My Tweets Are Real

by Jennifer Miller on July 9, 2009

in Communication, Generational, Social Media

Professionalism in the Web 2.0 Era

It all started with a t-shirt.  When I posted the results of my 30 Days of Tweeting Experiment last month, I sent an email to my colleagues announcing the blog.  The email contained a photo of me wearing a navy t-shirt (courtesy of the Ellen Shop) that boasted “My Tweets are Real” in white lettering.

The reaction to the t-shirt was far stronger (and varied) than the reaction to my blog post.  Male colleagues sent playful replies about my “tweets”.  No female colleagues replied, but I did wonder if they were raising their eyebrows.  The one female who did comment?  My mother.  She laughed out loud when she heard about the t-shirt saying, but still managed to sound both reproving and scandalized when she found out I sent a photo of me wearing it to business colleagues. I confess to second-guessing my choice. And yet, it just felt “right”— this completely unglamorous amateur photo of me wearing a t-shirt with a witty saying.  It felt….well, authentic.

Many fellow bloggers have ruminated on topic of authenticity. My social media mentor Barbara Giamanco has traveled this path in her blog posts. So have  Joan Koerber-Walker  and Seth Godin.

So, the question on my mind is, “How far should one go to show authenticity in the business world?”  When I published the photo, I was certainly aware that it was a bit “out there” in terms of what is accepted business practice in my sphere of influence.  But to me it was simply a playful and  clever way to introduce my Twitter experiences. 

And I pushed the boundaries a bit because of this observation:  things are more casual these days than they used to be.  Frankly, that’s not comforting to me, but it’s the truth.  Professionals are podcasting via self-produced YouTube videos, Twitter photos are amateur head shots at weird angles and many blogs posts have misspellings.  I came of age in an era where a “professional” had a professionally produced head shot, complete with the requisite suit.  Some of these things are not, in my opinion, acceptable—misspellings, for example.  But I’m ambivalent about the others—does it really matter anymore that things look “professional”?  Is that even somehow a liability?  I notice that many of the most popular YouTube instructional videos are decidedly low-tech: hand drawings on a white board that get tossed away by a human hand in the foreground.

Please share with me your observations…how does your authenticity show up when at work?  And does the “new business casual” work for you, or do you share my hesitations?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Joan Koerber-Walker July 9, 2009 at 7:54 am

Jennifer, first, thank you sincerely for mentioning my thoughts on authenticity in your musings. I am truly honored to be included.

As social media continues to evolve, some – like me – struggle to find the right balance between the “fun” and the “professional” voice. My solution was to create different profiles and blogs for different audiences and messages. As people, we are not one dimensional
so why should what we share be any different. My way works for me, and that is what matters.

Early in my career in the tech industry, we saw the early emergence of business casual – and as managers we struggled as we walked the line between encouraging creativity and offering reward with what is appropriate in the business enviroment. Today as the personal expression shift moves one step futher – the only answer I have is to be who you are, and to do what feels right for you across the medium and to stay in alignment with what your ultimate goals are. And if some don’t appreciate it, that’s OK – others will.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your musings on authenticity with all of us.

Barb Giamanco July 9, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Hey Jennifer,

Thanks for the shout out…it has been my pleasure to help you along your social media journey. Anyone clicking on the link with my name will read about my thoughts related to what it was like for me when I first started blogging.

In the beginning, I sanitized things a bit…worried about OMG what would people think. Would I tick someone off. I finally decided to be myself and not worry about. Talk about glamorous. When I wrote my post, I was sitting at my desk in sweats and sweat shirt, listening to my iPod with my dog, Murphy hanging out with me.

To me, letting “you” come out – in appropriate ways of course – lets people get to know you. And as I like to say…people buy from people they know, like and trust. If you never show the softer side…how can people get a sense of who you are?

Cheers to your journey!

ps…I thought the t-shirt idea was quite brilliant. I remember thinking…now why didn’t I think of that?:)

admin July 9, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Glad you liked the t-shirt, Barb


Donna Highfill July 9, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Hi Jennifer!
I appreciate the topic and for stating the struggle that I, too, have been feeling. I think part of our struggle is that Facebook and Twitter were pioneered by the younger generation who are fine with casual and “real.” Boomers kind of marched into their territory and are trying to figure out if we get to enjoy our less stringent, less corporate side along with them. When we do “step out” we are immediately concerned about a memo coming from HR that discusses the dress code issue at work.

Young people still believe in the art of agitation — not bad agitation, but the “resulting in a pearl” kind of agitation. Pushing the limits enough to make people think, rather than conforming to corporate speak that could not make a lump of coal, much less a pearl.

I think you should trust your instinct. Social Media is all about being who you are. I’ve struggled with advisors who keep telling me to have a theme, use certain words, and avoid certain topics. I’ve gotten so tied up I have lost some of my impact. As Barb said, people will follow sincerity, and they trust consistency. Be consistently who you are, and take the lumps when necessary. As I always say, there is only one you, and your only job in life is to be the best you possible. What does your gut say? I think you found the t-shirt funny and fun. And if you caused a little discomfort, then good for you! A comfortable environment promotes little learning.

And remember, sometimes those who are uncomfortable simply wish they could let go of “what will others think” and have a little fun themselves!!

Keep being you –


Glenn Hilton July 27, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Hey Jennifer,

Great to hear you went for it. It can be a bit daunting when you first step out of your comfort zone. Bit like waking up one morning and deciding that you’re going to wear something different than everyone else that day to High School. You’re just not sure how people will respond. Some might love it and others may respond negatively. But it feels great when you do step out and be who you really are and not let the inhibitions of the chronic do-gooders confine you anymore. Personally I loved the tshirt! Doing stuff like that makes you relatable, approachable and shows you have a sense of humor with a bit of sass. Echoing Donna, people to do business with people they like and people that are like them. I’d much rather interact with people who I can relate to and want to interact with. However, not everyone’s like me or you, so we know in doing so that some may be turned off. And for that reason, like Joan, I tend to like to target different audiences to be sure I’m not unnecessarily turning people off. On Twitter I have a company account, a personal account to talk social media and business, a personal account to talk hockey, and a personal account just to feed my warped sense of humor. Beyond that I use Friendfeed for following thought thinkers, as my music outlet, and finally Facebook to socialize with all my friends. Having this many accounts isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely allowed me to connect with people of common interest and be authentically who I am in those realms. So thanks for sharing your experiences and am looking forward to following more of your thoughts here and in the Twittersphere 🙂

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