Your Online Presence: Is It Fun At Parties?

Picture of carnival masks

Your online persona is a mask, created out of what your words. You do have some control over how you’re perceived, perhaps even more than in real life.

I’ve updated my book, Creating an Online Presence, and it’s part of this terrific Storybundle of writing books. Since the Internet moves at the speed of an animated gif with Yakety Sax as the background music, I had a lot of work to do with the update (like checking every link to make sure it was up to date), and it included adding a few essays. Here’s one of those additions, talking about how you present yourself online.

Your Online Persona

One of the things I emphasize in the Creating an Online Presence for Writers live class is that before you start setting up your website and social media, you need to think about some things. What level of personal detail are you willing to give out on the Internet? What side of yourself do you want to reflect? How can you be both professional and approachable at the same time?

And perhaps the most important question: how do you go about being someone who people want to spend a little time with, whose words they want to read and consider, lingering on your webpage rather than clicking away to some more entertaining section of the Internet?

Let’s think about a real life situation: parties. A person’s choice of reading material is like a party they’re creating, inviting different voices and entertainment in order to assemble a pleasant and entertaining medley. If you’ve got a choice, do you invite the braggart to your party? The weepy incoherent girl? The dude who makes every conversation about himself? The preachy lady from down the street? No, and no, and no, and no.

Here’s some ways you can create a bad impression that makes people want to close the door in your virtual face.

Spamming about Spamming

I know, I know, we’re all brought up to believe that it was spam, not lead pipes, that brought about the fall of the Roman Empire, and it’s been causing social ills and woes ever since. We all hate spam. And we hate being thought of as spammers too.

Which brings me to what I’ll call “social spam.” Not some nameless person somewhere on the Internets trying to get you to buy Viagra. Nope, it’s your Uncle Edith, and he wants you to come work his farm in Farmville. Or your buddy Big Burt has tagged you in one of those silly memes where your friendslist gets translated to show which character each friend would be if they were a pie filling. Are either of them doing it because they want to harass you? Probably not.

So what to do if you want to avoid that spam?

Well, first let’s consider the notion that people who, in real life, spend a lot of their time correcting other people are probably not as popular as they could be. And let’s think about whether or not that carries over to virtual life.

Here’s a hint. It does.

Let’s factor in something else. A certain amount of spam is unavoidable. If you post something loud and shouty and ANTI-FARMVILLE on your Facebook page, it may cut down on the Farmville requests. For a while. And then some Farmville player’s going to come along who hasn’t seen it.

So perhaps rather than excoriate the players, disable the game so it can’t send you requests? That’s what I’ve learned to do, and when a new game pops up, I don’t spend time upbraiding my friends for being silly enough to invite me to play a game. I do get invites whenever some new game is popular. I used to get annoyed, now I just ignore.

If someone tags you in a meme, just don’t respond. No one’s forcing you to play. But don’t go further and be a jerk about it and scold them, particularly publicly. If someone tagged you, it’s because they thought you might be interested or enjoy it. It’s as though, in a real life party, someone offered you a mint and you started yelling at them for pushing sweets on you because you’re trying to avoid candy.


It’s just…ugh. Just don’t. First and foremost, it makes you look childish, and melodramatic. So often it’s passive aggressive BS and the only person who cares is (sometimes) the person you’re committing it to, which is just petty. Come on. Get out of the high school mentality. For everyone else, it’s like being around that couple that keeps fighting and pretending they’re not.

Beyond that, it makes you look horribly unprofessional, particularly when you’re doing it about an employer, past or present. Yes, you are being funny and entertaining right now. You are also saying to anyone who might want to hire you and that looks at your social media presence — increasingly common with employers — that you will be doing this about them as well.

We have all yielded to this temptation at times. Avoiding it is a habit I continue to work on, because every time I’ve done it I find myself regretting it later.

Setting Other People Straight

Is someone saying something wrong on the Internet? Probably.

Does it matter? Probably not.

If it does, and you have the bandwidth and the energy, more power to you.

Pooping on Other People’s Passions

I know, I know. Everyone else is saying how hot and innovative that new show about the Emperor’s clothes is, but you’ve got the skinny. But maybe hang on a moment before you start letting them know what fools they are.

Do you remember when your grandparent said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?” Yeah. They were right about a lot of other stuff too.

It’s okay for other people to like things that you don’t, maybe even love them or otherwise find value that you just don’t see. It is. It really is. Nascar, for example, still exists, much to my bemusement. And that’s okay.

You Are Only a Small Part of the Universe

A wonderful one, to be sure. but one that does not exist for most people. Don’t assume slights are deliberate or that your perception matches up with the other’s. I find that giving other people the benefit of the doubt goes a long way. Such a very long way.

The Perils of Pontification

It is pleasant to be the authority, to hold forth on something you know well, and to have everyone listening. It is okay to do every once in a while. But if that soapbox is something you rarely descend from, rather than something you rarely hop up on, think about your strategy. It’s good to listen; it’s great to solicit opinions (and listen to them). Remember that good communication is a two-way street.

Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to admit when you screw up. It’s part of being human, and it’s better form than blustering or emitting a cloud of excuses and half-truths. Pretending you didn’t make a mistake when you did is not a good strategy usually. Own up and say what you’re going to do in the future to avoid making the same mistake. If it’s something you can fix, fix it. Don’t pretend that it never happened.

In short, you have some measure of control over how you are perceived on the Internet. Act the way you wish other people would act and you have a much better chance of influencing them than by bluster, mockery, or other attacks.

And finally — no one is ever looking as closely at you as you think they are. We are all the center of our particular universe, and that’s always, inevitably, inarguably going to shape your perceptions. If you keep that in mind, it makes dealing with your fellow humans a little easier.

At least, that’s the opinion of one of your fellow humans. Be well and prosper.


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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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