I was chatting to a girlfriend this morning about authenticity, and we were discussing the challenge of sifting through recommendations on the internet when you’re looking to buy a product. Some are obviously written by genuine customers giving their honest opinion, but some look so effusive you have to wonder if the person or company who’s selling the product has snuck in and posted it themselves, then maybe gone to their opposition’s product and posted a bad review! But wait, it gets worse than that. My girlfriend told me there are people called Reputation Specialists who are paid to go around the internet posting good reviews and comments about their clients.
I mean, really?
For politicians, sure. They need all the spin they can buy. But do businesses and celebrities need to pay someone to blow wind up our (collective) skirts? Whatever happened to earning respect and letting your actions speak for themselves? Colour me naive, but authenticity means something to me. And I have to admit that as a new author I imagined all I needed to do to sell billions of books was write good ones.
Then a little over twelve months ago it became apparent that I also needed to rack up quality time on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+ and blogging, because authors are encouraged by their publishers to be ‘visible’ across social networking platforms. And it’s actually beneficial on a couple of levels. Writing is a solitary profession, so social networking helps me feel like part of the online community, plus it keeps my writing muscles toned in short bursts. But after the discussion with my girlfriend this morning, I had to wonder if all my comments and conversations online were also creating ‘spin’?
While I’m blogging and tweeting, am I the authentic ‘Louise’ online that my family and friends know and love, or am I projecting an image – Louise The Author? And if so, is that okay? Is it fine to censor out the occasionally grumpy Louise, the silly Louise, and the overtired-and-might-say-something-she’d-regret Louise? Or should I let those parts of me have just as much social networking time as the rest?
Is self-censorship really just spin-by-omission?
Or are the things we post on our Facebook pages a product in themselves that we tailor to fit the readership, hoping they’ll attract people to our writing? And if so, is that a bad thing? Is it possible to be authentic and offer only part of yourself to the public?
If your answer to that is “Yes,” then I’d like to ask you why we bother to be authentic at all? Why not just create a persona and project that?
I have no answers to these questions. On a good day I try to be just me, like I am today, some insights, some confusion, lots of hope. On other days I don’t think the ‘me’ I’m feeling is good enough to be out in public, so I censor. It’s an imperfect method, but perhaps within that framework I really am being authentic.
Or maybe I’m deluding myself. Would love to hear others comments on this.