The consistency trap
Social identities may have us trapped in limbo.
Mark Zuckerberg once proclaimed in an interview with David Kirkpatrick for his book, “The Facebook Effect”:
“Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
To me, this is disturbing on so many levels. To start, it begs the question: Where does one identity start and another stop? And who is M. Zuckerberg to define the playbook on what an identity looks and feels like?
In the context of online presence in general and social media in particular, an identity needs to be linear with a clear set of topics and concepts. Due to the fact that we cannot stand in front of each other physically, we need to provide one another with assurance of our real-ness. In a world of bots, fake accounts and online scams, trusting that the person you’re engaging with is authentic and truthful is paramount.
So an authentic identity leads to the possibility of trust, and trust is the basis for any form of relationship, no matter how fleeting or deep, analog or digital.
In a maximum complex online environment, linear thought and actions (comments, likes) are a mechanism to feel safe, not only in the discussion but also with the person (or profile) we are interacting with. We begin to understand what he/she stands for, believes, what expertise he/she brings to the table, or experiences. And we are able to classify that person (or profile) in our own mental beliefs system. It helps us identify with, too, checks if we are on the same wavelength become easier.
This is where consistency comes into play.
In order to create trust, we need to consistently send signals that support the same message. An example from the professional context of Linkedin might help understand this concept better: Imagine two profiles in your feed, one with a consistent job description, i.e. “helping brands grow, strategy and business development executive”; the second a multi-hyphenate profile, i.e. “strategist, designer, business consultant”. On first unconscious reading, which profile made a more clear and trustworthy impression on you? Most will probable go for the first one. The second one seems to lack a clear focus, maybe? Or maybe suggest that person is not an expert on any field completely?
Now explore: Can you fully identify with only one word or field? Is that all you think about, act toward and inform on? Are those your only skills?
My point exactly.
And this is where consistency goes from being a trust-barometer to becoming a trap.
The fabulous thing about being human is that we have the mental capacity to think many different things at once and change our minds almost on a daily basis, with new information or experiences. We have the ability to continually evolve and reinvent ourselves. We are more than neural networks or decision algorithms.
Understandably, creating mechanisms to foster trust in the digital realm is important. But losing our human-ness along the way is dangerous in my opinion. And utterly uninteresting. My favorite people/profiles to follow and engage with are those that show a diversity of interests and selves.
An important force in this entire discussion is culture.
Culture is fluid and continually sets our beliefs, actions and selves into different contexts. So isn’t it understandable that we reevaluate on a regular basis? Or dive into new fields, driven by curiosity? Lastly is where innovation may take place, by the way.
I believe the most disturbing development of the past years has been personal branding, making consistency a must-have for the individual. I believe it also shows how overwhelmed we are with just being ourselves on social platforms and how safe (or unsafe) we feel doing so. It’s no wonder some people spend the better part of their lives finding themselves when they’ve spent so much time meticulously dividing themselves into perfectly curated concepts.
Lastly, this brings me to my final thought. The fact that we strive to become brands and vice versa brands strive to become human seems utterly ridiculous. Why don’t we as individuals be individuals and brands become platforms for individuals to connect, exchange and become? That might just take a load off of everyone – you and me, brand managers and businesses.
I end this train of thought with my own self-definition: I am brand strategist, writer, journalist, creative, occasional artist, design enthusiast, hobby sociologist, project framework developer, creative partner, team builder, mentor, brand coach and many more hats I probably can’t put a name to right now. All of these are incorporated in my work and make up my own individual contribution.
Now, how to fit all this into my Linkedin subline… 🤔