Creating Your Social Media Identity


social identityBack in May, I wrote a post about creating your social media plan. And to date, I think it still stands as one of the most useful posts we’ve been able to provide for readers and clients. But I think it’s missing something really important. And I’m sorry for that.

No one will argue that it’s extremely important to secure your brand and to learn how to navigate the waters of social media. But that only gets you so far. You still have to choose who you want to be once you get there. Social media gives all of us a chance to be whoever we want to be in order to sell ourselves and our products. You can either choose to create a persona that people can’t help but love, or you can be that kid in school who spends his days getting stuffed into lockers. The choice really is yours.

If you’d rather your brand be associated with the former, here are some tips. If you enjoy confined spaces…then, well, you’re on your own.

Picking Your Username

Imagine if you had a chance to go back in time and have a say in what your parents named you? If you were the newly born Sparrow James Midnight Madden and you could get yourself into that post-delivery room and beat whoever jokingly suggested that to a drugged Nicole Richie. With social media, you get that chance to start over and control your name. But pick wisely, because your social media name is just as important as the name given to you at birth. [Okay, maybe not really. Unless you’re Sparrow James Midnight Madden looking for a redo. Seriously. Ouch.]

Your username tells people who you are. It tells them what you support and sometimes, even your motives for being there. You need to figure out who you’re going to be. Are you a regular person (LisaBarone), a brand (OutspokenMedia), a person representing a brand (OutspokenLisa), a fictional character (Lisa’sConscience) or some other mix. It’s up to you. The type of username you choose will affect how you’re able to connect and interact with people, so do give it some thought. I’d suggest picking something that defines you, whether it’s your name, your company’s name, whatever. Don’t try and be too clever or faddish. Fads die. Usernames are forever.

And of course, once you decide on your username, we recommend using a service like Knowem to make sure you Grab. It. Everywhere. You want to build trust by being consistent throughout the Web.

avatarChoosing your Avatar

This is actually more important than people want to give it credit for. I know it feels silly, but it pretty much sets the tone for your whole social strategy. There are lots of choices for picking what type of avatar is best suited to represent you.

Avatars commonly seen include:

  • A photo of yourself
  • Your company logo
  • A photo of your pet or child
  • A photo of an object [Think @TheMadHat]
  • Abstract images
  • Celebrity faces
  • Cartoons

In most cases, your best bet is to use a photo of yourself. Something that is easily recognizable and that brands you, the person, with the account you’re creating. People want to form relationship with other people, not with your company’s logo. And whatever avatar you decide on, make sure you’re once again being consistent across all channels.

For tips on developing a full blown avatar “strategy”, Search Engine Journal has already created a pretty good resource on the topic. I’d give it a read.

Tagging Accounts

Once you have the account, you want to give it a voice by using tags to find “your kind”. Most social sites don’t have the advanced search capabilities that Twitter has, which can make it hard to track conversations. To get around this, people use tags to not only tell the world what they’re interested in, but to make it easy to find others (and to let others find them) who share their passions.

To see this in motion, think of a site like Facebook. All the information, interests and favorites you include in your profile become links that connect you to other people who have inputted the same information. By clicking on them, you’re able to find people who think just like you do about a certain topic. It works the same way on sites like MySpace or even Dailybooth (follow me! It’s fun!). You should be using tags to help you find your village of customers.

social media characterCreating a character

We’re all told to be “real” and “genuine” and “authentic” in social media. According to the experts, that’s how we’re going to be successful. And I believe that. However, I also believe that if everyone walked around bleeding who they were, what they believed and what they stood for 24/7 that we’d all die of exhaustion within a week. Look at poor Susan Boyle and what it did to her. Being completely “ourselves” in front of the cameras is often just too much. To survive, celebrities create a caricature of themselves. There’s who they are in real life and who they are in the public eye.

You should do the same thing.

Creating a caricature of yourself allows you to do a lot of things. It gives you the freedom to magnify the personality traits needed to attract people, it allows you to play on your strengths to establish a point of difference, and it makes your personality appear larger than life. People are drawn to those types of people. You know that person you are when you’ve had a few too many cases of Sam Adams? The heightened version that draws people in and makes them notice you? It’s a similar concept.

Adopting this strategy in social media will also save your emotional well-being when you’ve reached the point where you have 10,000 followers and everyone wants to tell you exactly what they think about you and how offensive they find you. For some reason, it seems to add an extra layer of skin. Not that I know this from personal experience. Oh look, we’re moving on…

Deciding how to fish

Obviously, deciding where to fish is going to be an important part of your social media plan, however, you also need to decide how you’re going to fish in order to make money in social media. You need to figure out how you’re going to compete. What will your point of difference be that allows you to bring people from Twitter to your blog? What’s the strategy you’re going to adopt?

If you’re Guy Kawasaki, maybe you do it by making yourself a news source and building trust that way. If you’re Peter Shankman, maybe you’ve found a way to monetize being helpful. If you’re Zappos, you’re using social media to exemplify customer service. Know what your plan for interaction is before you start and make sure you’re feeding that in every conversation. Don’t just start talking. Know how to find the conversations that will make you money.

Once you have your initial social media plan in place, take some time to figure out who you want to be and how you’re going to form that persona.  We all want to be the cool kid in school. The tips above can help you learn how to jump into the right circles.  Or at minimum, they’ll keep you from being stuffed into lockers.

Poor Sparrow James Midnight.

Your Comments

  • Michael D

    I spent the first few minutes looking at the photo of that huge backpack on such a little kid, mixed feelings on that. :)

    Personally, I’m not crazy about people using celebrities as avatars, unless of course that’s who they are. I’ve had mixed thoughts on using a keyword as my username on many SM accounts, but it’s worked to my advantage more times than not. I’d still grab one’s name as a backup.

