In psychology, the term “impression management” is used to describe how we go about selecting how we present ourselves publicly. Most of us can relate to the idea of having two competing drives:
(A) to display our best self
(B) to be genuine, and keep it real.
Here are five tips for how you can both create a positive impression AND be authentic on social media.
1. Authentic photos.
Recently, a horrified family member forwarded me some photos that showed her friend was obviously photoshopping her newborn. Don’t photoshop photos of your baby, or use a profile pic from 10 years ago.
If you’re on a dream vacation, occasionally post photos of the less dreamy aspects of it e.g., being stuck in a long line, or trash at a famous landmark. No one likes people who are consistently whiny and complaining on social media, but try to present the good and bad aspects of your experiences in a balanced way, that’s an accurate reflection of reality.
2. Cultivate an attitude of genuine pleasure in other people’s pleasure.
My blogger colleague Toni Bernhard introduced me to the Buddhist concept of Mudita—feeling joy for other people who are happy. Mudita is an antidote for envy.
Since your actions influence your thoughts and feelings, one way to cultivate Mudita is to express it behaviorally. For example, when a Facebook friend posts about something good that is happening for them, instead of just clicking the like button, write a 1-2 sentence comment that’s a bit more personal.
Don’t be fake in the sense of writing something nice when you’re seething with envy, but do grow your Mudita by expressing it with a personalized comment rather than something generic.
3. Be clear about what you’re using social media for.
I recently read a comment from a company (whose product I love) in which they admitted that they look at a job applicant’s Twitter account before they look at the person’s CV.
For social media that is public, like Twitter, think about how you can be both authentic AND leave a good impression on those who take a quick glance at your tweets. For example, how can you show you’re curious and interested in the cutting edge of your industry? How can you show you have a good attitude? How can you show you’re supportive of others?
Think about what traits are likely to be most important to people hiring for jobs in your particular field. This could be anything from your tech savvy to an interest in social justice, depending on your field. Where these highly valued qualtiies match you genuine strengths, make sure you put them on display.
There are psychological costs to being fake, so don’t be fake, but do show off the important strengths you have.
4. Pair self-promotion with expressing gratitude to others.
Many times when people socially share positive things that are happening for them, it’s because they’re feeling excited, rather than because they’re trying to shill or convince the reader of something. One way you can make these types of shares seem more pro-social is by adding an note about how you’re also feeling grateful to others. For example, “Just passed the bar exam. Feeling grateful for all the love and support I’ve received. It’s been a team effort.”
5. Keep a balance between personal sharing and sharing things that are interesting, useful, or humorous.
People use social media, particularly Facebook, because it’s an easy way to keep up with what’s going on in the lives of friends and family. Another reason people use social media is because it’s enjoyable to read content that other people post that’s interesting, useful, or humorous.
We all know people who become parents and then share nothing but photos of their kids for the next five years. This can be a little insensitive given the high proportion of people who go through fertility struggles and miscarriages etc. Try to mix up your social sharing so that you’re letting people know what’s going on for you, as well as connecting your friends and family with content that's funny or useful and surprising, and will brighten their day.
What makes this tip qualify as more authentic? We all have multiple sides to us. Displaying a range of the things that interest you (rather than just your kid photos/travel photos/new house photos), is showing off more of yourself and allowing people to get to know different aspects of you.
Being "perfectly" pro-social on social media is easier said than done.
Even though I’m the one giving the above advice, I’ll admit that I struggle to always follow these suggestions. Don’t be too hard on yourself if sometimes you fall into traps of too much self-promotion, presenting an unbalanced view of an experience, or overdoing shares on a particular topic. Having some awareness of when you’re doing this these things puts you far ahead of people who are making social media faux pars blindly and not even considering or caring about the impact of their behavior on others.
HT: The topic of this article was inspired by a recent post from Dr Guy Winch - The 7 Habits of Truly Genuine People.
About the writer
Dr Alice Boyes is author of The Anxiety Toolkit (Perigee/Penguin Random House, 2015).
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