Way(yyyyy) back in the early days of high school, I was 25% keener, 25% nerd, and 50% wall flower. But you know what else I was? A hundred percent hoping to be noticed. Between my highs and lows, all I really wanted was to be seen. So here’s what went through my brain most days: “Put up your hand! Say what you’re thinking!” Quickly followed by: “But what if you offend someone? What if other people know better? Be safe, say nothing!” A gag of nerves stifled my voice.
All this was before social media entered my life. It was also before I did a lot of other things like realize everyone is insecure and to some degree we’re all afraid of screwing up. However, for the sake of this post’s theme around online personas, let’s just stick with the whole ‘social media changed my life’ thesis, because it did. It really did. And I’ll prove it to you with three quick stories: Voice, Social and Career.
“I didn’t realize you’re funny,” said my friend after reading my blog. This was itself hilarious since I’d known her literally my entire life and my blog was about having breast cancer. But I took it as a sign of a good thing.
At first Bumpyboobs was a secret from everyone, even my parents who I hadn’t then told about my suspected disease. Because it was secret, the blog was easy to name. If it had been created for the eyes of others, I probably would have called it ‘my super noble journey in conquering breast cancer’ or something like that. But this was for my eyes only, so I named it exactly what made me laugh most. The name was my unfiltered voice, aka, the endearing smart ass. That way of starting things, of doing it for myself and not others, has stayed with me over the years of writing.
Number one personal rule for blogging: If it’s my blog, it’s my story. As someone writing about breast cancer, after the blog went public I was quickly labelled a cancer blogger – people would email me asking to review their health products or just expect me to write about cancer all the time. But it’s my blog and I associate it with my identity both offline and online. Adhering to an imposed label, even one that gets attention, was just another form of self-censoring and I didn’t need that. I’m a whole lot of things and that is reflected in the posts. Those readers who dig it, dig me. It’s that simple.
My website has since changed to CatherineBrunelle.com to shake off expectations. But I have to say, it was always a secret thrill at executive networking events to direct politicians, CEOs and government officials to my website: “Bumpyboobs.com.”
Once upon a time, someone I know complained about a person on their Facebook. He didn’t understand why they kept posting so many updates about their day. Who cared? Not him, that’s for sure.
These words stuck with me for a while and I had to chew them over. Why bother saying anything online? Who was I to share a stupid reflection, or picture, or anything? But then I realized, these thoughts felt like high school all over again. I don’t want to put that gag back on. And so I thought about it, and came to realize something important: different platforms, different expressions.
It’s absolutely okay to tweet a stream of observations while riding the bus in Ottawa. But if I did that on Facebook non-stop, it would flood timelines. It’s important to know your platform, regardless of whether you’re talking personal or professional. A while back I did a photo shoot of two dolls in love, which were definitely best shared on Tumblr. Any and all food pics go on Instagram. Business and life articles on Linkedin. Articles and vacation pictures go on Facebook. But best of all is Twitter, because it’s my catchall.
Be respectful, have fun, and know your platforms. If social media is a voice box for things you find interesting, weird creative experiments, and brave introductions to awesome people – then I say just go for it. Who cares about “Who cares?”
Here’s the thing. I say all this about voice and expression, but I also realize that the first thing many employers or clients do before working with you is check your social media. What we do socially reflects upon us professionally. This is a GOOD thing.
I wanted to write, so I started a blog. Suddenly I was a writer. I wanted to talk about writing, so I co-founded a podcast, suddenly I was a presenter. I wanted to become an author so I crowd funded online, and suddenly I had a novel. I was sick of being a cancer blogger, so I redesigned my website to cast off the pink ribbon vibe and suddenly I felt better. When it comes to the internet, you create the impression. There are no grades or degrees to be won – we gain our cred by taking action, and there’s no limitation on the actions we can take.
This might sound naïve, but it actually does work. I landed my first writing gig by attending a networking event and simply telling everyone there that I was a writer. All I had was my blogging and guest posts to back up that claim, but it was enough to secure steady work. It was an incredible feeling, and no one at any point said, ‘you can’t do that’; instead they said, ‘can you do that for me?’ Since then, I’ve literally created opportunities and expertise through experiments online. Today I get to work an incredible marketing job in a position that resonates deeply with my interests and values. It’s awesome.
(And even if I’m making it up as I go, at least I’m going!)
So there you have it. Three very quick stories about creating an online persona helped me find my voice. Thanks to Red Brick Rooster for this opportunity to share a piece of my story!
Catherine Brunelle is a content creator, marketer and author of the perfect book club novel, Claire Never Ending. Visit her website at CatherineBrunelle.com and do be sure to say hello over on Twitter.