lack of gender balance in those they retweeted. If it’s good, and worth a retweet, does it really matter what gender the original sender was? Not to me, though the responses I got from some people whose views I normally respect a great deal were interesting.

    Like most people, I guess, my early Twitter timeline was mostly populated by people I already knew who were using it, plus those who were engaging on interesting topics. From the outset for me, it was always a red-letter day to meet someone in real life who I’d first only encountered as a Twitter connection. The oft-quoted distinction between Twitter and Facebook is, in my view, very well put: “Facebook is full of people you only met for five minutes and never want to meet again, while Twitter is full of people you’ve not yet met, and who you’d like to spend five minutes with.

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