When Actual Self ≠ Digital Self: Vetting People Online

In our Audience Insight class during my Master’s program, we learned about the theory of self-discrepancy and how the differences between our actual selves (how we really are), our ideal selves (how we want to be perceived) and our ought selves (how we think others want us to be) apply to consumer behavior.  For instance, we often make purchases based on our ideal or ought selves rather than our actual selves.  This theory got me thinking about how we present ourselves online.  Check out this infographic based on an Intel study.  It’s clear that many people lie on social profiles for the purpose of improving how they appear to others.

Is the Social Media You the Real You?


As you post on social sites and/or on your blog, do you present yourself as you actually are?  Or do you present yourself as the person you’d like to be? Or the person you think people want you to be?  Or do you fall somewhere in between?
This subject piqued my interest again recently when I ran across someone (who shall remain name- and gender-less) on several social sites whom I actually know in “real life”… and this person was presenting him/herself as someone totally different from who he/she really is. This person presented a combination of their ideal and ought selves online rather than his/her actual self. In bios, this person spoke of degrees he/she never obtained and highlighted interests he/she doesn’t have. This person posted about things he/she has zero interest in and about being places I know this person couldn’t have been.  For instance, he/she mentioned being at a huge event when I know for a fact that this person was at home all weekend, hundreds of miles away from said event.  And thanks to Google’s image search (which is crazy awesome, by the way), it was easy to see that many of the photos this person claimed as his/her own were actually taken from other people’s blogs and social accounts.

Now, if you want to have two separate Facebook profiles (one for people who actually KNOW you with real information and real posts, and one for people you are trying to impress for one reason or another), or post about specific things in order to impress someone or gain attention, or steal other people’s content and present it as your own, I guess that is your prerogative. While it may not really hurting anyone (although I would bet that the owner’s of the photos would be pretty irked if they discovered their images were being used without proper attribution), it just seems SHADY.

When it comes to presenting your ideal vs ought vs actual self online, ACTUAL SELF ALWAYS WINS.

This kind of dishonest behavior, which is prolific online and merely irritating on a personal level, can become a major issue on a professional level.  It is extremely easy to “plump up” an online resume on LinkedIn or BrandYourself or About.me, and there is no real verification process for the information in these and other online profiles.  In fact, last year I was looking at the profile of one of the women on my “People You May Know” list on LinkedIn and the woman had copied MY LinkedIn bio. Both paragraphs. Word for word.  WHAT??  Who does that??

There are so many self-proclaimed internet marketing “experts,” social media “ninjas” and digital marketing “gurus” out there… how does one know if these people are presenting their actual selves or their ought/ideal selves?  How can the claims people make about their skills, abilities and experiences be properly vetted by business people looking for consultants or contractors? Or when looking to hire new employees??

One thing is clear – sadly, many people cannot be trusted.  As we seek digital or social marketing insight and/or services, we need to do our due diligence by researching people we are choosing to learn from or hire.  Each and every one of us has a digital footprint, so if you’re considering using or hiring an expert, make sure you take the time to check theirs out:

  • Google (or Bing) the expert and learn more about them.  Didn’t find much?  Then your “expert” hasn’t done much nor had much to say.
  • Cross-check the expert’s profiles on different social sites to see how they match up.  Lots of inconsistencies? Run away.  FAST.
  • And don’t just search the name they use publicly. Check out name variations too (if you’re looking up Dave Hasselhoff or Chuck Sheen, search David Hasselhoff and Charlie Sheen too.)
  • Ask the expert for references or track down people online who have worked with or referenced him/her in some way and ask about their experiences with the expert. Remember, sometimes what a reference DOESN’T say can say much more than what they do.
  • And for gosh sake, actually CHECK employment and education history. Don’t take the expert’s word that they actually have a Master’s from ABC University or were previously employed at Company X.

What methods do you use to research and evaluate social and digital marketing experts before deciding to engage with, learn from and/or listen to them?   Do you have any personal or professional horror stories about people presenting an ideal version of themselves rather than who they really are?  How do you handle it? What recourse is available when these issues are uncovered?


One thought on “When Actual Self ≠ Digital Self: Vetting People Online

  1. This is such an interesting topic. I think it goes hand-in-hand with the concept of Generation Y and younger understanding the importance of knowing their “brand” and staying consistent with it through their actions such as career and hobbies and purchasing habits.

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