  • Matt Sullivan

    Lisa: another great post. I love the ideas of securing the necessary tools first (i.e. avatar, usernames, etc.). It reminds of doing any daunting task: if you do the right preparation, execution becomes easier.

    Twitter: @sully

  • Nathan Schubert

    Good article! I think a lot of people don’t really understand how to tackle the Social Media animal. We do what we think is the right thing, but it doesn’t have the same results as it may in real life.

    Specifically I think you nailed it with regard to creating a caricature of yourself, as this is probably the most awkward aspect of creating your social media identity. It’s tough to go outside of your own skin!

  • Lori

    I like this post. You are absolutely correct: the people who really get a lot out of social media are the ones with distinctive personalities.

    In that vein, I think it’s safe to say that some people have an advantage if they are already unique/friendly/funny/snarky/outrageous in real life. Not only is it easier to morph themselves into a social media persona, but it feels more ‘real’ than someone who’s just pretending to be interesting.

    There is a niche for everybody, so no need to copy what someone else is doing. I love your sense of humor, and I’m funny in real life, but I can’t be consistently snarky so that wouldn’t work for me.

    However, I wandered into the social media landscape three years ago and found that the homeschooling mom/small business owner/Montessori teacher/SEO niche was unoccupied, so I set up camp and have been happily here ever since.

  • Lisa Barone

    Michael: Haha, that’s your super spidey chiropractor gene reacting to the pic. My bad. :)

    Matt: Totally. Cover your bases from the beginning and suddenly things seem a lot more manageable. And thanks for dropping your Twitter avatar. Nice to match real names to tweeps I know! :)

    Nathan: Thanks, Nathan. I think the caricature factor is really one of the most important parts of creating your identity online. It’s so important to both attracting people to you and, really, protecting yourself at the same time.

  • Dylan Spencer

    Nice post Lisa. I like your thoughts on creating a character, but what if you slip out of that character? Does that make you seem less genuine and hurt your credibility?

  • Lisa Barone

    Lori: Oh, I completely agree. I’m naturally snarky, so I think it’s pretty easy for me to translate that into online chat. However, I’m also a lot quieter in person and more likely to observe others than to jump into the action. I think people are actually a little taken back when they meet me that I’m not suddenly in their face yelling at them. :) And there’s definitely a niche for everyone. You just have to find yours.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Dylan: I think the idea is to create a character that resembles you, so that it still feels authentic and real. For example, I’m a lot louder online than I probably am in person. But I still have that snark in me and I can bring that out online in ways that are still true to “me”. It still sounds like me, I’m just putting more focus on a certain part of who I am. If…that makes sense…

  • Lori

    Dylan, I think there’s room to be a well-rounded online persona. I am thinking of how I read some Shel Silverstein poems to my son the other day and most of them were hilarious, and then every once in awhile one was heart-wrenchingly sad.

    They were all genuinely “Shel” in the sense that they were creative, offbeat, and made you think outside the box. I think you can have more than one facet of your online personality, it just has to be genuine and still “you”. Does that make sense?

  • Norcross

    I somewhat fell into my ‘username’, given that it’s my last name. I had always been referred to as ‘Norcross’ by my friends growing up, so it just seemed natural. And there aren’t that many of us, so I’ve only run into the name not being available once or twice. Granted, it’s also the name of the largest suburb of Atlanta. So the only thing that shows up on the first page of Google regarding me is Twitter, of all things. Searching my full name brings up a lot more.

    And I agree 100% that I don’t need to be ‘real’ on-line at all times. There are certain things that are reserved for close friends, family, my wife, and in a few cases, no one at all.

  • Asimkh

    :) well, i always register same nick which brands me i.e. asimkh
    and u can search on google to know whats my updates, its amazing to know
    where internet digital life taken us.

  • goldendog

    This was a timely article which raised these questions. What about dual sm personalities your business self and your passionate hobby/sport self or by extension your family/friends self? The mixing and blending of the two together can at times seem awkward and clumsy.

    Now here comes the questioning part—Is it wise or even possible to have two distinct online identities both using sm for their own inherent purposes? I use fb for my personal life and linkedin for my business life, but there are blurry areas in both. When Tweets, photos and blogs get mixed in twirled around into a real person.

    If possible how is that successfully managed? Yesterday read in about candidates’ FB activity impacting hiring managers decisions. 50% of the HR directors surveyed said that it was a positive factor in determining if the candidate fit into the culture of the company.

    All food for thought.

  • Dave Curtis

    “The tips above can help you learn how to jump into the right circles. Or at minimum, they’ll keep you from being stuffed into lockers.”

    Now you tell me??

  • Leah Creates

    Lisa – what a great read. You’re right about things like your avatar being extremely important. I was surprised to find out how much more interested people seemed in me on Twitter when I changed my avatar to a photo of me. Not only because it represented me as a person, but because I picked a photo where I’m wearing bright colors and I think that makes me stand out on a twitter stream. ;)

  • Erika von Hoyer

    Lisa, some great tips and more importantly, you have a nice writing style so I actuall read the full post! ;-) Given all that our username represents (reputation, investment, character, …), I personally feel that identity verification can be an important step for building credibility and trust with others in social media circles.

    I recently had my Twitter identity verified and am now in the process of getting a digital identity card (only parts of it have been made public.) I use Crederity (took avantage of the fact that personal identity and twitter identity are currently free of charge) – check it out:

    While I’m by no means a celebrity, I believe protecting my username and online identity is an important step I can take as our society continues to move towards a dependency on User Generated Content.

    Thanks for the tips!