I picked up a copy of a somewhat obscure magazine called Networking Times, because they had an article/interview with social media’s favorite sommelier, Gary V.  Gary was talking about how social media gave simple tools that everyone could use to give themselves a voice online- you didn’t have to be a tech guru in order to master these tools and make compelling content, giving word of mouth to your “brand” or project- business or personal.

It struck me that the power of social media is in its democracy.  With community gathering sites like twitter, Who you are and What you are start to merge.  In real life, it may matter more at cocktail parties and the like that I am a lawyer, that I have my own business, and other demographic information such  as where I live, who I am married to, etc.  Online, all of this is much less obvious and therefore, tends to matter less.  Judgments are based by the quality of content, the things that you do (or don’t do) and how you treat other people, much more than whether or not you went to a certain college or if your kids are enrolled in the snotty prep school.

Being judged on your actions in a very public way is not easy, however.  It means you have to think things through- are you going to be able to stand behind your actions today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future?  After all, Google has a long memory, and your tweets may come to haunt you.  If you make a mistake, everyone sees that as well as all the good you do.  If you decide to air private disagreements publicly, people will choose up sides.  And since the internet means you have a global presence, you aren’t just shooting your reputation with the local Y or church group- you are potentially diminishing your reputation globally.

The immediacy of most online communication means we take it for granted.  We can be flip, mean or callous, sometimes without meaning to be.  But we have to look at all of our communication as potentially being public, and that means conducting ourselves sometimes with more responsibility and thought than maybe we’d  like.  It may also mean having to develop thicker skin, and own up to stuff we’d rather not.  It means learning to say I’m sorry.  It also means learning to trust, but knowing that sometimes you will be disappointed, as well as delighted with the results.

Social Media is risky in that way.  You can’t really hide behind your labels.  Walking the line between engagement and protection/secrecy is not easy.  And being out there-being vulnerable, means the arrows from others, no matter their good or bad intent, do damage and hurt more than when you were safe and closed off and not sharing.

Deciding to  live life out loud, intentionally or accidentally, comes with great benefits and great risks.  Balancing them out- finding the fulcrum, the point of equalization- that’s the challenge.