Ask An Expert
Q: Balancing My “Authentic Self” with My “Professional Self”
By Steve Yacovelli, Ed.D.
Spring 2022 BEQ Pride Published June 13, 2022
Hello “Gay Leadership Dude®” I have a weird question: I’m getting concerned about my social media presence. I’ve been on social most of my professional life, but as I advance in my career, I’m getting a little concerned about my “digital presence” out there. I was once a silly 20-something and did some dumb stuff; I’ve since deleted many of those pics, but it’s just got me thinking about how to balance who I am on social with my business self. Any ideas on how to be authentic in the age of social?
~ Social Scale Balancer
I love that you’re asking this, Social. I often chat with LGBTQ+ professionals who don’t want to censor themselves on their various social channels, yet also know that ALL social is insanely “discoverable” (thanks, legal friends!) and anyone you’re encountering within the workplace—potential or current bosses, hiring managers, customers, and co-workers alike—are just a few clicks away from seeing what you did last weekend, what you had for dinner (if you’re a foodie poster), or who you’re hanging with. It’s truly the blessing and the curse of us all being so connected.
I personally know that—living in a state that currently won’t let me say “gay”—my digital presence is so important to my queer visibility to the world and helping me feel that I’m not being erased. I absolutely will not “de-gay” my social to appease others and therefore be disingenuous to myself, my husband, and honestly our Queer Family.
I like to think of all our social media content as part of our “authentic brand:” we are a product, like it or not. Our online presence supports that brand or the perception that people make about us from that data. While of course, we want to be our authentic selves in the world, Social, just be mindful of the brand you’re shaping with your online posts. I have been in the position of being a hiring manager many times, and after I have a candidate’s name I immediately do three things: (1) check out their LinkedIn profile (if they have one) and also look for people we have in common; (2) do a Facebook search and see both what comes up and—if I find the right candidate—what friends we have in common; and (3) do a generic Google search to see what data pops up (specifically in the “images” tab). Why all the Nancy Drew-ing? Because it’s silly these days to go into any meeting without doing a few minutes of homework. Our brands are out there, and it’s fascinating to find them.
Social, your need to control your digital brand is smart and to make sure it’s accurately representing your authenticity. Here are a few suggestions to help with this:
- Put posts thru the Grandmom Test: Consider putting anything you post online through the Grandmom Test. Would Grandmom / Nana / Mommom be cool with your social posts? If not, reconsider what it’s doing to your personal brand. (And yes, I get that some grandmoms are more liberal or conservative than others; the idea here is to challenge your own idea of what’s “appropriate” through the lens of someone else. So, if the Mommom analogy doesn’t work, think about your religious organization or a very conservative friend in Nana’s place).
- Pics of Skin and Booze: Like the Grandmom Test, be sure not every picture of you online is you with a drink in your hand or where you’re scantily clad. Sure, a glass of vino here or there or you at the beach frolicking in the surf on occasion is totes fine. But if you look back and all your pics are toasting (or you’re toasted) or there’s a heap of skin showing, then have a think about what this is saying about your brand. If it’s what you want to project, then you’re good; if it’s not, consider adjusting accordingly. And I won’t even talk about the whole OnlyFans thing …
- Topics of Sex, Religion, & Politics: Be mindful of the reactions to topics you post about on social media. Again—to be crystal clear—I’m not advocating that you censor yourself and limit what you post; I’m simply saying be mindful of the potential reactions you may get and how others might perceive these posts. I’m an extremely passionate person about equality and fairness, especially as it relates to our LGBTQ+ Community. So, on social media (Facebook and LinkedIn specifically) I post things about equality that may not be as well received by those of a more conservative perspective. But I try to post in as much of a respectful and positive way as I can.
A little more here on posts: when citing a source in your posts, try and be as neutral as you can. Reposting that pic you saw from LiberalLefties.com or ConservativeRightWingers.org may not be the most balanced perspective. Please be authentic and have your position on an issue you feel passionate about, but don’t perpetuate fake news or extremely biased perspectives as best as you can.
- Manage the Access: Manage both your LinkedIn account and your personal social media accounts as if everyone is looking. Keep LinkedIn up to date and honest (it’s too easy these days to check your work); and you may want to lock down your Facebook and Insta to only those folk who you want to see everything about you (not open to the public) and either don’t accept friend requests from acquaintances or—at least with Facebook—set up a Friends List that severely limits the info that group can see and bucket people into different viewing areas as you see fit.
- Control How You Want to Show Your Authenticity: Leverage social media to shape the authentic self you want people to see. For example, I have a friend whose Facebook posts are about 80% of her doing business-y things: presenting to a client, soliciting stories for an article she’s writing, etc. This is how she wishes to present her authenticity: limitedly.
Personally, I see a power in presenting as accessible and human on social media. For every “Steve talking about TopDog Learning Group, LLC (my consulting firm) and what we’re doing” pic, there’s a balance of “Steve’s paddle boarding on a lake” personal stuff. This isn’t insincere or contrived; I just try to balance the facets of my authentic self to share a whole view of Steve as part of my authenticity online. It also helps people see the “real” me for when they meet me in person. Regardless, just be mindful of your balance and how you’re presenting your online self.
Final thought: whether we like it or not, as out LGBTQ+ professionals, we’re representing the greater LGBTQ+ Community; what we do as an individual may impact how people perceive the overall LGBTQ+ Community. So, ask yourself if you’re repping our peeps in the most positive light. No, all gay people aren’t the same and shouldn’t act that same; that’s silly. But we all shape the data that contributes to how people perceive our overall Community. Be mindful of that, Social; you have the power to disrupt misconceptions about us or reinforce them. You—especially as an LGBTQ+ Leader—are partly in charge of how the world perceives us; handle that responsibility with thoughtfulness and care while still sharing your authentic self.
HAVE A QUESTION FOR “THE GAY LEADERSHIP DUDE”? Submit @ www.YourQueerCareer.com Please note the advice shared is for informational use only; it is not intended to replace or substitute any mental, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. Full disclosure can be found at the website listed above.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Dr. Steve Yacovelli, Owner & Principal
TopDog Learning Group, LLC