H is for Honesty

Being honest is an art, not a science. If it were a science, anyone could do it well by following a simple formula. Instead, there are different rules for different levels of honesty, and it is important when cultivating your web presence to know which level you are going for, and why. What sort of honesty is appropriate for a Twitter stream? A personal website? A Facebook page? And when do any of these cross the line into too much honesty?

I have been exploring these questions ever since I began blogging over 5 years ago, and realized how different it was than essay writing. The immediacy of web publishing, and the instant access of hyperlinks and Google searches, means that more is revealed about the writer of a blog post than is revealed by a print article. While this may make some shy away over privacy concerns, the truth is that privacy itself is a moving target. And when privacy as we know it becomes a thing of the past, honesty itself needs to be redefined.

The first thing to keep in mind is that information about you is already in the public domain. Anything you have revealed in your social networking profiles, including former employers, school affiliations and cities you have lived in, are easily found. I suggest updating any bios you have on old websites, alumni and professional associations, and directory sites. Make them consistent with your current web presence, but remember that the old versions will never completely disappear. Your best move is to tell your story going forward—don’t dwell on the past, but don’t obsess about it either.

This is where art comes in, because writing with honesty is not the same as telling the whole truth. For instance, say you have been through a messy divorce, some of which ended up in the local papers. Meanwhile you are building up your business reputation, and don’t know whether responding through social media will help or hurt your growing influence.

Whenever you have the opportunity to position yourself above the fray, do it. It is okay to allude to personal hardship or challenge, but be diplomatic and stay away from he-said, she-said games. Tell-all posts may boost your popularity but they will diminish your influence, which is the real currency of a well-developed web presence. Your honesty comes through when you acknowledge what you are going through while keeping your tone tactful and staying focused on the point you are trying to convey. That is authenticity, and also maturity.

Of course if you are writing a memoir, you get to indulge in a whole different level of truth-telling and honesty, but even then you will want to airbrush some sections of your life in order to keep the focus where you want it. The truth is, telling the whole truth is not just boring to read, it is unnecessary. Figure out what you have to say—what is important about your work, your thoughts, your life—then tell it honestly, and people will be interested.

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