“On Twitter, when one has ‘influence’, does this person need to remain ‘authentic’ or do they have a greater responsibility to be more mindful of what they say online?”
This question first entered by mind after James Fowler’s keynote address at the ACUI Annual Conference in Chicago, where one of the main points of his talk was that there was no such thing as “online influence” and that real influence came from in-person connections and relationships. (While I still disagree with this perspective, I am reading his book to see if I can gain a better understanding of his work and how he came to that conclusion, beyond a one-hour keynote.) I spent time processing with ACUI colleagues and friends about what they thought about his message. One shared the opinion that I had “online influence” and that the things I said, tweeted, blogged about etc. moved people to action without us ever meeting in real life. To this person and many others, online influence was a reality. My initial thought was, “Really? I have online influence?” Certainly, the thought had crossed my mind at some points, and with metrics like Klout and PeerIndex, I was curious how those algorithms saw my online interactions. However, to have someone tell me, in person, that I had influence, through me for a loop and made it REAL.
After ACUI, I started rethinking how I was using Twitter and what I blogged because I was feeling self-conscious about the idea that the things I did in the online space had influence. Ironically, during this reflection period, more friends, family, and even some colleagues were challenging some of the content I tweeted, who and what I retweeted, and even when I tweeted! They all had their reasons why they were challenging me, but at my core, I was beginning to wonder if I had to be different online because of this real or perceived influence.
It became evident that I was at the intersection of influence and authenticity. What was I going to do? I began asking people at SXSW and subsequently at ACPA the question I listed above. The answers I got spanned a broad spectrum of, “Don’t change a thing you’re doing online! That is how you got there,” all the way to, “Now that you have a lot of followers, you have a responsibility to be more mindful of what you tweet.” Each answer provided me different perspectives from people I respected and helped me reflect deeper on how I am in the online space. I always hope that when people meet me for the first time, there are no surprises, and that the “Ed Cabellon” they meet, matches the person they know online.
Perhaps one of the most thought provoking conversations I had over the last few weeks occurred with Julie Larsen at ACPA. Instead of going to an educational session, we talked over coffee (of course!) about Fowler’s book and our perspectives on it. Julie helped reframe the idea of “online influence” to think of it more as “digital amplification.” As we use social media extensively, the further we continue to see unprecedented levels of its manifestations. From developing metrics to measuring “influence” to the “branding” of our online social existence, the amplification of the social web has magnified our digital identities, both good and bad. For as many of you that like my content, I am sure there are folks out there that are not interested.
So where do I go from here? I am going to continue doing what I’ve been doing online and be me. Here’s why: Three years ago this week, I was promoted to Director of the Rondileau Campus Center at Bridgewater State University. I was so excited that I had reached a professional goal of becoming a Director in Student Affairs! During my first week as Director, I remember walking into the Campus Center and from the hallway outside our main office, I could hear loud laughter! As I eagerly walked in, they all got QUIET. One nervously said, “Good Morning Ed!” as the rest of them scattered to their offices to start their days. I looked at them all as they were leaving and said, “You all were just talking about me, weren’t you?” Of course they said no, but it made me realize that even though I was the same old Ed last week, now that I was Director, things would never be the same.
That’s the attitude and approach I’ve always had with Twitter. I am absolutely authentic but not completely open, just as I am with my staff and students. I recognize and respect the online space for what it is for me: a place to build community through the sharing of information and the empowerment of others learn and grow. While I know I will make mistakes along the way, I accept that I will not please everyone, nor should I. We should be able to have respectful, thoughtful conversations either in this space and build connections to have conversations in person or over the phone/Skype.
I hope you see my intersection as a chance to reflect on your own use of Twitter and your contributions to the online space. Thank you all for being such a great influence on me 🙂
What are you thoughts on the question above? What do you think about the intersection of influence and authenticity? Which side of the spectrum are you on? As administrators in Higher Education, do we have a greater responsibility online?