Online Authenticity – You Be The Judge

There are still a lot of skeptics out there when it comes to trusting other people online. I speak with people all the time who are not involved in online communities. I ask them why they haven’t gotten involved. I get a lot of answers, but perhaps the most interesting response I get is that they don’t trust what they read in the social media space. In other words, they don’t believe that people are being genuine. 

This causes some concern to me, especially since I tend to find the opposite to be true. In my 2 + years of being involved in social media, I have only come across only a very few people who were truly misrepresenting themselves. 

I find it interesting that people have no problem meeting other people at a business meeting, a bar, a conference, or on the street and trusting those people right away. But take away the physical presence, and the story is entirely different. What is it about meeting people online that makes people trust less? It seemsthat if I can’t see you in 3-D, shake your hand, breathe the same air as you, then I can’t trust you. The truth is, I’ve met a lot more people face to face in my life that that I don’t trust than people I’ve met only on the Web. Some people who I’ve known only in person have been capable of great deception and misrepresentation – more than anyone I’ve come across online to this point. 

In fact, I actually think that meeting someone online actually gives me MORE reason to trust them. Why? Because online, people (the trustworthy ones) tend to exist in more than one place. That makes it much easier for me to verify their story.

Case in point: If I meet someone at a restaurant and they give me their business card,  I only have a very little information about them. Their name, their place of employment, their email address. Fact is, I don’t even REALLY know if the card they have given me is theirs (unless their photo is on it – rare). Sure, I can Google them when I get home, but what if their name is John Smith and they work for a giant corporation? Not so easy. 

However, if I meet someone on Twitter, I have multiple ways of verifying their story. I can see how many followers they have. I can ask some of those followers to back up the person’s story. I can check out the person’s blog, see who is linking to it. I can look at where they say they work. I can see pictures of them. Check their LinkedIN profile, their Facebook profile. I can get a pretty good picture in a very short amount of time from someone who has a reasonably broad online presence. I can feel as if I know something about them, have a sense of their honesty and then make a decision on whether or not they are authentic. 

The key to online authenticity is to have a certain level of saturation through many social networks. Here are some ways you can do that:

  1. Don’t just exist on Facebook. Get your name out on other social networks, such as Twitter, LinkedIN, Plurk, identi.ca.
  2. Consider starting a blog. Don’t have the time? Try Tumblr instead. 
  3. Make comments on a variety of blogs. Be authentic when sharing your opinion in these spaces.
  4. Be open to people getting in touch with you via email or on your cell phone.

No matter what, always be 100% authentic in your interactions. Don’t falsefy or exagerrate facts about yourself. Don’t want to share your marital or employment status online? Instead of fibbing about it, just don’t say anything. You absolutely have the right to share only that information you are comfortable sharing. 

In the end, it’s up to each of us to judge whether we find someone to be authentic or not, in person or online. If you are unsure of who to trust, the best thing you can do is get involved in the community and begin to listen to the conversations going on around you. You will figure out soon enough who you feel is trustworthy. And anyone who isn’t? That’s what the “Block” button is for.

What do you think? Is authenticity more of an issue online or in person?

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