There are two conflicting sets of advice about how you should present yourself online. For want of better descriptions I’m going to call the two schools of thought the “Anodyne, Professional, Inoffensive” advice and the “Authentic, Open, Individualistic” advice.
The Anodyne advice goes like this: Keep your online presence professional at all times, give nothing away about who you really are or what you really think, spend your online time promoting your wares exclusively, appeal to the mass market, get chosen by a corporation who invents what they think you are all about, based on this homogenous, polished, glossy presentation. Don’t offend anybody and then everybody will want you.
The Authentic advice goes like this: Choose yourself, don’t wait to be chosen. Appeal to a specific market of people just like you, exploit your unique point of view, interests, aesthetic senses and character to distinguish yourself from the crowd, spend your online time being an entertaining human being first and foremost, promote your wares only as an incidental outcome of your story through life, only hook up with corporations that are prepared to tolerate and embrace your unique differences. Be authentic and only those that matter will want you.
What do you get, if you follow the Anodyne advice? Well, you become a boring online presence, who barely differs from a corporate mass market advertising campaign. You have no real connection with your followers, because they’re all filling in the blanks about you from their own prejudices, not from information you have given about yourself. There is no mass market anymore, so appealing to it is increasingly a fruitless strategy. Even corporations that used to do well from appealing to the mass market are now finding their mass market deserting them, as their customers fragment into communities of like interests. These corporations are like flywheels trying to prevent themselves from running down to nothing too quickly. If a corporation chooses you, on the basis of your inoffensive, average, homogenous, conformist, online presence, then they assume things about you that might not be (i.e. are unlikely to be) true and you have to spend the entire time you are employed by them, or associated with them, pretending to be the thing they assume you are. You must not let the mask slip and reveal your true self at any time.
How about if you follow the Authentic advice? Well, you aren’t going to get chosen often. You will only appeal to your tribe. Everybody else is not your customer or employer. You’re going to have to blaze your own trail, being as outstanding at being you as you possibly can. In fact, if you’re not outstanding, you’ll be invisible. On the other hand, you’ll be entertaining and you will spend most of your time being shunned by people that disagree with who you are and how you think, but finding support and comfort from like minded people that appear in your life. If you produce any work, it will be on your own terms and to your own tastes. You just might not get paid for it as often or as richly. If you are successful, you will be wildly popular and in tune with a select community, not the mass market. No matter what, you’ll be at ease with yourself and be able to live with yourself. There will be no necessity to maintain a permanent charade.
There is a third approach to your online presence, which is to declare that you are already so famous, you have no need to present yourself online at all. That, to me, is just another flywheel running down to zero, gradually. Nobody can name a film by Don Ameche anymore. He’s dead, of course, but the famous are increasingly becoming invisible sooner. People my age are attempting come back tours and finding that nobody remembers what they did in the eighties and nineties.
So, who do you want to be?