Home / Anonymity, Filters, and Authority: Questions for Social Media Professionals

Anonymity, Filters, and Authority: Questions for Social Media Professionals

The other day on her blog, Lauren Fernandez wrote a great post preaching the very sensible notion that you should—God forbid—“Think Before You Tweet.” Her point centered on the fact that often, the persona an individual presents online is inevitably (particularly in her field—PR) linked to the company he or she works for and possibly openly represents.

The stream of comments was fantastic, ranging from “I agree with you” to “The lines are blurred” to (in my best typed Cartman impression) “Whateva, whateva—I do what I want!”

I rarely comment on other blogs (mostly because I run out of things to say here). But I felt compelled to comment, and it’s stirred up this post. At the end, I have several questions for you social media professionals out there. But now that the back story is out of the way, here we go:

The Power of Anonymity

As I commented, the Internet and social media have created a “Power of Anonymity.” Behind the veil of “anonymous,” people can be whoever they want. And with that freedom comes a staggering power—sometimes for good, and sometimes for the definitely not-so-good.

The perfect example: The comments section on a news site like CNN.com or KSL.com (the local NBC affiliate). If you read the comments there, you’ll know that anonymity causes people to unleash opinions and vitriol they would never dream of actually saying in person. You’re just as likely to get thoughtful as you are to get “Dude, you’re a freakin’ [blank] [blank]!”

Anonymity is powerful—and with great power should come great responsibility. But alas, as these comment streams generally show, responsibility has flown out the window.

Filters vs. Authenticity

As I said on Lauren’s blog, social media really boils down to intent. How do you intend to use it? And with that said, you can also say that intent creates filters on the conversation. If your intent is to hide behind a screenname and let loose, your filter is anonymity (powerful). If your intent is to be out there as yourself, and you wish to be employable, your filter is on your stream of consciousness inner monologue.

Twitter begs the question, “What are you doing?” It also really asks, “What are you thinking?” With emphasis on brevity (140 characters is very short), it’s easy to see why people will tweet and not think anything of it.

Can you be authentic while holding back? Can you be authentic when you’re hiding behind a screenname? Is it possible to attach your name to something and unleash? (For some, obviously honesty with a name attached to it isn’t a problem. For most of us, though, it is. We like our paychecks after all.)

The Internet has created an unparalleled level playing field when it comes to access to corporations, information, and people. Does that mean people should just “let it all hang out there?” What do you think?

False Authority

Last week, I was having dinner with DJ Waldow, and we talked about how the social media has allowed people to attain a certain “false authority.” After all, it’s 140 characters on Twitter. You can retweet blog post after blog post in your industry, learn a few of the hashtags and acronyms, and really come across like you know what you’re talking about.

And then we meet you at a conference or talk to you on the phone, and there’s a lot of “air.”

The Questions for Social Media Professionals

Given the challenges of anonymity and false authority, here are my questions:

How does one become an “authority” on a given subject? Can you really measure it by followers or RTs? What are your metrics?

How do you combat the “false authorities” out there?

One of the challenges I always think about in regards to social media is knowing when and when NOT to respond. How do you decide?

How do you think the power of anonymity shapes the conversation? What challenges have you faced? How have you combated them?

Anyone else have any other questions?

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