Can You Balance Competing Personas in Social Media?
The world of Social Media has effectively adopted a sensibility that calls for authenticity, transparency, and real-ness from all businesses, organizations, entrepreneurs, and institutions of higher education.
I made a potentially risky decision to take that world at its word. I decided to be real, which is my preferred mode anyway. I had to think about the notion of “acting presidential," (I'm the president of a college) and I had to decide how “being real” was inconsistent with “acting presidential.”
What would it mean to be “presidential”, anyway? Well, I know a lot of presidents at this point, and they are pretty regular people. Of course, we might crank it up a rhetorical notch for a graduation speech, but we all love our dog, follow some sports team or another, love a specific kind of music, are inspired by some literature more than others, and go on vacation to cool places and take pictures. Pretty much everything YOU do.
But do presidents have to be more careful? I have had a couple of professional colleagues make an effort to nudge/shame me about being real, under the auspices of “bringing a more professional presence” to Social Media.
I will say that I was not 100% certain this was the way to go. Nor am I now. But I will tell you that, anecdotally, I hear from visiting prospects and new students that they follow my blogs, watch my You Tube videos (yes, even the ones where I play guitar), and appreciate my presence and open-ness. We have a new student from Ethiopia who saw my graduation/inauguration speech and loved it, but thought I was a comedian. No, seriously. Until she saw the URL for Southwestern College, looked us up, and, well, the rest is herstory.
I think it’s “working.” Could this backfire? I guess so. I also think that if you are looking, metaphorically and literally, for Florsheims rather than cowboy boots or Birkenstocks, you might be in the wrong neighborhood anyway.
I am pretty clear (if often tongue-in-cheek) about my personality on my Facebook site. I rail against the Cowboys and Patriots. I love the You Tube of Steely Dan doing “Aja” live, and Fleetwood Mac doing “Oh, Well” with Peter Green on guitar, WAY before Stevie Nicks and company showed up. I post those two vids twice a year because the world should see them. I post pictures of my dog, Barney, and updates on his health and (now) old age. I love Jack Kerouac and Shakespeare. Especially the tragedies.
None of that is “Southwestern College business,” but it is authentically me, and I am also concurrently posting blogs on student loans and our philosophical roots, writing for Huffington Post, Social Media Today, and so on. I drop an occasional “freaking” or “goddang.” My brothers may drop worse in responding to my posts. So it goes.
Our college is alternative, open-minded, and more important yet, open-hearted, and people who seek us are not looking for stuffy.
Leaders of institutions of higher education should know their customer base. If they do, they will know what is OK for their institution in the world of Social Media. Your particular version of authentic might be the place to start being part of this grand revolution.