Online Image vs. Offline Reality

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I was at a breakfast meeting yesterday morning with some friends to do some planning, talking, and understanding about a project we’ve decided to kick off. One of the phrases that typically comes up during our meetings is simply, “Well, we look good on paper!” which got me thinking…

For this particular group, yes, thanks to outside sources, friends of the group, our website, etc.. we have built a reputation which is quite respected within the industry and are frequently sought out for our expertise. The challenge from our point of view is that after ~5 years of existence, we have yet to actually accomplish our number one goal and entire reason for originally coming together… The reality is that people come to us for our process, our values, our knowledge, and our passion and not because a long list of successes. Well, they do, but it’s a different success than what we see.. Anyways, we always make fun of the fact that from where we sit we always look good on paper, yet have accomplished nothing in direct relation to our desired outcome.

I got thinking about this ‘looking good on paper’ bit and got to wondering about the online image we cast to others. Every day I get Twitter updates from people I’m following about someone or other going to a meeting, or working on a big presentation, or about to be interviewed, etc. etc.. All this is great and I really have no reason to question it, yet I wonder if you can the ball rolling towards success through lies, online…

What if you were to routinely post tweets (twitter messages) about fictitious meetings, presentations, projects, or whatever? What if they were vague enough that it would take some serious digging by someone to uncover the actual truth, yet the effort would be so great that no one would even bother, well, unless they had a serious vendetta against you or something..

Services such as Twitter allow us to provide the information we wish others to use to build the image they have of us. If you provide information relating to the great success you are having, rather than the seriously shitty life you are actually having, you are somewhat in control of how others perceive you. They don’t actually know any different because there simply isn’t enough information online to contradict what you’re telling them.

If you are trying to break into a particular industry, could you not start posting about client meetings, calls, projects, etc. that didn’t really exist and casually establish yourself as the go to person? You would likely already have information online that at first glance would support your claims… Yes, you do have a coaching business, with actual clients, so all these twitter messages about client meetings and coaching sessions would make sense.. Wow, there are a lot of meetings and sessions – this person appears to be doing quite well and is in demand.. Perhaps I should be talking with this person when I’m looking for a coach…

Does this person have clients? Yes. Does this person have sessions/meetings? Yes. Are 90% of the twitter posts lies because their business is doing poorly and they really only have one client that they’re coaching? Yes. Did you think otherwise? Possibly…

Sure, there is a finite limit to what can be accomplished, and yes, underneath it all it is out and out lies, but what is the breaking point? You can’t, for example, come out and say that you’ve designed all these great websites with there actually being no record of them anywhere. You can’t say you’re doing a presentation at company XYZ because eventually someone from company XYZ will correct the error..  I would suspect that what you could get away with, and the length of time you could get away with it would be much less now, than what you could get away with say a couple years ago. Things like social networking have provided us with a checks and balances type framework to a certain degree, yet it has also provided a platform for providing information which may not be entirely true.

I submit to you that your own level of suspicion of others online image vs. reality is directly related to your own view of the world and others within it already. If you already believe that everyone lies through their teeth then you won’t believe anyone’s online profile, yet if you believe that everyone generally tells the truth then you would likely also believe that someone’s online profile is a fair representation of reality. I believe we all fit somewhere in between and I’m more interested in the ‘interesting factor’ of the online image vs. offline reality than anything else, and I leave you with this to simply ponder, for the sake of pondering:

What do you actually know about some of the people in your online community? Is their offline reality as good as their online image appears to be? Are you sure?  😉

Photo by zachstern